From helping set up a children’s zoo to manually raising a donkey, there have been many proud moments throughout Peter Cookson Dean’s career at Walton.
Last week, the zoo keeper celebrated his 40th anniversary at Walton Hall and Gardens Children’s Zoo where a plaque was installed to celebrate his hard work and dedication.
Peter, who is originally from Pinkth, loved animals from a very young age and always wanted to be a zookeeper.
This came from his childhood as he had a lot of pets and was spending summer holidays working on his aunt’s farm near Preston.
So to him, his job feels more like a hobby than a real job.
When Peter started working at the children’s zoo, there were only 10 old cages with some animals and birds in them.
“I mainly came to build the zoo as there was no zoo,” he said.
“We wanted to open it up and make it bigger. It was also my job to take a tour around the zoo.”
Peter also chose the animals he would bring to Walton – and he has since introduced many different species. And now among the many out there, donkeys are his favourite.
And the proudest moment of Walton’s career so far was when he hand-bred his lovable donkey BoBo.
Peter was with Bobo’s mother when she went into labor at six in the morning, but when she was born, she treated him poorly and tried to attack and kill him.
BoBo was also unable to feed his mother, which resulted in Peter having to raise the newborn he had lived with for six months until his nutrition started to decline.
Bobo lived in Peter’s kitchen and was the size of a Labrador when he returned to the children’s zoo.
“It was so nice to have him,” said Peter, “baby donkeys are the cutest things ever.”
Although no two days are alike for Peter, he does talk to the Warrington Guardian through his regular daily routine.
Work usually begins around 8:30 in the morning. His first job is to make sure all the animals are happy and healthy before serving their food in the morning.
He then stirs up the donkeys and alpacas and leaves the pigs outside and makes sure all the animals that were put to sleep the night before are checked and left.
Next, Peter begins watering—making sure all the zoo’s residents have fresh water—before clearing out the ditch, cleaning up, and assigning apprentices to day jobs.
At around 1pm the animals are fed before the closing routine begins as the zoo team starts putting things away and the animals back to bed before dark.
An average day for Peter ends at around 4.30pm.
Speaking of his four decades at the zoo, Peter said: “It’s been amazing, I have a great team around me at Walton Gardens.
“I’ve been very fortunate over the last 40 years, I’ve had some very good managers and I think the team I’m working with now is one of the best.
“It doesn’t feel like a job at all, it’s just a hobby.”
Besides his hard work with all the animals, Peter has also worked closely with students from Maerskow College who often complete internships at the zoo.
His favorite part about this scheme is sharing his passion for the zoo and animals with the students.
In honor of Peter’s 40-year-old at Walton Hall and Gardens Children’s Zoo, the team there worked in partnership with Maerskoff College to launch the Peter Cookson Dean Award, which will be awarded to a student each year for outstanding achievement in animal welfare.