I admit it. When it comes to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, I become rather enthusiastic and given half a chance, will go on at length about how much we love it. So as we were blessed with beautiful weather yesterday afternoon, a trip up to see the cheetahs and their friends was most definitely in order.
OK – we had an ulterior motive to our visit. The arrival on Tuesday of a new baby elephant – all 104kg of him. We’d known he was due – but when an elephant has a 700 day pregnancy the due date gets a bit vague…
So, wellies and coats on, off we went. Obviously the Cheetahs had to come with us too. Almost every time we set off for the zoo the Cheetahs seem to have created a new vehicle. This week we have a flying/driving car pod that can go on grass, pavement and fences – drop down to ride on white lines (the little Cheetahs say ‘wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee’ when that happens apparently) and it’s all jolly good fun. The Cheetahs also help count the brown ‘tourist’ elephant signs that direct us to the zoo – just so you know, there’s 7 on our route.
Why do we love it there so much? Well, we’re part of the privileged few who get to see these beautiful animals and their young in a place where they are clearly thriving – with amazing staff who happily answer the inane questions of a 4 and 6 year old in the most glorious space.
With two children who aren’t the biggest fans of ‘change’ or ‘different’ we get to watch the seasons change along with the natural highs and lows of life at our own pace. Even when it’s busy, the masses that you see queuing at the gate just disperse so you don’t feel oppressed and there’s always a fair amount of enjoyment to be taken in spotting the most inappropriate footwear of the day (if you’re going, stilletoes are really not a good choice…)
So yesterday we got to see the 4 day old baby elephant out with his mummy, the European Lynx kittens having their tea (quail don’t you know!), the wild boar getting pumpkins full of treats to forage in and the children got to stroke the spiny stick insects and the hissing cockroach (no, it’s fine darling, I’ll just take the pictures).
Whipsnade is one of the few places we get to do ‘normal’ family stuff. No doctors, no paperwork, no routine meds – we get to kick leaves, eat ice-creams and learn loads of interesting animal facts – like who will win in an ostrich vs cheetah race (the cheetahs), what makes baby flamingoes turn from grey to pink and why lion cubs are spotty. We’ve watch green tree pythons shed their skin, the cheetah cubs grow, wallaby babies pop out of their mother’s pouches and know that if you make them cross Mara deer spray you with wee (bit like small boys then.)
We’ve spent today making zoo name badges for the children to wear on our visit tomorrow (we’re going back with friends). “Whipsnade” doesn’t work well spelt phonetically but she’s made a pretty good attempt – and I think it’s a zebra she’s drawn. I’m not sure it will give them access to the bits where the keepers go (Giles seems to think it will – like the new security badges at school do for the teachers) but I reckon it’ll make a few people smile.
We’ll be off to do their Half Term ‘Boo at the Zoo activities’, check up on the cheetahs/Hula hippo and a massive other list of Giles’s Cheetahs ‘friends’. It’ll be cold (Whipsnade is always colder than anywhere else around here) but they can’t wait. Alice is preparing her ‘very important questions’ for the lovely, and oh so patient Explainer Catherine (I think Alice quite wants to bring her home) and she wants to dress as a Zoo Keeper tomorrow.
Fresh air, fascinated and engaged children learning about the animals who make part of our amazing world – that’s why I love Whipsnade. I wonder what would have moved into Giles’s shoes if we didn’t go?