By Alex Matthews and Luke Johnston
An animal mad pensioner has visited her favourite zoo twice a month – ever since it opened 80 years ago.
Muriel Thatcher, 91, from Wolverhampton, West Midlands, calls Dudley Zoo her “second home” after never missing her twice-monthly trip to see its inhabitants.
In total she has racked up an incredible 2,084 visits after she first walked through its gates with her mother and sister aged just 10.
Muriel regularly catches two buses to make a three-hour round trip and has been awarded a lifetime membership for her loyalty.
She even celebrated her 90th birthday at the zoo and was allowed into the gorilla enclosure to give them a drink of Ribena.
She has also adopted 28 of the animals to help with their upkeep and has framed photos of them posted around her flat.
The retired auxiliary nurse said: “I absolutely adore Dudley Zoo. I don’t know what I’d do without it. It’s been such an enormous part of my life.
“Even when I’m feeling a bit under the weather I still pay a visit. Nothing will stop me going.
“I have been over 2,000 times now and it never gets old – unlike me!
“Definitely one of my favourite moments was spending my 90th birthday there. I went with my family and there were about 26 of us.
“I’ve somehow become a bit of a celebrity at the zoo so they let me into the gorilla enclosure with a handler and I got to feed and give a drink to them.
“But my favourite gorilla, the gorgeous Benji, had clearly had enough to drink so he squirted it straight back in my face.
“I spend the rest of my day covered in Ribena, but it was very funny. I loved getting so close to them and being the other side of the fence.”
Muriel first went to the zoo on its opening day back in June 1937.
She queued for three hours with her mum and her sister to get inside, but once she started looking around the self-confessed animal lover was hooked.
Muriel continued to visit the zoo during the Second World War, often on Wednesdays when the entry price was reduced.
And after she took her first job as an assistant at department store Beatties, she spent one shilling six-pence of her 10 shilling weekly wages on bus fare and entry to the zoo.
Muriel said: “I remember how excited my sister and I were on our first visit. It was like stepping into another world.
“We had to convince our mother to stay in the queue as it was so long. But it was entirely worth it.
“It sparked a lifelong love of the zoo for me. I never moved away from the area and always wanted to keep going back.
“During the war the zoo closed very early because of the blackouts, but I remember it being even more exciting because it was mostly staffed by women.
“Because food was so scarce I used to try and take some scraps for the animals as I felt so sorry for them
“I used to have to scrimp and save pocket money, but when I got my first job at 14 I was happy to spend my wages on going. The buses were very cheap then.”
Muriel has continued to care about the welfare of the animals and has adopted 28 of them, most recently a bat.
She has also visited other zoos all over the country, including Chester, Paignton, and West Midlands Safari Park, but says none of them can match up to her beloved Dudley.
Muriel said: “I thought it was a nice way to give something back. I get little pictures of the animals sent to me and I keep them around my house.
“It’s lovely to look at them and know that I am helping. My favourite animals are tigers, although Benji the gorilla is definitely my favourite at Dudley.
“There is no other place like it. No other zoo I have seen has a patch on it.”