Lotherton Wildlife World is often described as a bird park. This conjures up images of falcons in small aviaries and bird shows with owl displays. Think again. Lotherton Wildlife World is so much more than just a few falcons in pens. In fact, I’m not sure they even had that many falcons!
In this review I’m going to try something different. Instead of a going through the zoo turn by turn I’m going to try and group it up. Let me know in the comments whether this is an improvement.
Lotherton Wildlife World – History
Lotherton Wildlife World is based at Lotherton Hall, a stately home on the outskirts of Leeds. It’s actually pretty difficult to dig up any history on the animal collection itself but I’ll share the little that I know.
Lotherton Hall was built in the 18th century and the estate was bequeathed to the City of Leeds in 1968 by Sir Alvary Gascoigne and his wife, the last of the Gascoigne family. The new owners waited about a decade before realising this estate needed a free-to-the-public bird garden. Yes, free. Only recently has Lotherton started charging for entrance and I believe it is still subsidised by Leeds Council. How many councils can say they own a zoo?
The initial bird gardens will have felt more like your typical falconry park with owls and hawks but clearly Leeds Council had loftier ambitions. Continued growth right from the very start now means that the gardens have expanded to include some rare species of bird not often seen in UK captivity. Lotherton Wildlife World now holds in excess of 150 species with two walkthrough enclosures, penguins, at least three types of mammal and a gift shop. So, not just your typical bird garden…
Lotherton Wildlife World – Visitor Experience
I’ll say right up front that I think Lotherton Wildlife World is excellent value for money. The cost of a family ticket (2 adults, 3 children) is £25 if you rock up on the day. If you live in Leeds and have a Leeds Card the price drops to £20 which is a steal. Not only do you get admission to Wildlife World, you also get access to the beautiful grounds, gardens, the hall and the chapel.
I didn’t sample any of the food or use the toilets but the estate seemed well kept. To comply with the current Covid restrictions, Lotherton Wildlife World has set up a one way system with the Track and Trace desk right at the beginning. I like a good one way system becasue it means you don’t have to worry about missing any of the animals. The only thing I’d have liked to have seen would have been a couple of places where you could loop back around. The tapirs are right by the entrance and if they are sleeping when you arrive, you’d have to go round the whole zoo, out the exit and back in the entrance to see them again (before going all the way round the zoo and back out the exit to leave).
While I’m grumbling I’ll mention that I also would have liked a map. I mentioned in my Covid post how much I love a map and sadly I don’t think one exists for Lotherton Wildlife World. I know it isn’t a big place but the one way system makes it feel quite large and I did have to ask a member of staff how far round I was at one point so that I got out before closing time.
Aside from these small niggles, everything else was on point. Every species was well labelled with the newer exhibits having some really good signage. Hand sanitisation could be found at multiple points. It was a very short walk from the car to the first exhibit. For a zoo of this size it ticked a lot of boxes.
Most of all I really enjoyed the feel of the Lotherton Wildlife World. It has grown organically over the years which gives it a certain charm that a large scale multimillion-pound project could never achieve.
Lotherton Wildlife World – Animal Collection
Lotherton Wildlife World has a phenomenal bird collection. There, I said it. I appreciate I haven’t visited all the bird collections of the country so I can’t really say how it compares on a national level but I found the variety simply outstanding.
I couldn’t quite figure out any theming to the collection, either as a whole or as sections through the zoo. That adds to the charm of the place but makes this blog difficult to write!
The standout family of birds for me would be the Hornbills. These are very funny-looking birds with their enormous beaks and lots of character. Rather than just one or two species, Lotherton Wildlife World has six. Six!
I also enjoyed seeing a number of different crane species. When you see them on the TV you don’t get a sense of how different their sizes can be (though all of them would definitely come under ‘big’!).
In term of other single or pair-housed species, the highlights were some fun Asian magpies, a number of exotic pigeons, a beautiful great grey owl and an impressive collection of turacos.
What Lotherton Wildlife Park does really well is large mixed-species exhibits. The first of these you come to isn’t a bird exhibit at all. It holds a family of mara and a group of agouti living peacefully with a pair of demoiselle cranes. The birds were so tame you could have reached out an touched one if you didn’t mind risking your fingers.
Next on the big enclosures was the condor aviary. The name is currently deceiving as the condor has actually been lent to nearby Harewood House as part of a breeding program. In its absence the fabulous eastern grey-crowned crane was spreading its wings like it owned the place. There was a representative of most of the continents of the world. The condor would have been south America, the crane is from Africa and there was a red-breasted goose from Eurasia. If you wanted to see the global diversity of birdlife in one aviary, this was the one.
The first walkthrough exhibit, “into Africa”, was opened in 2003 and, as the name suggests, contains a mix of African species. The signs have now faded but they are still interesting, informative and, most importantly, they cover every bird in enclosure. Every bird except one that is. The barnacle goose feels like an imposter in this aviary and rightly so, it never usually travels further south than the UK. I’m going out on a limb here but I think the barnacle goose enclosure may have been going through some refurbishment so I’ll report back next year.
The second walkthrough is all about penguins. I don’t know if it has a proper name but a penguin walkthrough is definitely a cool idea. In the same aviary were some of the most beautiful birds I’ve ever seen… The Inca tern lives in the same habitat as the Humboldt penguin so makes a good addition to this exhibit. Words won’t do it justice so here is a picture:
Just before you leave for the gift shop there is a flock of flamingos mixed in with some unidentified duck species. By this point you should have seen about 150 birds and I think flamingos are a good one to finish on. The flock size looked to be in the mid20s. Usually you want to get 50+ to have a successful breeding program but who knows…
It isn’t just birds at Lotherton Wildlife World. As mentioned there are agouti and mara but I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the tapir, the capybara and the warty pigs. Of these I only saw the tapir but I can imagine seeing the warty pigs playing in the mud would be quite a sight.
Personally I feel the bigger mammals are a little out of place. The agouti and mara are interesting in the context of sharing an enclosure with demoiselle cranes but, for me, the others don’t serve to enhance the experience. I’m sure a 5 year-old child loves coming face-to-face with a tapir and I’d be interested to know if ticket sales went up when they introduced these animals. If they get more people looking at these beautiful birds then who am I to argue!
Lotherton Wildlife World – Enclosure Quality
Birds enclosures (or aviaries) are always a difficult to talk about. Some birds get pretty big and big aviaries get expensive. In addition, our concern for good quality enclosures is relatively recent compared to when a number of the aviaries were built in the 1980s.
Lotherton Wildlife World gets it right most of the time. The big walkthroughs and aviaries built post-2000 have plenty of space for the inhabitants. In particular, they show off the benefits of mixed species exhibits. Imagine 5 people living in a house with 5 bedrooms. They’d all feel like they had way more space than if they were each living in a 1 bedroom studio on their own. It’s the same for birds. Providing all the housemates get on, each has access to longer flight ways, more ground and increased diversity.
The smaller aviaries are still more than suitable for smaller birds. The red-billed blue magpie and the bleeding heart dove are both good examples of birds that seems happy with their enclosures.
Then there are also a good number of natural open air aviaries for birds which can’t fly (the emu, the ground hornbill and the cranes come into this mix). In fact, these feel more like paddocks than aviaries and they gave the birds enough space.
Lotherton Wildlife World gets it right so much of the time but there are a couple of places where I think the birds may have outgrown their enclosure. There was a blue-throated piping-guan sharing an enclosure with a chestnut-naped imperial-pigeon and, although the enclosure wasn’t small, the guan was showing some stereotypies. In addition I thought that the crested seriema deserved more room as it just didn’t have enough space to run.
I should stress that I’m not an expert in these animals and their care so I may be misjudging the situation. The quality of the recent enclosures clearly show that whoever is behind Lotherton Wildlife World cares a lot for their birds.
Lotherton Wildlife World – Summary
Lotherton Wildlife World blew me away. I don’t know what I’d been expecting but it wasn’t this very characterful zoo with such a diverse range of species. It doesn’t get everything right but for a zoo of its size, setting and history, it definitely punches above its weight.
If you are driving up the A1(M) then it will make a very worthwhile detour. I’d allocate about an hour for the bird park and obviously longer if you visit the hall, chapel or gardens.
We should all be supporting small local zoos like this. If you don’t like birds then maybe head on up to Askham Bryan about 15 minutes away instead. However, if you are at all unsure then give it a try, you might be pleasantly surprised like I was.