There are photos of a hot sunny day in 2000/2001 in our photo albums (yes, that’s right, back in the days when photos were PAPER) of our eldest 2 and my brother on a day at Twycross. Back then it needed 3 adults to manage 2 children and Rich counted close enough 😉 I remember it as a hot but fairly idyllic day where we saw all the average zoo fodder of big cats and seals and giraffes. I imagine, wandering around in my new mum naive state, I thought very little of that.
We’ve been parents through a time of seismic change in how animals live in captivity. The days of them being in zoos for entertainment have changed fast and the days of enclosures being about people seeing animals at all costs are fading too. One place we visited a number of times when the girls were young altered before our eyes as pens were replaced with naturalist enclosures and the animal balance altered significantly as animals came or left, shipped around the country and even world to find better, more suitable homes and pairings that gave them a better life.
The opportunity to visit Twycross on a cold and wintery day didn’t immediately fill Max with glee but the girls were thrilled; discomfort at animal exhibits as well as cost means we’ve not gone to places of that sort much over the years. All the girls were desperate to show Bene some real life wildlife so we packed up early and headed over to Warwickshire. On the way over, I did a little bit of reading about the history of the place; it’s built around an old rectory that was purchased by two animal (and specifically primate) enthusiasts who needed a better home for an animal collection that started small and grown. As
It was immediately obvious the Twycross had changed a lot since our last visit; it has relaunched itself as a Primate centre and has the largest number of primates collected in captivity in the western world; it is the only place you can see all 4 great apes – gorilla, orangutan, chimpanzee and bonobo. Some of the larger animals have gone and been replaced with animals who can be housed more comfortably and there are new areas for animals who needed an upgrade.
The new elephant walk way was lovely and Bene was completely overwhelmed to see actual real elephants (with a baby) right up close in the open and in the elephant house. The giraffes were missing but chatting to a really lovely keeper revealed exciting news – a new Giraffe Savannah is currently under construction, due for completion in March and…
“Twycross Zoo has planning permission for a giraffe house and is in discussion with the European breeding programme regarding the composition of a group and timing of availability. There is no definite information to share at this stage, but we are very excited about the possibility of giraffes returning to Twycross Zoo.”
A quick chat with them this morning reveals they hope to have giraffes back in the park by summer – woohoo!
The hit of the day was undoubtedly the ‘monkeys’ which entertained the kids for most of the day.
From the tiniest ones – who have enclosures that are built to allow them out on to the treetops in the park, to specially built enclosures for the gibbons and chimps, it was a fascinating exploration. I fell completely in love with the the various ones displaying the most fantastic parenting – daddy who swung across to the clearly completely wired youngsters bothering mummy and her new baby and gave him a good rough and tumbling to calm him down and the gorgeous orang who suddenly pulled a child into her arms with body language that just exuded love and affection. It was extra-ordinary to watch.
I confess it is a little uncomfortable; these are animals so close to us in so many ways that seeing them behaving like that in captivity is not entirely without problems for me. I didn’t enjoy seeing the gorilla, not because of anything wrong with Twycross but because – well, she looked like she could see into my soul and didn’t believe she should be in a cage being looked at.
But I’m tempering it with pragmatism. Some of these animals are a legacy of a different time for one, and if they can’t now live in the wild, we owe them care and love and good facilities. Twycross has remodeled itself as a place caring for violently threatened species and each enclosure is badged according to how rare or endangered that animal is and what is being done, via zoo networks, to protect them. That’s a good thing, as is being realistic about what is right for an animal. I’d have loved to see lions but I don’t want to see a lion in an imperfect habitat simply to bring in the crowds.
Zebras have returned and there are plenty more large mammals to see plus exciting developments for a new gibbon area on its way. We could happily have watched the meercats and prairie dogs for hours and once I got over my confusion at finding bush dogs where there used to be seals, I was away.
Plus there are penguins. And if there are penguins, it is all good.
And honestly, we could have watched the primates for hours – I did giggle when all three of my gymnasts simultaneously yelled “he did a giant!” I have every intention of going back to see more of this as it opens in 2015 (and possibly on a warmer day!).
“Gibbon Forest – a large indoor/outdoor visitor experience containing several moats. This will help us to showcase our extensive and precious collection of gibbons.”
Josie possibly wore slightly dangerous headgear 😉
The Lorikeet house was lovely – you can feed the birds if you wish but they are just gorgeous and it has been perfectly constructed to make sure you can get right in among them and up close too. The Butterfly House was similarly fabulous and a welcome retreat during the rather chilly afternoon. I didn’t manage to get photos of either the Amur Leopard or the Snow Leopard but drinking your hot chocolate in the cafe and suddenly finding a snow leopard staring in at the window is quite an experience!
It made me think really. I’ve steered away from zoos a little because, while interesting and informative, they make me feel a little voyeuristic but it’s clear that Twycross has had to work hard to reinvent itself and do so on a tight budget. Getting it right for the animals is clearly top of their priorities and they’ve worked really hard at making it a good place to visit, with plenty of info, good facilities including indoor and outdoor play areas, feeding times with a keeper. You can get in and among the lemurs on the lemur walk and the Borneo longhouse shows off their bird collection beautifully. It feels like a medium zoo working hard to do well and strikes a good balance between asking you to support them with sponsorships and not going overboard on commercial opportunities. next time I go back – and I will – I’ll add the optional 10% donation on to my ticket cost to help them keep doing better. Sometimes it is worth doing your bit to be part of the change instead of growling about how things should change.
On that note, I’m here to tell you about the reason we visited. Weetabix are one of the official sponsors of Comic Relief Red Nose Day ‘Pick Your Nose’ and on-pack promotion which will be available across the new strawberry variety as well as other family favourites. With every pack of Weetabix Strawberry, Ready brek, Weetos and Crispy Minis, adults have the opportunity to win an amazing experience for their child. It’s easy sneezy to enter – simply visit https://pickyournose.weetabix.com, enter your code, and pick one of the nine Red Noses to enter the weekly prize draw. There are nine main prizes and 50 runners up prizes to be won every week between 13/01/15 and 03/04/15, so you will be off your nose not to enter!
These special edition 24 packs are available in-store at Sainsbury’s, Asda, Tesco and Morrisons at £2 for a limited time ahead of Red Nose Day on Friday 13th March. With the Weetabix Strawberry variety you even get a 50p coupon to redeem against your next purchase.
We were sent to Twycross to sample one of the experiences on offer as a prize, which is one adult and child ticket to visit the Zoo for the day. I really hope that winning some of these tickets encourages families to visit the centre together and tell their friends. Twycross deserves to have some great visitor numbers this year to see the new and improved exhibits and bring them more investment to keep improving the experience for both their residents, visitors and the future of animals endangered across the world.