Go Wild for London: Where To Spot Animals In The Capital
Take a walk on the wild side at ZSL London Zoo’s newly opened Land of the Lions experience. At 2,500sqm, it’s five times the size of the previous enclosure. Modelled on the Gir Forest National Park in the north west of India, complete with a railway track, the exhibit will act as a breeding centre for the endangered animals – of which only 500 remain in the wild. You can stroll across raised boardwalks and watch over the lions from a panoramic viewing area. From next month, you can even sleep in Gir Lion Lodge chalets; the price includes two days’ zoo entry, tours, dinner and breakfast. Adult £25.50; child £18.50; lodges from £378.
Deer have roamed freely around Richmond Park since 1529. At 2,360 acres, the reserve is the largest of the eight Royal Parks, so there’s plenty of space for its 630 red and fallow deer. Breeding season is from September to October, during which male stags or bucks roar and clash antlers as they compete for females, known as hinds or does. It’s a spectacular sight, but an intimidating one if you’re nearby! Free.
Follow a woodland path through Holland Park to its centre and you’ll come to the Kyoto Garden, which has a pond filled with carp, a waterfall and grounds decorated with stone lanterns, rock formations and sculpted bushes. As well as squirrels hopping along stepping stones, look out for peacocks showing off their feathers. Free.
Amble around the lakes and meadows of WWT London Wetland Centre and you’ll see birds such as bitterns and cetti’s warblers. You might catch the last of the season’s shoveler and gadwall ducks, too. Wardens host birdwatching sessions around the reserve to help you identify birds by their plumage, calls and behaviour. The reserve is also a breeding centre for Asian short-clawed otters, the world’s smallest breed. They have shorter claws and little webbing between their toes, so they look like hands. A highlight is watching them play and swim. Feeding times are 11am and 2pm. Adult £11.91; child £6.55.
The sharks at Sea Life London Aquarium get all the glory, but the centreis also home to jellyfish, penguins and smiling manta rays, as well as crocodiles and catfish. The touch pools and stripy ‘Nemo’ clownfish are particularly popular. But have you ever seen a sea dragon? True to its name, it resembles a mythical sea monster. It’s harmless to humans, but it may give you a fright! Adult £24.50; child £18.10.
London has many skyscrapers, but did you know it also has more than a dozen city farms? As well as your typical farm animals, Surrey Docks Farm has an aviary where you can take beekeeping classes. Children will also enjoy pond-dipping and hunting for leeches in discovery sessions. Free; pond dipping £3. surreydocksfarm.org.uk
There can’t be many former department stores that have four flamingos living on the roof. But Bill, Ben, Splosh and Pecks are quite at home in The Roof Gardens in Kensington. Keep an eye out for ducklings crossing a Japanese red humped bridge, fish in the stream and birds in the oak and fruit trees. Check it is open; if it’s closed, book Babylon Restaurant, which overlooks the English Woodland Garden. Free. virginlimitededition.com
Poison Dart Frogs
With amazing city views and a garden with a bandstand and farm, the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill is well worth a visit. Join its animal walk every afternoon and you’ll meet goats, rabbits, sheep and two alpacas; call ahead to find out about its bat walks and pond-dipping activities. Inside, once you have seen its taxidermy collection, it’s worth paying to enter the aquarium, which is home to jellyfish, poison dart frogs, live coral and tropical butterflies. Museum and gardens free. Aquarium £3.85.
Emus grow to 1.8 metres, making them the world’s third largest bird after the ostrich and cassowary. In fact, they’re so big that a single emu egg is the same size as 12 chicken eggs! While emus are unable to fly, they can sprint at up to 40mph. You can see two at Battersea Park Children’s Zoo, which is also home to snakes, turtles and mammals such as slender-tailed meerkats, Siberian chipmunks and red-necked wallabies. Adult £8.95; child £6.95.
Archipelago in Fitzrovia doesn’t have live wild animals but it has plenty of dead ones – on your plate, that is. The restaurant specialises in crocodile, wildebeest, kangaroo and zebra, although you can also sample python carpaccio and pan-fried crickets. And for dessert? Caramel mealworms or chocolate-covered locusts, of course. Inventive ingredients mean vegetarians won’t be left out – try the edible flowers, fried lotus root and 24-carat gold leaf. archipelago-restaurant.co.uk