Beyond London – Into The Wild
For a taste of Africa or the Amazon, you don’t need to leave these shores as the UK offers an insight into the animal kingdom – you just need to know where to look. You can go and see animals in a zoo, as well as get up close to wild animals and birds in safari parks and farms.
WOBURN SAFARI PARK
Kenya might be the place to go to if you want to spot the big five – lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos – but you can tick most off your list on a jeep safari at Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire. As you’re driven through Northern Plains, you’ll see rare Przewalski horses native to Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan grazing in paddocks alongside East African zebras, gazelle-like oryx and a herd of North American bison. Look out, too, for rare Bactrian camels – if you miss them, you’ll have to travel to remote parts of China and Mongolia to see them. White rhino and brindled wildebeest from South Africa mingle in the Savannah grasslands alongside dwarf forest buffalo, which are native to West and Central Africa, and a herd of common eland antelopes. As well as ostriches, look out for ankole – domesticated cattle with enormous horns that are found in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and eastern Africa. Keep your windows and doors closed when driving through the Kingdom of Carnivores, which is home to Canadian timber wolves, North American black bears, African lions and Amur (Siberian) tigers, which often nap by bathing pools. Seven acres are saved for a herd of rare Rothschild’s giraffes found in Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan, which live alongside Ethiopian and Kenyan Grévy’s zebras, critically endangered addax from the Sahara and wild asses native to Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. You can also see scimitar horned oryx, which are extinct in the wild in North Africa.
Once you’ve driven through the desert, head to the jungle to spot troops of Barbary macaque monkeys playing in the trees and foraging in log piles. Eastern mountain bongo – tan-coloured deer with white stripes and big ears – live nearby along with patas monkeys. While you’re in the park, you can also watch Humboldt penguins from South America being fed and Californian sea lions playing in indoor and outdoor pools, join keepers for meet-and-greet sessions with Asian elephants and interact with wallabies from Australia – in spring you might spot a joey snuggled in its mother’s pouch.
Ever dreamt of being a keeper? Then sign up to be a zookeeper for a day at Chester Zoo in Cheshire. Over-18s shadow a keeper on a one-to-one basis for nine hours, working with their chosen animal. You’ll prepare food, feed the animals and muck out their enclosures. There are also behind-the-scenes encounters with animals including giraffes.
Paignton Zoo in Devon, meanwhile, lets over-16s experience being a vet. Over the course of four hours, you’ll learn how to prepare a dart, take and develop a radiograph, dispense prescriptions and use anaesthetic monitoring equipment. The zoo also offers 20-minute experiences with specific animals, so you can feed rhinos, giraffes and giant tortoises, or tickle a tapir! Book ahead.
LONGLEAT SAFARI PARK
Tickling a tiger might not appeal, so why not feed them at Longleat Safari Park instead? Enter Tiger Territory before the park opens to the public (when the big cats are hungry!) and feed them breakfast.
STOCKLEY FARM PARK
If that sounds too intense, then how about interacting with farm animals instead? Stockley Farm Park, a 750-acre farm in Cheshire, has a two-hour Young Farmers Academy for seven to 12 year olds. Children can learn about breeding animals and harvesting. Go behind the scenes of the organic dairy, walk and groom goats and gymkhana ponies, build bug hotels and help with sheep-race training. Visitors can groom and bottle-feed animals, and watch a sheep race.
ODDS FARM PARK
Odds Farm Park in Buckinghamshire also allows visitors to bottle-feed goats and sheep, milk cows, collect eggs, pet animals and go on tractor and trailer rides. You can also meet lambs and kid goats this month, too.
Acton Scott in the beautiful Shropshire Hills, meanwhile, is a working farm where children can hold chicks, bottle-feed lambs and watch horses ploughing fields. Looks familiar?
That’s because it was the setting of the BBC TV show Victorian Farm. The farm recreates 19th-century farm life, complete with costumed staff and demonstrations from blacksmiths, wheelwrights and farriers (horseshoe smiths).
GOOD DAY OUT
Good Day Out raises money for local causes by offering interactive farm visits in the Brecon Beacons. Aberhyddnant Farm has two-hour sheep trekking, during which you’ll pick a Jacob sheep from a flock, harness it, then take it for a scenic hike along an old drovers’ track. You can also take kunekune pigs for a walk, shear sheep, try sheepdog herding and – new for spring – walk two miniature donkeys, Maverick and Goose, across farmland.
BEER QUARRY CAVES
Beer Quarry Caves in East Devon offers one-hour tours of the cathedral-like complex of caverns, which are the result of centuries of quarrying Beer stone. The stone has been used in many iconic buildings including St Paul’s Cathedral. Horseshoe bats live in the caves.
HEBRIDEAN WHALE CRUISES
What really sets the UK apart from many other countries is the chance to see whales. On a two-and-a-half-hour tour with Hebridean Whale Cruises, you should see whales and dolphins, and on the four-hour tour you may spot black-and-white killer whales. The three-hour tour takes you to the Shiant Isles – home to white-tailed eagles, 500 grey seals and 240,000 puffins.
Spring is breeding season for puffins, so now is the ideal time to see Atlantic or Common puffins in the Shetland Islands off Scotland’s north coast. Sumburgh Head has around 5,000 pairs, but it’s the most easily accessible colony as it’s just a mile from Sumburgh Airport. Move over, Africa – the continent might have panthers, but it doesn’t have puffins.