Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens is another one of those places that makes for an ideal outdoors focused day out. I’ve said many times that One Hour Outside doesn’t have to be a hike or a cycle ride or anything else super energetic, it can very much be a day trip somewhere like a zoo or farm – I bet you spend more than an hour outside there after all! We visited Cotswold Wildlife Park in November. We’d heard good things so wanted to go and see it for ourselves – it seemed the perfect place for a wander in the winter sunshine on a day off work.
Zoos are funny things when it comes to people’s opinions on whether we should or shouldn’t visit them. Keeping animals in cages for us to ogle is not a good thing in general terms. But when the animals you are looking at are there for conservation purposes, or because they have been rescued from people’s homes or following injury caused by humans, it is perhaps not so bad. Personally, I feel it depends entirely on the reasoning behind the cage, where the profits of the zoo go, and how natural a habitat the animals are given. The money raised by Cotswold Wildlife Park through admission fees supports an education programme, endangered species breeding programmes and conservation projects in the wild. I’m not here to start a debate here on my blog, I have found debates are much better offline where people can discuss things properly, but I wanted to acknowledge this can a difficult topic, and I understand that, and from the research I did before going to Cotswold Wildlife Park I was happy to part with my money to visit.
When visiting Cotswold Wildlife park, which is located two miles south of Burford in Oxfordshire (a very popular Cotswolds village good for a wander and a cup of tea), you pay on the gate before you park your car (which I’m not sure constitutes “free parking” as advertised, as you can’t park without paying). We’d booked online the previous evening, which meant we saved £2 each – you can do this up to midnight the night before you visit. We paid £14 each to get in – it would have been £16 each on the gate. There doesn’t appear to be a family day ticket, but there are a variety of season ticket options if you’re planning on going a few times.
We started by walking through to the café, where we had a jacket potato with a couple of fillings. Cafes in places like this are often both expensive and poor quality, but this one seemed a decent enough place to eat lunch. The cakes looked good too, but we were too full. I know, too full for cake? There must have been something wrong.
Onto the animals. We tried to be methodical in our wanderings but as always in these places there are lots of routes around the different exhibits. There are red panda, rhino, wolves, a bat house, an excellent reptile house, penguins, and giraffe to name just a few. Cotswold Wildlife Park have created animal enclosures that appear spacious and nicely landscaped, with walkways that take you above the fencing in places. This means that you can get really very close to the wildlife, and see a number of animals at a time.
I smiled at the sign by the giraffe enclosure that said they are shy animals and you shouldn’t get too close, but there was one who clearly thought it was a horse coming right up to the raised walkway to say hi to anyone walking past. Did you know that giraffes rarely sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time? And they can actually run at 34 miles an hour? I really enjoyed getting close to these large and strange animals.
When we got to the lion enclosure the keepers were just arriving with a truck full of meat – it was feeding time so we stuck around to see what was about to happen. The lions at Cotswold Wildlife Park are Asiatic Lions, and like many of the animals here they do have endangered status. Once they were rounded up in a small section of cage, the keepers entered the main enclosure and placed large chunks of meat all over the place – one per lion, while the lions themselves waited rather impatiently for their meal. With the keepers safely out, the enclosure was opened up again and the lions went about finding their food. The keepers commented that lions are lazy, and so they could spend ages hiding their food up trees and in the ground, but they would give up quickly and just not bother, so putting the meat on logs and under platforms is as “hidden” as it gets to make sure they actually eat. Unlike the giraffe, lions sleep for up to 20 hours a day – I guess that is the difference between being predator and prey!
The highlight of my day was the Madagascar walk through, where you are inside the pen with lemur. I hadn’t realised this was there, and it was just brilliant. The Ringtailed Lemur and Crowned Sifaka Lemur were out in the enclosure when we were there, running around, showing an interest in us (mainly our shoe laces), and trying to catch the last bit of the winter sun. They can really move fast – jumping over 10 metres at a time they were all over the place and it was hugely fun to be surrounded by them. There were two keepers in the enclosure who were able to tell us so much about the animals, their habits and characters, and as it was so quiet in the park that day we had the enclosure to ourselves for ages. It was an absolute delight to spend time with these beautiful, curious and endangered creatures.
Away from the “big” animal attractions, there is also one of the largest reptile collections in the UK, and over 93 species of bird ranging in size from tiny song birds to the largest bird of all, the Ostrich. Inside the reptile house there are Green anacondas (one of the largest snake species) and Puff adder (one of the most venomous). Cotswold Wildlife Park are the only collection in Europe to breed Morelet’s crocodile, and have recently introduced Aldabran Giant Tortoise to the zoo.
I have to say that while most animals seemed to have the enclosures of dreams, others didn’t, and I’d really like to see the park develop their home for the Penguins and Meerkats, which seemed small and barren compared with other places I have visited. You can actually see both these animals on the live webcams on the website.
On the day we went the park was pretty well empty, I imagine it gets super busy on a summertime Saturday. On the website it recommended we allowed four hours for our visit, and I would say that was pretty well spot on for us in November – if you are coming in the summer when everything is busier and the sun is a bit warmer you might want longer.
We will definitely go back to Cotswold Wildlife Park, a great day out, and an excellent place to learn about animals away from a screen. Find out more about the zoo, facilities, and book your tickets ahead of time to save that money, on the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens website