Being a huge animal lover (I’ve always lived amongst a menagerie of rescued pets plus I’ve been veggie all my life), my opinion on zoos has often swayed as much as a sprightly gibbon. Zoos are of course a great source of animal interaction and education for children, but in the past, I have tended to lean slightly towards the argument that such incredible creatures shouldn’t be in captivity.
However, when I became a father, it was almost impossible not to embrace zoos. They’re on TV, in books and talked about at nursery and school, so it’s hard to deny a child the opportunity to visit when it’s presented as the norm. When my daughter Edie was younger, we were visiting my mother in Essex, and so for a day I put any negativity to one side and headed to Colchester Zoo.
Edie had an incredible experience seeing the animals and I left feeling equally impressed. Sure, I was taken with the beauty of the animals, but what stayed with me was the high-quality spacious enclosures, details of ongoing conservation projects, and something I heard one of the keepers say whilst talking to some other guests - it went something along the lines of “in an ideal world, we’d all be unemployed and there would be no need for people like me managing the conservation methods we use”. In a world where poachers, climate change and greedy corporations are impacting the very survival of species, the quality zoos of this world are doing their bit to ensure longevity to otherwise endangered creatures.
Since that visit, I’ve relaxed my views, always remembering the good that zoos do (let’s not get into the inadequate zoos that still exist, that’s a whole separate conversation). And so, with the opportunity to return to Colchester Zoo this summer, we jumped like a wallaby at the chance. For the kids it would be an exciting day out, but also one in which they can be educated on how we can all help our furry friends.
Arriving at the zoo on the last Friday of Edie’s summer holidays, I was impressed with the changes to the entrance since my previous visit. It’s now a modern, bright, airy space that enables visitors to enter through automated barriers, thus removing queues (and an opportunity for kids to whine!).
Into the zoo, we followed the helpful yellow line around the site and I think we saw everything! I’m always (pleasantly) shocked by the scale of Colchester Zoo – it’s huge, but not in a bad way. The size allows for a huge variety of animals in large enclosures, but it’s designed so you never really walk more than a few yards before slowing to encounter the next amazing creature.
Highlights included the chimpanzee enclosure (these guys know how to relax - see above), the sea lion tunnel, the tiger with her cubs (OMG, like so cute), the meerkats (who doesn’t love a meerkat, but top tip: wear ear defenders to drown-out the outpouring of “simples” comments from really, really funny dads), the lions, the hyenas and cheetahs being fed, but best of all has to be the Kingdom of The Wild. Both Edie and Arlo got to feed a giraffe in a matter of seconds after turning up (I might have elbowed a few kids out of the way to have a go too), a quick 360° turn and elephants stand mightily in their enclosure scanning the adoring public whilst beautiful zebras, rhinos and ostriches make up the rest of this stunning area.
The kids loved the animals, and so did I, but as I mentioned, it was also an opportunity to educate them and learn more about sustainability, conservation and the environment. Colchester Zoo do a great job in such areas and make it easy to read more en route around the zoo, plus offer lots more reading on the important projects they support, not just within the confides of their Maldon Road border, but worldwide. Read lots more here https://www.colchester-zoo.com/our-mission/ and if you’re looking for a zoo to visit, I can highly recommend Colchester.