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Dinosaurs come to life at Marwell

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  • by Lindsay Walsh
 

Walking through the lush surroundings of Marwell brings back childhood memories of a trip to see the penguins.

But today is very different. As I stroll up the path, there’s a thunderous roar and the bushes in front of me shake.

Peering round the corner, I see a smashed golf cart and twisted, broken trees. What could have done this?

As I pluck up the courage to creep round the bushes, a terrifying face looms high above my head.

It’s a Tyrannosaurus rex and judging by the state of those trees the fence won’t hold it for long...

Thankfully this T-rex is just one of several new animatronic dinosaurs that have been installed at Marwell in preparation for the new Rise of the Dinosaurs attraction at the zoo.

Scattered around the wildlife park are dinosaurs of all different shapes and sizes, from the intimidating T-rex to cute baby triceratopses.

Heading up this exciting new project is Kirstie Mathieson, project leader for Rise of the Dinosaurs.

She says: ‘We’ve got 10 different types of dinosaur including edmontonia, parasaurolophus, stegosaurus, quetzalcoatlus and a baryonyx.

‘Some of the dinosaurs are quite scary, the T-rex is pretty impressive and the baryonyx spits water – it’s definitely one to look out for!’

She adds: ‘They’re not 100 per cent life-sized, but they are life-like. The T-rex is about 18 feet high, it weighs three tonnes and it was quite surreal seeing it come out of the truck. It took two fork-lifts to move it.’

‘Our landscape team have done an amazing job planting plants around them that are close to what their habitat would have been like when they were around five million years ago – there’s a complete sense of drama to how they are staged. With some of the dinosaurs you come round the corner and they sort of take you by surprise.

‘It’s been huge fun to see the reactions of children and families – they’re more excited than scared. It’s great to hear them running down the path yelling “dinosaur!”’

The park’s wildlife seems less bothered by the new arrivals.

‘There’s been no reaction at all from the animals at the zoo. We tried the compressors that run the dinosaurs to see how the animals reacted and we’ve tested the dinosaurs each day before the park opens, but the animals that are in proximity to them haven’t reacted at all,’ says Kirstie.

As well as robotic dinosaurs, Marwell has a friendly velociraptor who has become a bit of a hit on YouTube.

‘The dinosaurs work on air compressors and electricity, but Velma the velociraptor is a costume so she gets out and about – we’ve even taken her to the Cascades Shopping Centre.

‘We did a happy dinosaur video on YouTube with all the staff and Velma dancing along to Pharell Williams’ song Happy and during the school holidays and half-term Velma will be doing a live performance show every day with a dinosaur keeper who will be looking at Velma’s tail and her teeth to make sure she’s healthy.’

Kirstie is hoping that families’ love of these giant beats from the past will encourage them to think about the future of the many endangered species that Marwell is trying to help save.

‘I think people love dinosaurs because they are unknown and there are so many different types – they’re just intriguing. People also like that they are so big, the scale of them and that they’re scary.

‘We’ve positioned dinosaurs around the park so that they are near animals that are similar in physiology to them.

‘For example the quetzalcoatlus [a flying dinosaur] is positioned near the marabou storks and obviously there’s quite a lot of similarity both in looks and what they actually might eat.

‘It’s a way of drawing attention to some of the other animals and their conservation status because so many of our species within the park are on a critically endangered list.

‘Hopefully we’ll be able to teach people about dinosaurs, help to increase their knowledge and through that grow people’s interest in our animals and how we try to conserve them in the wild.

‘Rise of the Dinosaurs is a unique attraction, there’s definitely nothing quite like it in the area.’

Richard Chambers is a maintenance plumber for Marwell who is part of the team looking after the dinosaurs since they arrived.

Richard says:‘It was quite a bit of work getting the dinosaurs off the truck, it took nearly 20 people but the staff here were quite excited – there was a lot of anticipation.

‘As a kid I quite liked dinosaurs and seeing them all again brings that back.

‘Some of the dinosaurs are scary but in a good way. When we’ve been testing them we’ve had little kids run up to them and then when they roar the kids run away!

‘The eyes are the best bit – when they move it feels like they are watching you.’

The dinosaurs’ arrival has also been a learning experience for Richard.

He explains: ‘We’ve learned new skills from this. We’ve been shown how to do airbrushing and how to mix up the latex to do the repairs on their skin. We spray the latex on and then push a stencil in to create the skin pattern.

‘I’ve never worked on anything like this before but I’m excited about the public seeing them – it will make all of the effort worth it.

‘I never thought I’d be doing something like this. I started here to work with toilets and now I’m working with T-rexes!’

 

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