I really love animals. I’m the kind of girl that has full conversations with her cats, is planning for the day I can have a dog and treats BBC’s Lonely Planet series like it’s the release of a new Star Wars film. Mr S and I point out every animal on our travels like it’s normal (dog owners think we are weird. And my biggest bucket list trip? I desperately want to go on Safari.
But zoos. Well I had this problem with zoos. Living so close to the capital, I’ve visited London Zoo a lot and I always hated how small it felt. That the animals just looked a little sad. It never sat well with me. And apart from the odd trip to a safari park (who have much bigger amounts of land, making it easier for animals to roam), I just stopped visiting animal parks in the UK. Especially zoos.
But that all changed when I accidentally stumbled upon The Secret Life of the Zoo, a television programme all about the goings on at Chester Zoo. I was immediately hooked. The programme featured keepers doing everything possible to make the animals in their care as healthy as possible – I started to learn a huge amount about the habitat requirements of all sorts of species. The site was vast – in fact the biggest zoo in Europe and their conservation programme across the whole world seemed incredible.
I was intrigued. So I went to visit on my most recent weekend break to Chester.
Chester Zoo, like most premier visitor attractions in the UK is well geared up to all sorts of visitors, including families. Whilst it is a vast site, there is plenty of seating, places to shelter from the rain (many of the animals have both indoor and outdoor locations meaning that even in the rain you can visit lots of excellent animals) and even a monorail to get around the site if you are feeling a little worn out from walking around.
In fact the monorail is awesome, as it travels high above many of the animal habitats so you can get an excellent view of your favourites whilst travelling in style and having a bit of a rest. The monorail is an extra cost on top of your ticket (£2.25 per adult, or £4.50 for an all day pass) – but that’s a small price to pay for a form of transport that even Her Majesty the Queen travelled on!
There is a great interactive map on the Chester Zoo website which allows you to plan your time in advance (especially good if there are some must-sees for you), but there is fantastic signage and maps across the whole site to get you on your way.
Food wise, it would be a great location for picnics in the warmer weather (and cheaper too), but as we travelled in poor weather, we took advantage of one of the many eateries on site. There is plenty to choose from – from kiosks, to street food to more cafeteria style dining. We grabbed a buttermilk chicken burger and fries from June’s Food Court for £7.25 each and it was truly delicious! They also had options for fish and chips, curries and pasta there, as well as ice cream and sweets for those who are inclined.
The entrance fee is £24 per adult, but when you add up everything there is to explore inside, and the fact that some of the fee goes towards many of their conservation projects it doesn’t feel expensive. It’s actually cheaper to book online, so I would do that on my next visit.A wonderful day out for animal lovers - here's a definitive guide to visiting @ChesterZoo!Click To Tweet
Chester Zoo is set over 125 acres, and after a full day there, bot you’ll feel it. each individual habit is huge and there is plenty of space in between so it doesn’t feel cramped like many city zoos do. The zoo is split into four areas, each with animal attractions whose habitats make sense to be in close proximity, food options, toilet facilities, other fun things for families. Within that, there are habits such as the Fruit Bat Forest, Spirit of the Jaguar, the Tropical Realm and the Asian Plains.
It’s easy to navigate.
One of my favourite areas at the Zoo were The Islands, and amazing place to discover the island habitats of Panay, Papua, Bali, Sumatra, Sumba and Sulawesi and the animals that inhabit them. It feels completely different to the rest of Chester Zoo and I was so happy to spot Sumatran tigers and the Moloch gibbons in the Monsoon Forest (the largest indoor zoo exhibit in UK history).
The best part about the Islands however was the lazy river boat ride that weaved its way around the island habits, all included in your ticket price. It was relaxing and can I imagine in better weather you’d see loads of animals. For us, it was just a great way to get off our by now aching feet and take it the spectacular setting of the island areas.
Oh boy oh boy. THE ANIMALS. Forget Lions and Tigers and Bears (oh my!) and get ready to see some incredible species from across the world. Whilst I was extremely happy to see some of my favourites – giraffes, different monkey species and elephants – I got to learn so much about other animals that I’d never really seem before.
There are over 500 species of rare, exotic and endangered wildlife, with over 15,000 animals living at the zoo. Highlights for me were visiting the okapi (part of the giraffe family) a highly endangered and only relatively recently discovered animal and the hilarious bush dogs, many of whom were born during the last lot of filming of The Secret Life of The Zoo.
One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Chester Zoo was because of their commitment to conservation and science. Chester Zoo work across 30 countries and leads the charity Act for Wildlife, working all over the world with animals that desperately need help. Asian elephants, black rhinos and Andean bears are all targeted by their programmes, as well as the most endangered animal in the UK, the Scottish wildcat.
What I loved most of all was at every enclosure there was detailed information about the work Chester Zoo was doing across the world to protect and develop each species. It left me in no doubt of what was happening to much loved animals across the world and as a visitor I left much more informed. They are even using the zoo to research things that could have a major impact across the world – like the best way to keep reptiles warm and breeding factors in black rhinos.
Granted, I was ready to be convinced Chester Zoo was a responsible, safe zoo for its inhabitants, but I wasn’t prepared for how completely excellent it was. Nothing felt like I was being ripped off, that things were being done just to please humans, not the animals. Enclosures were so big that at times you couldn’t spot who was living inside and keepers were on hand at every corner to answer questions and share their passion for the work they do at the zoo.
Their commitment to breeding programmes was exemplary, especially to those becoming seriously endangered in the wild. But most of all their conservation work across the world had me convinced. Whatever you may personally feel about animals in captivity, it’s clear that Chester Zoo invest many millions of tourists money to keep animals safe and thriving everywhere. I’d always felt that I’d be anti-Zoo forever, but Chester genuinely care. It’s certainly a place I don’t have concerns giving my money – and if you felt like me I’d urge you to give it a try too.