LAST year proved another roaring success for Knowsley Safari Park, despite the double whammy of horrendous British weather and the recession.

The safari park’s visitor figures in 2009 were the highest for more than 35 years, with more than 530,000 people coming through the gates in the 12 months to the end of December – the best annual attendance since the business opened in 1972.

General manager David Ross,told the Star he was very pleased in light of the difficult trading conditions and economic doom and gloom.

He explained: “Throughout 2009, we had to cope with very mixed weather including, of course, the forecast barbecue summer that turned out to be a monsoon most of the time.

“It was a real achievement to see visitor figures rise to a level that we haven’t seen for the best part of four decades.”

The biggest crowd-pullers included the park’s largest ever pride of lions and the three mischievous white rhino toddlers, but surveys reveal it is still the infamous baboons who are the stars of the show.

But the inhabitants of the monkey jungle are now facing stiff competition from the park’s meerkats, thanks to the high-profile of Aleksandr, star of a current TV commercial as well as programmes like Meerkat Manor.

Talking about the Safari Park’s prospects, David is extremely optimistic.

He said: “Because of the size of the park, the large numbers of animals we have and the many new features we’ve added over the years, we’re one of the region’s few genuine all-day attractions.

“This means that we can offer excellent value for money, which is why I am confident we will continue to attract large numbers of visitors, old and new this year, especially if we get anything like a decent summer.”

The 550-acre park on the Earl of Derby’s estate will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year.

It is the only safari park in the north west and one of only five in the UK.

It is normally open every day of the year except Christmas Day.