London Zoo

Whipsnade Safari Park and London Zoo

ZSL Whipsnade Safari Park and London Zoo

Today’s Zoos have come a long way from the bad old days of lonely lions languishing behind bars and bored bears pacing up and down their cages.

At ZSL (Zoological Society of London) Whipsnade Safari Park, visitors are more inclined to say “I can’t believe I’m in Bedfordshire” as they view the animals roaming free through their extensive enclosures built to replicate their natural habitats as closely as possible, although the weather is often more inclement at times, and they are able to observe them closely through reinforced glass barriers, from their cars, on a safari bus, by land train, or on Whipsnade Safari Park’s own Jumbo Express steam train.

Set in 600 acres of parkland, Whipsnade Safari Park is one of Europe’s largest conservation centres and, at 6 times larger than ZSL London Zoo, is home to around 2,500 species, most of them endangered and whose natural territories are threatened by human development or are constantly in danger from poachers.

Whipsnade Animal park

ZSL Whipsnade Safari Park is vast, so you will need a full day to see it all. There are daily sea lion and exotic bird shows and demonstrations of birds of prey handling, as well as entertaining feeding times and informative talks.

As well as the large enclosures housing wild animals from Asia, Africa and the Northern hemisphere, like lions, tigers, giraffes, rhinos and cheetahs,  there is also a children’s zoo featuring domesticated animals, both familiar and unusual, who are quite happy to be stroked and fussed over by the children. Nearby is a new adventure playground, Hullabazoo, where the kids can run wild while the adults relax and there is also an indoor play zone for kids up to 10 years old, run on a first come, first served, session basis. This area can also be hired for children’s parties, with a private party room and food, drinks and goody bags provided.

Baby animals are always a huge favourite with visitors and 2013 has seen the birth of three incredibly cute lynx kittens. The best time to watch their playful antics is early morning and late afternoon, since lynx are crepuscular creatures – most active at dawn and dusk.

Zak the Yak was born in February, and two boisterous baby Bactrian camels arrived in time for Father’s Day!

Not all of the animals take to parenting, however, and some reject or neglect their offspring. When this happens, the keepers have to step in and rear them by hand.

Two penguin chicks, abandoned by their parents at eight weeks old, were fed by their keepers until they had shed their baby “fuzz”, grown waterproof feathers and were then reintroduced into the colony.

Three wild boar piglets also had to be hand reared, since their mother had given birth to a litter too large for her to cope with. The dedication of the ZSL staff is legendary, as the recent three part ITV documentary “The Zoo” shows: as one keeper remarked “it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle”.

Not only are they responsible for the animals’ welfare, they also have to count them all! Every January a compulsory animal “census” takes place, necessary for the management of international breeding programmes for endangered species.

If you fancy a career working with animals, or simply wish to find out what it’s like to be a keeper, ZSL Whipsnade offers a Keeper For A Day experience for over 16’s. Put on your overalls and get stuck in to the routine tasks of preparing food and feeding, devising enrichment activities and, or course, mucking out! You will get up close to the animals where appropriate ie: the ones who are unlikely to eat you! And you will work in groups of up to five supervised by an experienced keeper. Breakfast, lunch and refreshments are included in this experience.

Ever wondered what a Zoo is like at night? ZSL Whipsnade has introduced a “glamping” experience which gives a chance to find out. You will stay overnight in a cosy Lookout Lodge with it’s own private veranda, surrounded by white rhinos, reindeer and wolves. After a glass of bubbly and checking in to your lodge you will be taken on a safari tour and your host will talk to you about the animals and their nocturnal behaviour, answering any questions you may have. There is a stop for a tasty barbeque with wine, beer and soft drinks, but don’t drink too much, since you will be walking back to your lodge by torchlight! See who’s awake and what they’re up to, and look out for bats! Afterwards, relax on your veranda or around the campsite before bedtime and don’t be surprised if you hear wolves howling in the night! After breakfast you will take a tour of the Zoo before opening time, and can stay longer if you want to.

An altogether unforgettable experience for families, couples and animal lovers of all ages.

ZSL London Zoo.

The story of London Zoo, in Regent’s Park, is quite fascinating since it’s origins can be traced back to the Royal Menagerie where exotic animals, brought as gifts by visiting royalty, were kept in tiny cages in the Tower of London both for their curiosity value and as status symbols.

The Royal Menagerie lasted for around 600 years and became an early “tourist attraction”. Admission fees were expensive though, at one time, poorer folk could get in free if they brought a cat or dog with them as food for the lions!

Over the years, animals were made to fight each other for the entertainment of guests, were experimented on, fed the wrong food, and records show that elephants were even given wine to drink!

After several attacks on visitors and staff, and quite a few escapes, in 1832 the Constable of the Tower, the Duke of Wellington, decided that enough was enough and sent the surviving animals to a new home in Regent’s Park Zoo, which had been established in 1826 as a centre for the study of Zoology.

London Zoo

Thankfully times and attitudes towards animals have changed, and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL ) today plays a vital part in the conservation and breeding of endangered species worldwide thanks to the hard work and commitment of their staff. Although it lacks the wide open spaces of Whipsnade, London Zoo has created enclosures where the animals will feel “at home”and follow their natural patterns of behaviour.

In the new 2,500 sqm Tiger Territory, a pair of critically endangered Sumatran tigers prowl through tropical foliage with tall trees to climb, high feeding poles and a pool to cool down in and keepers are hoping for the patter of tiny paws next year.

Penguin Beach is a recreated South American shore where visitors can watch four species of penguin swim, dive, feed and play follow-my-leader in England’s biggest penguin pool, complete with diving board. Don’t miss feeding time – it’s highly entertaining!

London Zoo has a heated biome that simulates a South American rainforest, housing monkeys, lemurs, birds and many other creatures that thrive in this humid atmosphere and there is a high viewing platform and also the Nightzone, where you can watch the nocturnal animals.

London Zoo was the first place to open a public aquarium, and while you won’t see huge shark walkthrough tanks, there are three halls dedicated to different types of habitats full of colourful, shimmering and strange underwater creatures, including the enchanting seahorses. In 2010 a record breaking 918 baby seahorses were born – good news for this threatened species.

There is always so much going on at London Zoo with demonstrations, talks and feeding times that it’s worth getting a guide book to help plan your visit and make sure you don’t miss anything.

Plus, it can get very busy, so buying fast track admission tickets is advisable to avoid potential long queues.

Zoo tickets can be combined with tickets for other London attractions like the London Eye, Madame Tussauds and Ripleys Believe It Or Not, to save moneyand Gift vouchers are also available so it’s worth noting that London Zoo offers a Junior Keeper for a Day experience for 11-15 year olds as well as the adult version.

Whatever your interest London Zoo offers an opportunity to get away from the bustle of the city and enjoy the calm oasis of a leafy Regents Park and a great day out for all the family.

Kate Quigley

Kate Quigley Travel Writer

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