A tribute to Dr John Knowles, OBE

Founder of Marwell Zoological Park

Friends and former colleagues of Dr John Knowles were deeply saddened to learn of his death on 2nd November following an illness. Dr Knowles had recently celebrated his 90th birthday.

Dr Knowles had founded the famous and much-loved zoological park in 1972 and under his direction it became a beacon of light in the world of wildlife conservation. His work was widely respected throughout the zoological world both at home and abroad.

Dr Knowles bought the Park in the late sixties and proceeded to create the zoo, working almost literally with his bare hands to make the layout which remains today the basis of all subsequent developments. Marwell Hall at the centre of the Park became the administrative centre.

The zoo was noted for its work with ungulates - hoofed animals - and the endangered scimitar-horned oryx became its early symbol. A group of these animals bred at the Park were returned to the wild and the species was brought back from the brink of extinction - as was another key animal - the Przewalski's wild horse - which is successfully bred and has been similarly returned to the wild. But many other species were taken aboard the Marwell Ark and continue to represent their endangered cousins in the wild.

Under Dr Knowles's ownership the zoo became a charity and he granted further land for development - his dream was to see an African Bowl - African species were always so dear to his heart. His particular favourite was the okapi - little-known in the sixities, but now thanks to zoos such as Marwell, known, understood and conserved.

Education was also a vital tool in the conservation work undertaken at Marwell and he was very proud when a dedicated Education Centre was opened. Several parts of the zoo were graced by royal visits, notably the Princess Royal who opened the railway, launched the new Giraffe House and Penguin World.

John Knowles was much-loved by his staff and the many people who volunteered their help during his time at the zoo.

John Knowles was a true pioneer and his vision has become every more prescient - given the perilous situation of so much of the world's wildlife. Marwell remains a jewel in Hampshire's crown. His legacy should never be forgotten and should be widely acknowledged.

by Gaynor Worman (former Press Officer at Marwell Zoo) and Lynne Stafford, former deputy director