SWELTERING in traffic jams, hundreds of cars overheated and conked out – cocooned by armies of baboons, lions and tigers.

Knowsley Safari Park proved such an unusual attraction when it opened 40 years ago that 6,500 cars turned up on the first day.

As 30,000 visitors crammed in to catch a glimpse of so many rare animals, the AA received more than 150 emergency call-outs.

Cars were bumper to bumper and couldn’t cope with the stop-start queuing.

As the venue celebrates its 40th anniversary this week, staff have been reminiscing.

General manager, David Ross, was chief warden when the park opened on July 3, 1971.

In the first month 200,000 visitors flocked to see wild animals rambling round the 346 acres of Lord Derby’s estate.

David said: “They were amazing days. People converged in huge numbers to see the new safari park phenomenon for themselves.

“It’s difficult to imagine how we coped with the flood of visitors.

“We had the police trying to handle breakdowns and huge traffic jams outside.

“Motoring organisations were trying to deal with hundreds of stranded vehicles.”

Special events are being held to mark the momentous milestone.

Two 1970s vintage buses will be making a comeback to take visitors on safari in August.

An exhibition celebrating the park’s history will display old pictures, newspaper cuttings and memorabilia throughout the summer.

Today, after millions of pounds of investment, the park is now home to 700 animals and attracts 500,000 visitors a year.

David added: “It’s remarkable to think, that 40 years on, thanks to Lord Derby, the safari park is still here, thriving and with many new and exciting projects in the pipeline.”

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