It was the best birthday surprise ever. A two day visit with an overnight sleep in the zoo! It was actually my daughter’s birthday surprise from me two years ago, but as I got to go with her it doesn’t matter. We had THE most fantastic time. It was awesome!
When we left home, she had no clue as to where we were going, only that we would be outside, it involved walking and we were staying overnight. As we arrived at Whipsnade Zoo I told her that it was ‘on the way’ to our final destination. This wasn’t a total lie as the final destination was one of the new lodges inside the zoo.
The deal included entry to the zoo for the day prior to and the day after the overnight stay so we spent the day exactly as we would have normally and toured the whole zoo.
Time passes quickly at the zoo and before we knew it, it was time to meet the guides and the other eight guests at 5pm. There was an introduction and an explanation of what we would do and things we couldn’t do (like wandering around the zoo at night unescorted). After that we had about half an hour to get our bags and go to the lodge before being collected for an evening tour of the zoo.
We were collected as promised and as the lodges are right next to the enclosures, the first stop was to feed the Bongos and then visit the White Rhino’s as they settled down for the night. Being this close to them you realise just how big and powerful they really are, although this did not seem to bother the Patagonian Mara that wandered in and out of the night time enclosure at will.
Our guides gave us lots of information and answered all sorts of questions, but the Rhino paid us as much attention as they gave the Mara, a sideways glance at best. No doubt they have seen it all before.
Next came the African Lions. The ladies were settling down whilst the male walked the perimeter of his territory several times, scent marking and roaring along the way. The mark on the wall corner is the result of regular scent marking. It produced a pungent odour that we were able to smell from where we stood but it didn’t seem to bother the lionesses. It is quite some height from the ground and male hit the same spot every time … take note guys.
At the time of our visit there were other lions at the zoo in a distant enclosure away from the public. As the male roared during his perimeter walk we could hear the answering call from the male of the other pride. This occurred a few times during the night too. It was very eerie as it was otherwise quiet and very easy to imagine being on the African Savannah.
Eventually we had to move on as our dinner was being prepared. The knowledgeable guides had a planned route to get us there at the correct time without feeling rushed.
So we walked on past the Cheetahs, Flamingos and Pelicans who had all settled for the night and stopped off at the Tiger enclosure before having an excellent dinner. I had expected a typical cafeteria type meal and was pleasantly surprised to find a freshly cooked 2 course dinner that had been specially prepared and was not to be found on the daytime menu.
By the time we finished dinner it was dark, but the tour wasn’t over yet. We walked quietly back through the zoo by torchlight. Most of the animals were well and truly settled by this time but that took nothing away from being near such a variety of the world’s wildlife in the night environment. Time after time the silence was broken by a sudden call from a bird or animal causing the guides and guests to eagerly try to identify each noise first. No guesses who won.
We hoped to see some activity at the wolf enclosure but the wolves were having none of it. All we managed to see was the reflection from several pairs of eyes silently watching us, which was probably more unnerving that the howls we were hoping for. The path from here lead back to the lodge where we quickly fell into bed, opened the curtains so we would be awakened by the sunrise and contemplated the day as we drifted off to sleep.
One of the things I really like about Whipsnade Zoo is that the animal enclosures are generally large. In much the same way as Joker in Full Metal Jacket has a peace symbol alongside the words ‘Born to Kill’ on his helmet, my ‘duality of man’ thing is zoos.
On one hand, I would much prefer to see all animals living in the wild leading the lives they were meant to have and in the country where they belong. On the other hand, without zoos there is no way most of us would see and appreciate just how beautiful and valuable to the world these animals really are. Even with the abundance of photographs and film available on the internet and on TV, nothing conveys the majesty and presence of these animals more than seeing them in the flesh.
We awoke to the sight of the Rhino’s grazing in the enclosure directly opposite. We lay in bed for a while just taking it in and thinking how awesome it would be to wake up to a sight like this every morning. Sadly our lay in did not last long as we were being collected early and needed to vacate the lodge.
A tractor and trailer transported us to enjoy a full English breakfast which set us up for the day. But that did not mark the end of the experience. After feeding us monkeys, it was our turn to feed the Chimpanzees. There was some squabbling, but eventually we all got a turn.
From the Chimpanzees we moved on to feed the wild boars with the youngsters trying to steal everything that was thrown to them. The adults would have none of it and soon let them know who is boss.
Finally, we fed the European Brown Bears which was a wonderful finale to the experience. With the sunlight gleaming from their luxuriant coats, they followed us along the edge of the enclosure and caught the rehydrated dog biscuits as we threw them or chased the ones that went astray. It was clearly a favourite and we ran out of food before the bears ran out of patience.
Although this marked the end of the extra activities, we had the rest of the day at the zoo. Had we wished to, we could have left Whipsnade Zoo and visited London Zoo free of charge. We chose to stay as there were areas we hadn’t managed to reach the day before and lots of animals to revisit. Filling the second day was easy and you can never get bored in a place like this.
Note: Since our visit in 2015, you can now sleep in the zoo at London Zoo too. It appears that some of the lodges are larger and can accommodate a small family whereas the lodges at Whipsnade are for 2 people only.