A RECORD two million people number of people have visited Chester Zoo in the last year according to new figures.

The wildlife conservation charity, already ranked as the UK's most popular zoo, has broken every attendance record since opening its gates in 1931.

Conservationists say the new milestone will ensure the zoo continues to lead the fight to prevent extinction and protect the future of threatened species on the planet, while providing a significant boost the visitor economy in the North West of England.

Income generated by visitors is enabling the zoo to make a huge, positive impact on wildlife through carefully managed breeding programmes and its field projects in more than 30 countries worldwide. Key initiatives this year have included scientific research into habitats and diseases, animal welfare knowledge and technical expertise, as well as ground-breaking awareness campaigns.

Mark Pilgrim, Chief Executive Officer at Chester Zoo, said: "The fantastic support of our visitors and members is vital to our efforts to protect wildlife extinction globally.

"This year alone, we've helped to return five critically endangered Eastern black rhinos to an area where they had previously been extinct in Rwanda.

"Our team carried out the world’s first radio tagging of a giant pangolin, one of the world’s most trafficked animals, to help us gather data about their movements in Uganda.

"Thousands of rare, zoo-bred snails were flown to Bermuda and French Polynesia to be reintroduced to the wild and, at home in the UK, hundreds of endangered large heath butterflies have been bred at the zoo ready for release next year in Manchester's mosslands.

"We also made Chester the world's first 'Sustainable Palm Oil City' which has raised the profile of one of the biggest threats to the future of orangutans – the unsustainable palm oil industry.

"Meanwhile, our scientific breakthrough in EEHV research, a deadly virus that is decimating Asian elephant numbers globally, led to the first ever successful treatment of a calf at the zoo, while we’ve welcomed a host of new arrivals across the many carefully coordinated breeding programmes we play a vital part in.

"It's absolutely crucial that more people sit up and take urgent notice of the threats facing wildlife and fully embrace the different ways that they can help make a difference.

"This is something our education programmes constantly champion. We can all come together and bring a halt to biodiversity loss."

As well as having a positive environmental impact, the boom in visitors has contributed to the wider economy in the North West and given a boost to jobs and tourism in the region.

Jamie Christon, chief operating officer at the zoo, added: "Two million people visiting the zoo, including record membership numbers, is a real boost to our conservation efforts and provides great benefits to the surrounding area – bringing £50m every year to the region's economy.

"What is more, the zoo now employs up to 1,000 members of staff in peak summer months, which means more people than ever are working to help prevent extinction.

"Thank you to every single person that has visited the zoo and left feeling more empowered to protect wildlife.

"You have helped us to protect endangered species around the world."

Chester Zoo has major plans to continue to grow as a world-renowned visitor attraction and conservation centre next year and beyond, with the development of an innovative new South American wetland aviary and re-opening of its flagship South East Asian habitat, Monsoon Forest, among the highlights in the pipeline.