WEST Midland Safari Park is celebrating its 45th birthday this year with the help of their pride of lions who were among the first species to arrive.

Hollywood screen goddess Sophia Loren opened the then small attraction in the spring of 1973 but it has since grown into one of the largest in the Midlands.

It now boasts 837 animals, compared to 447 recorded in its first year. These include a pride of 12 African lions, a colony of 21 Humboldt penguins and a troop of 13 ring-tailed lemurs.

The park also now participates in 23 breeding programmes for endangered animals including Sumatran tigers, Eld’s deer and African wild dogs.

It has also celebrated recent births at the attraction including Finn the tiny pancake tortoise, Fennessy the Rothschild’s giraffe and half-siblings Ekozu and Fahari, the southern white rhinos.

Away from the four-mile safari and animal exhibits, the park houses Land of the Living Dinosaurs and the Ice Age as well as the Adventure Theme Park.

Last year, the Safari Academy opened which hosts curriculum linked education sessions and boasts five classrooms for visiting schools.

It also has three venues for events including the Georgian manor Spring Grove House.

And away from Bewdley, the Safari Park is also responsible for two ex-Sea Life Centres in Rhyl and Weston-super-Mare, renamed SeaQuarium in 2001, which house exhibits including British rays, turtles and collections of tropical fish.

Future projects in the pipeline for the next five years include a new rail halt that will connect the park to the mainline network.

Managing Director Ivan Knezovich, who celebrates his 40th anniversary at the park after joining as a sea lion keeper in 1978, said: “I am absolutely delighted that the Park has reached its 45th anniversary.

“The Park is much more than just a Safari Drive-through - it is now a complete family day out with a huge range of activities and experiences to keep families coming back again and again, from one generation to the next.

“Our team, many who have been here over 25 years, have contributed to making the Park a destination that has won over 30 international awards during its evolution.

“From amazing wildlife exhibits and successful animal births to the recent opening of our fantastic prehistoric exhibits, we have expanded our business to enable us to provide something for everyone and our future plans are even more exciting than the last 45 years combined.”

He added: “For me personally, celebrating my own 40th year at the Park this year is a milestone filled with almost a lifetime of happy memories and amazing experiences.”