We attended the annual Sunset Safari at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire on Saturday 24th June amongst thousands of other people who wanted to enjoy a lovely summer evening being entertained by stilt walkers, jazz bands, Jumbo Express train, face painters and of course most importantly the animals.
There were various animal feeds, talks and displays throughout the evening, the highlight for me though was the parade of elephants walking along the road to their exhibition area – what gorgeous animals they are and even more so when you manage to get up close to them, we managed to watch them at close quarters whilst they grazed in the fields.
African Hunting Dogs
A new feature this year are the African Hunting dogs, that have come from ZSL London Zoo. You can watch this pack of dogs explore their new home from a fantastic raised platform which affords the photographers a much improved view – this is something I wish more zoos would consider with their displays. I had never seen these dogs before and was intrigued by their large ears and mottled coats as well as their pack mentality which makes them a formidable force in the wild. They normally live in packs of around 25 individuals, which is key to them being such successful predators with a reported 70% strike rate compared to a pride of lions with only 20%, which is quite incredible.
You could see their aggressiveness when they were play fighting with each other in the glass viewing position which allows you to watch them at really close quarters.
Unfortunately these dogs are an endangered species due to losing their habitat and human conflict. Well worth spending some time with these fascinating animals.
Another superb viewing platform has been erected to view the world’s tallest mammals, the giraffes, which allow up to 300 spectators at any one time. You now come up to their level and watch them feed both inside and outside of their enclosure. Children will especially appreciate being able to witness them at this height.
Giraffe Fact – Unbelievable I know but giraffes have the same number of bones in their neck as we do – seven
Another favourite is always the penguins. They have an amazing natural environment with probably the best view in the zoo, looking out over the Chiltern Hills towards Ivinghoe Beacon. There are two different types of colonies here; African black-footed and Rockhopper. Always great to watch them waddle along or majestically swim in their pool and the viewing area lets you again get up close to them.
Tiger Falls is the purpose built enclosure for the stunning tigers and we were treated to a feeding experience on the evening. The zoo like to carry out ‘enrichment’ which means that the tigers are set challenges just as they would be in the wild to improve the animals welfare and wellbeing and the rack of ribs that one of the tigers was fed was strung up in the air so that the tiger had to work at it to obtain his food.
Always difficult to get a good photograph here though because of the obvious requirement of the fence and the large crowds that had flocked to see the tigers but I did manage to get one just as he went for his food.
The grounds around Whipsnade are vast and a great way to see the different areas is to take the Jumbo Express steam engine. The zoo currently has two engines running, Excelsior and Superior and you can get a great view of the rhinos, yaks, elephants and camels whilst relaxing in the carriages. An added bonus is the commentary that accompanies the thrill of riding on a steam train.
The zoo has a wide variety of birds and on the night we were treated to fabulous displays of storks (yes storks!), kookaburras and owls. This is always a great crowd pleaser as the birds swoop over your heads as they soar around the arena.
Lions of the Serengeti
Through three metre high floor to ceiling viewing windows you get a superb view of the pride of lions at the zoo. There is a mound that has been constructed in front of the windows which allows the lion to rest there offering a great opportunity to see these beasts at close quarters. Unfortunately when we were there most of them were sleeping which is not a surprise really as lions sleep for up to 21 hours a day. The keepers do carry out feeding and demonstrations during the day to allow visitors to hear the lions roar.
The only disappointment during the evening was that we run out of time! There were so many more animals that we would like to have seen but the four hours that we were there just flew by, which I guess is a good sign that you have enjoyed yourself. It’s also nice to know that you are contributing through your admission to the conservation programme that both ZSL Whipsnade and ZSL London carry out to ensure that future generations can witness these magnificent animals.
This was a great way to spend a warm summer evening and if you get the chance to visit here I would thoroughly recommend it. You will need a full day to take in all of the animals and don’t forget to take your camera because there are so many opportunities to capture some wildlife.
ZSL Whipsnade also offer experiences to stay on site for the night in one of their lookout lodges including exclusive after-hours tours at sunset and by torchlight in the morning.