Enjoy a day out in the animal kingdom this summer. Angela Youngman has selected some good choices for you

DARTMOOR_chincha-drink-web 2Walking through a lion enclosure or watching sharks swim above your head are experiences you might not normally expect to have on a day out. However, the UK’s zoos, safari parks and public aquaria are endeavouring to enable visitors to see animals and marine life in their natural environment. Entertainment and conservation go hand in hand, thus making visits intensely memorable as visitors appreciate the beauty and fragile nature of the world around them.

Walk with the Animals
London Zoo is the world’s oldest scientific zoo, having started life at its site in Regents Park in 1828. It now houses thousands of animals from tiny spiders to fruit bats, gorillas, lemurs and tigers. Recent additions include In With The Spiders, Europe’s only spider walk- through experience where golden orb spiders pose on huge one metre wide webs. At the spectacular Land of the Lions visitors can enjoy a ‘window-less view’ of the Asiatic Lions roaming just metres away, separated only by fine wires. Entering through a stone archway, visitors collect a park pass, explore the reproduction of the Sasan Gir Train Station where lions may be seen snoozing on the tracks, or take the overhead walkway through a troop of lively Hanuman langur monkeys to see across the lion’s forest home.
Land of the Lions has been made as authentic as possible, with rickshaws, bicycles, sacks of spices and even a life-size truck shipped from India. Live action adventure enables visitors to become part of the story by helping forest rangers deal with emergencies and help veterinary teams come to the rescue, or hop on a bike and see if they can outrun an imaginary Asiatic lion using the same method of transport favoured by the conservation rangers.
There are generous 25 per cent discount for groups of 10 or more, special rates for youth groups and catering vouchers available for the Terrace restaurant. Call 0344 225 1826 or email info@zsl.org

Head into the Deep
Down in the West Country, the National Marine Aquarium houses more than 70 different shark species. Visitors can explore many different types of marine environment from Eddystone Reef to Ocean Drifters, as well as the stunning Atlantic Ocean Exhibit. At 10.5 metres deep, the Atlantic Ocean area of the National Marine Aquarium at Plymouth is the UK’s largest aquarium attraction. It is home to sand tigers, nurse sharks and stingrays. Divers can be seen entering the tank every Thursday.
The Biozone is another popular exhibit - its tanks contain a vast array of marine life including clownfish, lionfish, sea horses, corals and a giant pacific octopus.
Groups of 10 or more are welcomed and bespoke visits can be created, with a guided tour included costing from £12 per person. Call 01752 275214 or email enquiries@national-aquarium.co.uk

Monkeying Around
AmyThe Wild Futures Monkey Sanctuary, near Looe in Cornwall, cares for a variety of monkey species, enabling visitors to enjoy an intimate look at how a sanctuary works. As an animal rescue centre it offers a very different environment especially for school groups seeking educational activities. Groups can tour the enclosures and learn more about monkeys, the role of sanctuaries of this kind, as well as the needs of the animals from a team of expert keepers. A 10 per cent discount on entry costs is available for educational visits and pre-booked groups. Call 01503 262 532 or email info@wildfutures.org.

Film Star
Anyone who has seen the recent Hollywood film We brought a Zoo starring Matt Damon, will quickly recognize Dartmoor Zoological Park as it provided the inspiration for the film. Set in 33 acres of woodland at Sparkwell, near Plymouth, visitors can discover the widest variety of big cats in south west England as well as European and Syrian brown bears, raccoons, wolves, foxes, otters, capybara and many others. Team building events are often held here involving an opportunity to enjoy the zoo, find out about the animals and create potential designs for enclosures before presenting plans to a Dragons Den-style group of the zoo’s senior staff. Call 01752 837645 or email office@dartmoorzoo.co.uk

Beautiful Birds
Birdland Penguin Shore Humboldts & King PenguinsDiscover exotic and rare birds including parrots, hornbills, touracos, owls, pelicans, storks and flamingos at the Birdland Park and Gardens, Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire. There are over 50 aviaries containing 500 species of birds, including the only collection of King Penguins in the UK.
Take a walk on the wildside and discover a nature reserve as well as exotic flamingos enjoying the River Windrush.
Jurassic Journey is a new facility which takes visitors back to a time when dinosaurs roamed the Cotswolds. Young explorers can use dinosaur tracking kits to spot dinosaur eggs, dinosaur skeletons and 30 life-size dinosaurs. There are discounted tickets and special catering packages are available to groups. Call 01451 820480 or email info@birdland.co.uk

Childrens’ Favourite
At Drusillas Park near Alfriston, East Sussex, a new water attraction has opened which is guaranteed to entertain and educate children. With state-of-the-art sensory play features, splash pad, flower fountains, water jets and twirling streams, children can enjoy getting wet. Also designed for children is Europe’s first Hello Kitty attraction with themed rides and a secret garden.
The Zoo is home to a whole host of animals from meerkats and monkeys to rare Red Pandas and Rockhopper Penguins, plus innumerable birds. While exploring the walk-though aviary experience at Lory Landing, visitors have the chance to feed the colourful rainbow lorikeets. Discounted rates are available for groups of 15 or more. Call 01323 874100 or email info@drusillas.co.uk

Gibbon Forest

The new Gibbon Forest, at Twycross Zoo will be home to four groups of gibbon: Siamang, Northern White-cheeked Crested gibbon, Agile gibbon and Pileated gibbon. Photographs: Lucy Ray

The new Gibbon Forest, at Twycross Zoo

One of the largest gibbon facilities in Europe has opened at Twycross Zoo, near Atherstone, Warwickshire. Covering nearly 4,000 sq metres the new enclosure is designed to replicate the natural forest environment of gibbons. It includes a steel mesh ceiling from which the keepers can feed the gibbons, thus encouraging their natural behaviour of finding food high in the tree tops. Visitors enter Gibbon Forest at first floor level, enabling them to see the gibbons in their natural habitat high in the trees and moving at speed through the various climbing structures within the enclosure.
Other recent developments at Twycross Zoo include Giraffe Savannah, Elephant Creek, immersive walkthroughs with lemurs, lorikeets and butterflies, the largest children’s water play area in Leicestershire and an extension to the orang-utan house. twycrosszoo.org

Atlantic Experience
Up on the Isle of Skye, the UK’s only semi-submersible vessel offers a very unique marine experience. The Seaprobe Atlantis travels out into the Atlantic looking for seals, otters and other wildlife. Visitors can go below deck and sit below the waves looking out through large underwater panoramic windows at the marine life swimming around them. Specially designed for the purpose, the ship’s unique glass bottom has 26 large windows.
The North Norfolk coast is home to over 200 animals from tropical South America. Situated on the outskirts of Cromer, Amazona houses pumas, jaguars, macaws, rheas, tapirs and many other species found in the rainforests. An unusual Leaf Cutter ant exhibit has just been opened, showing the skills of these unique creatures. www.amazonazoo.co.uk

The Sea Life Sanctuary at Scarborough, North Yorks, incorporates a mix of indoor and outdoor area with over 50 displays of marine life including a walk through Penguin area, hands on rock pool experience, otters, seals and a Shark Encounter. The Bonnethead Sharks and Blacktip Reef Sharks are new to the centre this year, and make a stunning sight as they circle silently around an abandoned shipwreck. This is also the site of Yorkshire’s only seal hospital.

Dubbed the ‘world’s only submarium’ The Deep in Hull allows visitors to explore all areas of the world’s marine life from the evolving sea bed, to a pacific kelp tank, ice deserts, coral tanks and tropical lagoons. The Twilight Zone takes visitors into the deepest, darkest regions of the oceans to discover flora and fauna that live 200m or more below the sea. Visitors can discover how humans are changing the seas by pollution and fishing within the Industrial Seas exhibit, looking at the Humber Estuary through a periscope and cannibal Cod that can live up to 15 years. Jellyfish drift through the waters and there are circling sharks as well as a rare pair of Green sawfish overhead in the viewing tunnel. Elsewhere in the centre you can watch octopus, Wolf Eels, Flashlight fish and Blue Poison Arrow Frogs. Find out the secrets of slime and the animals whose lives depend on it to move around, catch their prey or create poisonous mucus. Pre-booked groups benefit from fast track entry via a designated entry point. Call 01482 381000 or email info@thedeep.co.uk

The giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo are a spellbinding attraction. Tian tian and Yang Guang have separate indoor and outdoor enclosures since they are solitary animals, which only meet during the breeding season. Entry to see the pandas is time ticketed and spaces are limited, so pre-booking is essential.
Other irresistible occupants of the zoo include the UK’s only koalas and the daily penguin parade, which has been taking place since 1950 when a few penguins escaped and followed their keeper around the zoo. The penguins look forward to their daily stroll!

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