|A recent conversation I had with a a friend went something like this:
Me: “I love going to the Lake District. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like, it’s different every time.”
Friend: “You mean the fells?”
Friend: “The boat trips on the lakes themselves?”
Me: “They’re fun but no not really”
Friend now getting a little irate: “Well what then?”
Me: “The tigers and lions mainly, but the lemurs are great fun.”
Friend: “Are you mental? The Lake District? In Cumbria?”
I went on to tell them about the South Lakes Wild Animal Park. Some people refer to it as a Zoo which personally I think is wrong. A zoo to me is full of cages with bored looking animals out of their natural environment. The South Lakes Animal Park does things very differently.
This little chap scratching his head played up to the watching public. Whilst able to get quite close, he was far enough away not to get startled by the laughing people, yet close enough to be easily seen. This seems to be a feature designed in to the park as a whole. It strikes a really good balance of making the animals accessible to visitors, whilst putting public safety & animal welfare at the top of the priority list.
Getting to the park is easy. Just pop the postcode LA15 8JR into your car’s SatNav. If you’re travelling north or south on the M6 motorway, aim for Junction 36 and the A590 West towards Dalton-in-Furness.
On the day I visited there was ample parking available in the free car park. Once inside the park, you realise quite quickly the world around you has transformed. You will find unlike other parks that the wildlife is all around you. Where it’s safe for both the animals and the public, don’t be too surprised if what you thought was a handrail, is actually an animal footpath. Though remember, the animals have right of way! The fella to the right was quite happy to pose for pictures, but once he had decided getting some food was more important, there was no stopping him heading back in to the trees. However, getting up close to the animals isn’t a once per visit chance and you will be surprised how the animals can just ignore you if you are quiet enough.
One surprising moment came when I visited the Giraffe enclosure. A public viewing area had been placed a tree height meaning you literally came face to face with the animals. Looking into the huge brown eyes of a Giraffe really was something quite special. These huge, but graceful creatures are so gentle in their movements and when one bent down to take a drink right in front of me we came eye to eye, though I think he made more of an impression on me, than I did on him. It is a moment I will remember for a long time to come.
Like many other people, my favourite part of the park was home to the big cats. African Lions were undoubtedly the most majestic animals in the park. However for me, my favourite was the Sumatran Tigers and I was lucky enough to be present when they were being fed. Unlike other places you may have seen on TV, South Lakes don’t leave great chunks of meat lying around on the ground for the big cats. In this place they have to work for their dinner, by climbing trees and what looked like telegraph poles to retrieve their food. This is one of the most spectacular things you can hope to see as these huge powerful animals race to be fed. The animals move with incredible speed yet the largest noise you will hear around the enclosure will be the clicking of camera lenses trying to capture the moment. Once again there is an upper walkway for both the tigers and lions so you can be at the same height they retrieve their food from before they head for cover to consume the meal they’ve just earned. The keepers give a very informative talk prior to the feeding and a real hush descended as the crowd listened. To find out some of the work the Park does to protect Tigers in the wild, take a look at the Sumatran Tiger Trust website.
Unfortunately, being so captivated by the primates & big cats I ran out of time for my visit, so this article can only scratch the surface. What I can say is the animal keepers were very friendly & knowledgeable. I made a point of asking questions, questions they must have been asked a thousands times, but their enthusiasm can across with every person I saw them deal with.
For a full list of the animals & facilities at the park take a look at their website.
A recent announcement is there will be opportunities to feed Snow Leopard, Jaguar , Lion or Tiger by hand after Easter 2014. Now that will be something special.