Yorkshire Wildlife Park is a fantastic zoo with an interesting collection of rare & impressive animals in large, naturalistic enclosures. If I wanted to introduce someone to ‘zooing’ then this is the first place I’d bring them. In fact, after visiting loads more zoos, I’m coming back to this article just to say it still sticks in my mind as one of the best I’ve visited.
If you were to google the history of the Yorkshire Wildlife Park then you’d see that it opened in 2009 and, since then, has become a bit of a specialist in large mammals. In fact, Yorkshire Wildlife Park is the only place in England that you can see a Polar Bear. I’ll come onto our visit in a moment but before I do, if you didn’t read my last blog post on ‘Why Go to Yorkshire Wildlife Park’ then I’d recommend taking a read. In that post I cover a bit more about the history and unique nature of the zoo so from here on out I can concentrate on our visit.
The very first thing we did when we arrived was was use the first toilets we came to. Now, maybe we just picked the wrong toilet block to visit but these ones looked (and smelled) like they might have been missed off the cleaning rota. The rest of the zoo was impeccably clean but this particular toilet block felt icky, especially in a Covid world. It was a shame as it was right at the start of the visit but I will mention right now that the zoo did make up for it pretty quickly.
Once through the doors you see the meerkats right in front of you. This was a series of different enclosures the meerkats could move between using tunnels which went under the paths. We had already decided to do the zoo in a clockwise fashion as my wife has Lyme disease so we needed to be super efficient in our use of energy and a large clockwise ring sees the best stuff first in case we needed to leave mid-visit.
Embarking clockwise, the first animals you come to are the baboons. The enclosure was massive (probably enough room for chimps!) and it was amazing to see so much space given to baboons. This pays dividends as you can hold a large family unit and it’s really cool to see a big male run from one side of the enclosure to the other, screeching as he goes, while baby monkeys quickly run to their mums. From the outdoor viewing point the monkeys are a little distant so when the monkey house opens, I think you’d get a better view from in there.
The painted dogs exhibit is split into two sections, the first a Savannah-esque area with large pool and the second a wooded forest. As we approached the Savannah area you could easily see a load of sleeping dogs. Most of my experience trying to see dogs in zoos has been largely of seeing them sleeping. However, my luck was in. A pack of four hunting dogs was patrolling the woodland. I got a terrible picture of this, but they came up right alongside the fence and barely stopped moving unless there was a scent to be sniffed. This is what zooing is all about, seeing animals in captivity demonstrating wild behaviours right in front of you.
It was also by the painted dogs exhibit that we noticed the quality of the enclosure signs. These were really, really good. I didn’t see a single animal that didn’t have an accompanying sign and, rather than waste repeating signs, each sign had an extra snippet of information. They didn’t bombard you with way so much information that you had to stop and study it, but they did address important things like conservation, exhibit design, poaching, animal behaviours. I only wish I had taken a picture of one to show you!
Whilst I’m going on tangents, I’ll also call out the fantastic dedication to British Wildlife. The painted dogs exhibit was set in a British woodland nature reserve and the treetops were loud with goldcrests, chaffinches & various tit species. For the bird song to be so noticeable at midday they must be doing something right. Then, at the back of the polar bear exhibit and stretching the length of the zoo they have an amazing wetland. This would have been an attraction in its own right and I even overheard a guide talking with a family about an osprey which had been seen that morning. Most enclosures in the zoo have managed to maintain some element of the existing treescape and, while we didn’t go into the lemur walkthrough because it was so busy, it was cool to think of them dancing around British pine trees like they would the rainforests of Madagascar.
Anyway, back to the day. As mentioned, we skipped around lemur woods and marched straight up to Project Polar. That’s right, the big moment… Polar Bears! The first thing to say is that the enclosure is huge, varied, well landscaped and the view from a walkway raised above the enclosure gives a unique feel (something that continues in other areas of the park). In this part of Project Polar there are four male polar bears and we managed to see two of them while we were there for 10-15 mins. I would 100% recommend trying to do this first and then building in time to do it again at the end of the visit to get the best change of seeing these awesome beasts moving around. While we were there one of the bears was at the far side of the enclosure sleeping and the other was right up close to the path in his bear house where you could just see his head. It was a very big head and the following picture does not do it justice. Trust a bear to have a world class enclosure and choose to spend its time in its little house.
Realising the star of the show was going to be fast asleep for a little while, we decided to cut our losses and move on. As you exit Project Polar you come right up to the Roloway Monkey exhibit. This is the rarest animal in the zoo (that’s right, not the polar bears!) as Yorkshire Wildlife Park is the only place where you can see these in the UK. Or not see them in our case. They were in the house rather than our in the enclosure and, whilst you could see their silhouettes through the glass, a mixture of barriers and very reflective windows made it difficult to get more than a rough sense of size. Turning around we had the same issue with the anteater and then with the Armadillo. Sleepy animals are all part of the zoo experience I kept muttering to my wife.
Our fortunes flipped in the South America Viva walkthrough. I like a good walkthrough, there is something about sharing a space with any animals which makes them so much more real, even if they are actually further away than in a standard enclosure. The Capybara did the usual Capybara thing of sleeping but we had great close views of a Mara drinking. Then things got really good. About three quarters of the way round we came face to face with a Saki monkey in a tree so close we could have touched it. Agouti were walking around under the tree and a few more monkeys sat in the trees above us.
Leaving the walkthrough and heading back onto our clockwise route, we came across good views of both Kirk’s Dik-dik and an Okapi in side-by-side enclosures. The former is a very small, very cute, antelope species which looks like a deer has been through the wash. The latter is a very weird looking giraffe type mammal which was eating its lunch out of the tree right by us. Here you also have the walkway above the exhibit, so you aren’t looking through bars… nice touch. The last enclosure in this area is the Sumatran Tiger. It was doing its thing of sleeping but at least it was sleeping where you could see it. My track record with Tigers in zoos is poor at best so I wasn’t surprised.
At this junction you can take a left turn and go across the river to see the hyenas and gelada monkeys or you can turn right back into the main park. Over the river is where the big expansion is happening. You can see the diggers & equipment but it was a bit chilly and so we decided to just stay on our clockwise route.
This meant going past the UK’s largest Amur Leopard exhibit. It was large, that’s for sure. It was also devoid of leopards. In normal times you’d be able to go up into the treehouse and a much better view of the enclosure but sadly it is shut off whilst Covid is around.
Feeling a bit cold we decided to grab a cup of tea and some warm food. The meal of choice was a pasty and, to be honest, it wasn’t the best pasty I’ve ever eaten. I know there are other food outlets around the place so maybe we just got unlucky. Thanks to the Government’s help to eat out it was at least cheap! We wandered past the massive play area to the camels while we finished our food. We tried to see the other Polar Bear enclosure but again, no bear in sight. The enclosure was great but clearly 12-1pm is polar bear snooze time.
The next big area is a huge savannah exhibit called Into Africa. I thought this was very well done in terms of the size and species. It was particularly interesting to see multiple subspecies of Giraffe (Rothschild & Reticulated). When they are next to each other, the differences in the markings are obvious. Also in this mixed-species exhibit where Ostrich & Emu (the only two birds in the whole zoo I think), Eland and Zebras.
Next to this area, and I’m not sure if it actually joined,was the Black Rhino enclosure. Seeing animals in person really allows you to get a sense of scale which is difficult from a screen, but these were smaller than I expected.
The final area of the zoo on our clockwise circuit was the Lion Country. This is an awesome exhibit with multiple levels and lots of different areas. The big male was pride of place (pun intended) sleeping at the top of a large hill in the middle of the enclosure. It has been made one-way to facilitate social distancing but if you don’t fancy the full walk round then the barriers are low enough to step over. The full walk would show you the sheer amount of effort Yorkshire Wildlife Park is willing to go to in order to ensure that the enclosures are more than suitable for housing these large mammals.
Yorkshire Wildlife Park scores very highly in my books. It isn’t as big as some zoos and I did notice a lack of reptiles, birds, and fish. However what it sets out to do it does very, very well. When it comes to things relating to people (toilets & food) then is still has a little polishing up to do but I’m struggling to find fault with how it cares for its animals. In fact, I’m already planning my second trip!