Wanting to be different, on Valentine’s Day this year Steve and I decided to skip the overpriced candlelit dinner and go to Whipsnade Zoo instead. Why Whipsnade, located in Bedfordshire, UK? Because we knew it had a walk-through lemur exhibit (lemurs are Steve’s favourite), as well as some baby animals. It required a long journey — two tube rides, a train and a bus — to get there from West London, but it was easy enough. The queue was inevitably filled with crying babies and it took a while to escape due to everyone using 2-for-1 vouchers at the entry tills. But once done we were free to explore this massive, muddy playground for ourselves. And it really is massive — we were surprised to find roads running around the zoo, car parks at the corners and a bus running between different sections. A lot of walking and time was required to see everything, but this was due to the copious amounts of space the animals had in their enclosures — something that definitely goes in the zoo’s favour.
Our first stop was the chimpanzee cage to attend the ‘Chimp Chat’ session, in which zoo keepers threw chunks of fruit over and into the cage. It was child-oriented but very informative nonetheless, and the chimps were quite interesting themselves, grinning out of the cage at everyone and sitting by the cage’s edge to eat the handfuls of food they’d collected.
This furry brown pair had a huge enclosure, so we were lucky to catch a glimpse of one of them using a paw to knock through the ice covering their pond before they both went back into hiding. I know they’re ferocious and everything, but I just wanted to cuddle them!
Wolverine and Buffalo
The wolverine is supposed to be one of the most ferocious small creatures in the world… but this one was curled up fast asleep both times we went to visit it. The Buffalo were more friendly.
The giraffes, like many of the other animals, were inside their house to shelter from the cold. We still had ample opportunity to admire their grace and beauty though. And they’re one of the few creatures on earth that make Steve look short…
We next walked through the house of some boring animal — Springbok maybe — then, when we opened the door at the other end, came face to face with a wallaby — uncaged and very close. Stunned, we stared at it in silence for a while, figured that we must’ve gone through a door we shouldn’t have and quickly went back inside again. However, after going back out the other way and walking round the house we again found ourselves facing the mini kangaroo. Either it had escaped or it was supposed to be roaming free. We later found out that it was the latter — and it wasn’t alone in its excursions! The zoo was also roamed by Indian peafowl (peacocks), prairie marmots (large beaver-like rodents), junglefowl (wild relative of the domestic chicken), Chinese water deer and muntjac deer (breeds of unusually small deer) and mara (an odd-looking animal that resembles a cross between a hare and a small antelope). I think these free-roaming animals were one of the zoo’s best features!
Rhinos, reindeer and hippos
Not much to say about these guys, except to note that the reindeer appeared to be very good friends with the mara (their enclosure was swarming with the strange small creatures) and that we didn’t see much of the hippos, unfortunately. Due to the weather being cold, they seemed to all be hiding inside and as a result we didn’t get to see Hula the baby hippo! Boo.
By this time we were starving and so made the trek from the top edge of the zoo to the canteen. Unfortunately, by now it was about 1.30pm and obviously peak time — the canteen was packed full and positively ringing with the racket of screaming children. The food and drink was inevitably a little pricey for what it was (sandwiches, a small selection of canteen-typical hot food and some cakes/slices), but not too bad (my veggie lasagne was about £7). We had no choice but to sit in the cold outside. So it wasn’t the most romantic Valentine’s dinner out… but, hey, we were surrounded by animals!
Birds of the world
We finished lunch and found the bird arena just in time for the ‘Birds of the World’ show. This was definitely one of the day’s highlights. The birds, which included a golden eagle, a barn owl, buzzards and harriers, were wonderful to watch and impressively obedient — most of the time! In fact the best part was probably when one of the birds refused to follow instructions and instead hopped up the stairs to take a seat in the audience and wouldn’t move for a good few minutes (see photo below). There was also an incident where a whole group of birds flew away to sit together in a far-away tree and would not be called back for a long time. Perhaps, with it being one of this year’s first shows, the birds were just excited to be out.
Freezing with the penguins
Next up was the penguin’s feeding time, so we walked a mile up to the penguin enclosure on the hill (I’m hardly even exaggerating). It was so cold up on this hill that I felt almost as if we’d joined the penguins in their natural Antarctic habitat. Eventually the zoo keepers arrived to give the penguins their feed — most of which seemed to be gobbled up by swooping seagulls 😦 That was rather irritating, but I don’t know how they could solve this problem.
Hanging with the lemurs
Our favourite part of the day! At first we were withheld entry to the lemur enclosure because it was really muddy and the lemurs had gone inside anyway, but then they came outside and I determined to get us in! We went back to the door, were let in and converged with the lemurs on the bridge as they left their house and came towards us along a rope. From there, they jumped down to walk the wooden fence beside us and even onto the path! Seeing them up-close and without a fence inbetween really allowed us to see what strange and beautiful creatures they are.
I was looking forward to visiting the elephants — they’re such unique creatures and I find them fascinating. In addition, they look like they’re doing really big, cute smiles whenever they open their mouths! Seeing the baby elephant, named Scott, was my number-one priority but unfortunately he spent all the time we were there hiding underneath his Mum! But here’s a cute video of him to make up for the lack of photos…
Camels, a tiger and meerkats
The tiger was beautiful but unfortunately moved too fast to be captured on film. The camels stood conversing quite far away, but it was the first time I’d ever seen a camel so still quite cool. The meerkats, however, were a real treat! Very cute and active, making them interesting to watch whether huddled up in their house or running around their little open-top enclosure.
In the lion’s den
I was amazed at how close we were able to get to the lions. The viewing room almost took you into their enclosure, with only plexiglass inbetween. At one point a lion bounded down from a hill within right towards me, only turning away when it reached the glass! Another set of magnificent animals.
Sadly the cheetahs, otters and red pandas weren’t around due to the cold. There was a petting zoo for children that had goats, chickens and other farm animals. The zoo began to close just as we finished seeing everything, leaving us just enough time to visit the gift shop before we left. Good thing we did, otherwise I’d never have bought Lily the cuddly lemur (see below)! Whipsnade zoo was a great day out — but next time we go to a zoo, we’ll make sure there’s no snow on the ground to limit the number of animals we meet.
All text and photos (c) Juliet Langton, 2012. All rights reserved.