A Visit to the Aquarium at Chester Zoo

By David Marshall

The beautiful City of Chester is located on the border of North-Western England and North Wales and is famous for its Roman history, Cathedral, superb shopping facilities and as the home of the U.K.'s premier Zoological Gardens.

Situated in the village of Upton, the Zoological Gardens are home to a vast array of animal and plant species. Always seemingly ahead of the rest in animal welfare the Zoo has gone through massive reconstruction over the past decade, creating various 'themed housing' which recreates natural habitats to a tee, and this will soon come to completion, for now, with the building of a new aquarium complex.

So, as of September 2003, we find approximately 30 beautifully set out display tanks (of various sizes and dimensions) housed in the oldest remaining building.

As we entered the aquarium we found ourselves facing 6 large tropical freshwater tanks which are as wide as they are deep and long. The first of these to catch the eye pays testament to the ongoing conservation work carried out by the aquarium staff and is home to a large shoal of Yssichromis regens where a beautifully coloured male was standing guard over a harem of females whilst keeping a watchful eye on a young subordinate male.

Although a little biased, as the Marshall family have sponsored a fish in this display for close to 20 years, my favourite is the Amazon display with its lush green aquatic plants and tangled roots. Here you find shoals of Turquoise Discus (a pair of who were preparing to spawn as I watched in awe), Cardinal Tetra, mixed Corydoras and the largest Emperor Peckoltia I have ever seen.

The visitors favourite appeared to be the Rainbowfish exhibit where the word huge does little justice to the size of the Red and Boesmani Rainbows housed here. These fish are, in Rainbow terms, of great age now but their body colours remain remarkably bright.

As this bank of tanks ends we are onto a large corner tank that is home to a Lake Malawi community and there are so many Mbuna, of many sizes and colour, here that you literally cannot see the water for fish. Watch the rock escarpment and you will see various cichlid fry move from one hiding place to another.

Now we are onto the only brackish display. When Sue and I were here in August 2000 the Archerfish, Scats and Fingerfish had just be added to this tank as mere tiddlers. What a surprise then to find that they are so large, and beautiful, now that they will soon need to be re-housed.

Several tropical marine exhibits follow in which precise water conditions etc. are maintained by keeping the number of fish in each tank to a minimum stocking level. Chiefs amongst these are the breeding group of Bengali Cardinalfish whose offspring can be seen in the aquaria of many fellow Zoos and Public Aquariums around the World.

Axolotls and other amphibians follow before a final row of tropical freshwater displays. Visitors' favourite in this section is a tank darkened with a whole tangle of roots and home to several species of Elephant-nosed fish and large Synodontis angelicus very difficult to spot (sorry).

Of conservation importance is the display of Blind Cave Garra (cyprinids which resemble loaches) from Oman. This particular group is the only known breeding group to be maintained in a place of public viewing. For months the aquarists here struggled in their attempts to get these particular fish to reproduce before outside forces came to their aid as Chester's worst thunderstorm in living memory, coupled with a moving day from one aquaria to another, produced the unexpected trigger which would see pairs of this Garra spawn in buckets and jugs. Sadly, and several years on, this remains their one and only spawning.

Finally we reach another large corner tank which houses a breeding pair of Freshwater Stingrays alongside some huge Silver Monkeyfish.

As a bonus our group, which had to be split into two seatings, had the chance for a 'behind the scenes' tour and all were amazed with the Seahorse breeding programme and the sight of several endangered cichlid species. Here are several gigantic Probarbus julenni awaiting a proper display pool.

Fish exhibits are also to be found spread around other areas of the Zoo, including Rudd in more than one moat, and perhaps the most interesting is in the free-flying bat exhibit were the pool contains another breeding pair of Freshwater Stingrays alongside four extremely large Red-Tailed Catfish.

For all animal lovers Chester Zoological Gardens are a magical place to visit with so much to see whatever the weather and all you really need is plenty of time and good walking shoes.


First published in the newsletter of The Vancouver Aquatic Hobbyist Club