We always have a great time at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo which is located near Dunstable in Buckinghamshire. Little did we know what an amazing experience we’d have when we made an impromptu visit earlier this week. POD had two inset days before the autumn term began and while we did consider going further afield, we’d only returned home from Asturias a couple of days earlier.
Whipsnade is Britain’s largest zoo and forms part of the Zoological Society of London, working in more than 50 countries to protect animals and their habitats. The zoo is split into four zones – Base Camp, Europe, Asia and Africa – so it’s easy to get around. There are various events, feeds and demonstrations on throughout the day too from the lemur breakfast, Birds of the World, Sea Lions Live to Crocodile Talks, Hippo Chats and Elephant Eye Spy. Six year old POD was desperate to see the meerkats and the lions when we arrived so we headed for Africa first. This zone is the furthest from the entrance but quick and easy to walk to. We wouldn’t normally start there but POD was beside herself with excitement so we absolutely had to.
The meerkats were hiding from the rain when we arrived so we headed for the Lions of the Serengeti exhibit first which is opposite. There, much to our delight, we discovered three lions right next to the glass. It was amazing to see them up so close. In fact we ended up staying so long, we got to see six lions in all. With POD’s camera out of action, she used my mobile to take multiple shots as I had my camera. It’s not every day you get to see so many lions within such close proximity is it? As the rain had eased off, we headed back to see the meerkats who had ventured above ground and outside. I suspect POD’s squeals of delight could be heard for miles around. The combination of arriving at Whipsnade not long after it opened and the rain meant we’d had the lion and meerkat enclosures almost to ourselves. What an absolute treat that was, especially as we got to know more about the lions from a couple of the ZSL team.
With POD our guide, next stop on her list of must sees were the giraffes. There’s a great high viewing platform at Whipsnade so they can be seen in the paddock and in their enclosure. Luckily for us however, a small group were feeding the giraffes so we got to see them closer than we ever have before. A great opportunity for POD to ask another member of the ZSL staff her burning questions! Thankfully she was happy to oblige as we watched these wonderful creatures eat the leaves from the branches they’d been given. The calves were just adorable to see too, one even winked!
We should have gone to see the white rhinos next but instead decided to head towards the hippos and cheetahs via the zebras. They’re always fascinating to watch with their perfect stripes aren’t they? POD also enjoyed watching the nearby boars before climbing the trees. Incredibly we even found a few conkers on our travels, a sure fire sign autumn is on the way.
When you always go round a zoo the same way, it’s a little disorientating heading in a different direction (we missed the pengiuns) but it was loads of fun. Arriving to see the flamingoes from the opposite direction and marvelling at the pelicans trying to catch fish. A pitstop at the Wild Bite for a (very!) late lunch resulted in a detour to see some birds with extraordinarily long beaks before going on tiger watch. I absolutely adore photographing the faces and eyes of the larger animals but the tigers were just that little bit too far this time around. We’d wanted to take the Jumbo Express but having spent so long with the lions, meerkats and giraffes meant we just didn’t really have time.
We couldn’t leave without seeing the elephants who have a large enclosure and there’s a new Centre for Elephant Care at Whipsnade now too. We were thrilled to discover the elephants were out in their paddock including the youngest two – Sam and Elizabeth. The vast majority were eating grass with their trunks and they were fascinating to watch. For the third time that day, POD got to ask one of the ZSL staff her burning questions – this time all about elephants. What an absolute treat for a six year old being able to ask the experts three times in one day. Unsurprisingly we stayed watching the elephants for quite some time. They’re such beautiful creatures and it was highly entertaining seeing Sam play the joker. He’s a little mischief maker that’s for sure. We managed to miss seeing the sloth bears (although POD wanted to see an actual sloth thanks to Zoolander) but we saw the most beautiful rhino.
Normally while we’re at Whipsnade we catch the sea lion show which is great. This time around we got to see them in their usual habitat both above and below the water. POD has never seen sea lions swimming beneath the surface just in front of her before and she loved it. We must have spent half an hour going back and forth between the upstairs and downstairs before heading to Hullabazoo. There are all kinds of farmyard animals in this area with POD most interested in seeing the pigs, goats and sheep.
We saw West African Dwarf Crocodiles and a whole host of fish before entering the Butterfly House which was fab. There are hundreds of species of butterfly to be seen on the flowers and flying around. For the first time ever, I had a butterfly land on my shoulder – a huge Blue Morpho which was just beautiful. It freaked POD out a little as she thought one might land on her but she liked seeing the still butterflies including the clever one that resembles a leaf.
We missed a few animals at Whipsnade this time around as we spent so long with the ones we got close to. It’s probably our best trip to Whipsnade ever though because of that. It’s not every day you get so near to giants like lions, giraffes and elephants is it? We’re already itching to go back, we could have quite easily returned for more the following day. There’s nothing better than seeing these animals and the delight in your child’s face when she’s just blown away by them. What a superb time we had.