Walking on the wild side

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FOR almost a century, Edinburgh Zoo has been one of Scotland's major attractions.

Officially opened in 1913, the animal enclosure was built on the grounds of the 18th-century Corstorphine Hill House - now known as the Mansion House - after the estate was bought over by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland for the princely sum of 17,000.

The layout of the 82 acre site was inspired by the successful Stellingen Zoo near Hamburg, which used the approach of housing animals in surroundings similar to their natural environments.

Based on that ethos, Edinburgh Zoo has continued to grow and today plays a significant role in the safeguarding of endangered species.

As reported in the Evening News this week, zoo bosses are hoping to radically expand the attraction over the next 20 years.

Their 72 million masterplan is in doubt, however, as it relies on the sell-off of 6.3 hectares of greenbelt land off Kaimes Road to housing developers.

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The sale would generate between 15m and 20m but the proposals have caused outcry from more than 200 objectors who fear that the erection of 100 homes in the Corstorphine area would result in traffic-clogged streets.

The zoo is one of Scotland's most successful visitor attractions, second only to Edinburgh Castle in terms of paying visitors, with more than 650,000 a year.

The penguins are particularly popular and today's residents are the direct descendents of the first penguins which arrived back in 1914 and started breeding in 1919.

Animal lovers the world over also flock to marvel at the zoo's unique penguin pool - built back in 1930 - which allows a fascinating insight into the above and below-water lives of the popular birds.

In the 1950s, many of the animals were tame and were taken for walks to meet the public on the streets of Corstorphine.

Elephant rides were hugely popular and our image shows Sally the elephant giving children rides during the Spring break of 1957. And even the penguins and zebras were given the occasional outing as these pictures on Corstorphine Road show.

Another image, taken in 1964, shows Edinburgh Zoo director, Gilbert Fisher, with Scrap the cheetah outside Edinburgh Zoo.

Passers by were shocked to discover the cheetah on the pavement outside the zoo, watching the traffic go by.

But they need not have worried as the female wildcat was being held at the end of a lead by Mr Fisher who was also involved in her training.

Another attraction long enjoyed by children and adults alike is the monkey house which is currently the temporary home of the zoo's chimpanzees, while a new 5.6m Bundogo Life Science Centre is being built.

Elsewhere, anteaters, flamingos, rhinos, koalas, lemurs, jaguars, pandas, zebras and wildcats prowl within their enclosures.

Just like those on the famous tea advert, in 1969, the public flocked to see chimpanzees Lee, Audrey and Walter enjoying a tea party in their enclosure.

And in the 1960s, there was also a Children's Farm where one of the attractions was a horse-drawn pony cart. Looking ahead, zoo bosses now want to build a bright new zoo entrance and a 3.7m rhino facility with a linked cafe with a grass roof boasting outstanding city views.

A new exotic bird house called Rainbow Landings would also feature and house 100 South American lorikeets.

In the meantime, the zoo is open for business as normal every day from now until the end of December, including Christmas day from 9am to 5pm.