LittleBird Mum Louisa went to visit ZSL Whipsnade Zoo with her family for a animal packed fun day, read on to see how she got on…
Animals? Check. Camera? Check…. Action!
We were so excited to be invited to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, and what a day we had!
On arrival, you can park your car for free in the external car park and it’s a short walk under the subway to the main entrance. Alternatively, you can drive into the zoo and park in the designated areas for an additional charge and drive around the park. If you have toddlers in tow who aren’t great at sitting in a buggy for long periods, you can hire Micro Scooter trikes, or bring your own scooters and safely cruise the pathways around the zoo. This would definitely help you cover a lot more ground!
On entering the Zoo, there’s a large board displaying the main events and talks for the day. The zoo is clearly laid out into 4 main areas; Asia, Africa, Europe and Base Camp (which is effectively the rest of the world and contains the aquarium and butterfly house, as well as birds of the world and the indoor and outdoor play areas, amongst many others).
With a map in hand we plotted our path and headed straight for the chimps where a talk was just starting. Lined up on the bank were 3 adorable chimps, posing to the visitors and awaiting their morning snack of fresh fruit and vegetables. The ‘Chimpanezium’ was well equipped with indoor and outdoor play areas allowing the chimps to freely roam and monkey about! In fact, every enclosure was fantastically equipped and spacious, so the animals had plenty of space to roam, which isn’t a given at some zoos.
Next we headed through Base Camp to catch the tiger talk and wow we got close to the action! A female tiger had come to the zoo 3 years ago and within 3 months of arriving fell pregnant with 3 cubs. Today they live as a family in the zoo, and the cubs (now nearly fully grown) were prowling the parameters, splashing in the water and play fighting with each other! Amazing to watch and experience so close up.
Next we moved onto the elephant paddock, a huge 30 acres of land – the largest in Europe. There, a herd of Asian Elephants (defined by ears shaped like India and a single ‘false finger’ on the end of their trunk, as we learned from the fun and informative talk!) were led by the only male Elephant, Emmett. We were talked through the family, but in particular we were drawn to Elizabeth, the youngest most playful elephant who loved kicking her ball around and gets quite upset if anyone tries to take it away from her! Ahhhhhh.
In ‘Asia’ you have the option to ride the Jumbo Express steam train visiting greater depths of the park that are not so easily accessible by foot; puffing past the Asian Rhino’s, Camels, Yaks and Sloth bears, which apparently are neither slow nor related to sloths! Who knew Baloo from The Jungle Book was based on a sloth bear?!
With time in between talks, we opted for an early lunch and chose the closest restaurant in Base Camp. We were impressed with the cleanliness, seated table service and ordering couldn’t have been simpler via on-table tablets. And the food options, although simple, provided enough variety for most people, including some healthier options. It was fast food without the hassle of queuing and handling trays, which is particularly handy when you have kids in tow! And the quick turnaround meant we could get back out to where the real action was.
After a quick wander around some of the smaller animals of Base Camp, we then went onto the sea lion show, which is a real must see and a highlight of our day. We watched an action packed talk, learning all about sea lions whilst they expertly showed off their skills and tricks making a real splash and performing to the packed out audience. My 8yo gymnastics fanatic was impressed with one sea lion’s backflip!
Next up we took a quick visit to the otters, who kindly came out to greet us (I think they thought it was feeding time!), before making a beeline for the giraffe enclosure (my personal favourite animal) on the outskirts of ‘Africa’, where we saw another one of the zoo’s babies. Khari was born in the zoo only a few months ago and was tottering around alongside her elders. So cute.
Wandering around ‘Africa’ was like being on safari. We got to witness up close action of hippos play fighting and lions playing… err sleeping Lions! Where the wall to ceiling glass feels like you’re really in the lion’s den.
From our African adventure, we wandered over to Europe to stroll among the forests to see the bears and wolverines. And if you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise, right? And boy did the bears deliver! Whilst captivated watching two bears shaking their bamboo hangings to release fruit, a third bear awoke from his slumber and emerged from its little cave right in front of us, before taking a quick dip in the water. Absolutely magical. As my mother in law said, ‘I’ve been to Alaska and not seen bears so close or so active!’.
Also in Europe, there are lookout lodges next to the reindeer enclosure (with a view over to Africa and the white rhinos!), which you can stay in overnight and experience the zoo as no-one else gets to see it. How amazing would that be? One for next time maybe….
Before the Zoo closed, we had a half an hour to check out the new aquarium at Whipsnade. It’s the first UK aquarium dedicated to conserving extinct-in-the-wild fresh water fish. You take a colourful and vibrant journey around the world though Caribbean mangroves, Brazilian forests, and Vietnamese rivers, and with crystal clear waters and replicas of their natural habitats it allows you to get close to some of the rarest and most unique fish on the planet.
The aquarium leads you into the Butterfly house, home to over 30 species of butterflies. Fluttering around among plants and fruits it’s hard to spot them all, but a wonderful sensory experience within the warm hot house. From here we wondered back to the entrance/exit for ice creams and the fully packed gift shop before wearily but oh-so happily making our journey home.
We didn’t even have time for Hullabazoo, the indoor play centre or the farmyard and outdoor play areas! Fortunately the kids hadn’t noticed it either as they were so immersed in the zoo itself, but good to know for future visits or indeed if the weather is not so kind. Good to know: the play centre does get busy, so it’s an idea to book your session on arrival to avoid disappointment.
We were extremely impressed with Whipsnade Zoo, including the conservation work that goes on behind the scenes, which the staff are clearly extremely passionate about. The Animal enclosures are immaculately kept, the information educational and pitched to all levels of visitors whatever their age. We loved the ‘Who’s who in the Zoo’ posters naming each animal from their distinctive features and how they came to be part of the Whipsnade family.
Thanks Whipsnade for a great day out! We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and were amazed at how active and happy the animals were. My parents said our pictures (all taken on my smartphone) were better than those they captured on their recent safari in South Africa! I think that says it all really.
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