James Day looks at some of the UK’s best zoos and animal attractions

Kumbuka, a silverpack gorilla at ZSL London Zoo. ZSL

Kumbuka, a silverpack gorilla at ZSL London Zoo. ZSL

ZOOLOGICAL SOCIETY LONDON

Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. The society has active conservation projects in more than 50 countries and two Zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.

Arguably the world’s most famous zoo, ZSL London Zoo has been entertaining groups since it opened to the public in 1847. With over 760 animal species, recently opened and innovative new exhibits and heritage-listed buildings almost as famous as their inhabitants, it’s a great choice for a day out in the capital for groups of all ages and sizes Groups of 10 or more paying visitors to ZSL London Zoo can save 25% on entry when booking advance group tickets. Free entry is provided for a carer with any disabled visitor ticket purchased online. Carers for groups of 10 will be admitted at the gate. Set in a 600 acre site amongst the rolling Chiltern Hills, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is a group adventure on an different scale.

Visitors can see the elephants on their daily walk around the Zoo, rhinos in their huge paddock, a lion pride, cheetahs as they speed by and lofty giraffes. Again, groups of 10 or more save 25% discount when booking in advance, and can benefit from a 15% reduction in entry should they buy tickets at the gate.

Other group benefits include free entry for Blue Badge Guides, a free adult ticket with every 10 paying children, free entry for one essential carer with paying disabled visitors, free posters and leaflets to help promote the group visit and coach parking. Groups visiting ZSL Whipsnade Zoo can also purchase catering vouchers which can be exchanged at the Oasis Café.

DONKEY SANCTUARY

The Donkey Sanctuary currently cares for 5,800 Donkeys

The Donkey Sanctuary currently cares for 5,800 Donkeys

The Donkey Sanctuary was founded in 1969 by Dr Elisabeth Svendsen MBE. Through her devotion to donkeys and hard work, the Sanctuary has grown to be an international charity. There are currently 5,800 donkeys in the sanctuary’s care. 500 of these are living at Slade Farm, including the gentle giant Poitou donkeys. The sanctuary welcomes many different groups, including school groups. Coach operators are also welcomed to the sanctuary, even if it’s just a stopover to break up a long journey.

The sanctuary asks that, to enable it to accommodate large groups by coach or in its restaurant, to call ahead of the visit. The contact number is 01395 578222.

REDWINGS

Redwings Horse Sanctuary is the UK’s largest horse sanctuary, caring for over 1,300 horses, ponies, donkeys and mules. Groups are welcomed to Redwings’ four centres and can visit for free, though they are advised to bring suitable footwear – wellies or sturdy shoes.

The four centres are Ada Cole Rescue Centre near Nazeing in Essex, Caldecott Visitor Centre near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, Aylsham Visitor Centre in Norfolk and Oxhill Visitor Centre in Warwickshire.

The Caldecott and Aylsham centres in particular offer tailored educational visits. Groups are welcome to either guide themselves around their chosen site, or book a guided tour. These tours are available for approximately 20 people at a time and are provided during term on various days, depending on the centre.

Food can be ordered in advance for up to 20 people. Outside of term time, self-guided visits can take place during opening hours, though they should be booked at least two weeks in advance.

SOUTH LAKES

South Lakes Safari Zoo features giraffes, free roaming monkeys, lemurs, free flying birds and a mob of kangaroos. The zoo also has an impressive collection of big cats, including African Lions, Snow Leopards, Jaguars, Sri Lankan Leopards and Sumatran Tigers.

Those interested in felines would be hard-pressed to find a better place to visit. Visitors can enjoy a meal in the African restaurant and the park is a great place for a group visit, with plenty to keep the whole group entertained for a whole day.

Group rates are dependent on the size of the group. A group of 15-35 gains entry for £11.50 per adult, £7.00 per child and £8.00 per OAP. This reduces to £9.00, £6.00 and £6.00 respectively for groups of 36-52, and further to £7.00, £5.00 and £6.00 respectively for groups of 53 or more.

Coach operators can save even further, with entry granted at £6.25 per head, 50% less than general admission. Other group benefits include free all day coach parking on site within metres of the entrance with free admission for coach drivers and a booking pack containing health and safety information to help with risk assessments, talk and feeding times and a copy of the current park map.

The park offers queue jump at peak times and fast check in. A free familiarisation visit is also provided for the GTO once the trip is booked.

ST ANDREW’S AQUARIUM

At St Andrew’s Aquarium, in Fife, Scotland, groups can be transported into an underwater world of adventure and discovery, packed full of surprises.

They can come face to face with some of the most beautiful, fascinating and dangerous creatures of the watery worlds. Animals at the aquarium include black tip reef sharks, spiders, lobsters, lionfish, poison dart frogs, piranhas, tennis loving penguins, seals and even meerkats.

St Andrew’s Aquarium is home to a number of Humboldt Penguins, all of which are female

St Andrew’s Aquarium is home to a number of Humboldt Penguins, all of which are female

The venue’s new Steprock Cafe is stocked to the hilt with fresh sandwiches and freshly baked cakes, so it’s worth popping in for a bite to eat. With some of the best views in St Andrews overlooking the West Sands and Steprock Beach, it’s easy to see why the light and airy cafe is the perfect place to relax. Groups of 10 or more save £1 per head on entry prices.

TWYCROSS ZOO

Animals come in all shapes and sizes at Twycross zoo, from leopards to lemurs, parrots to prairie dogs and tortoises to tarantulas.

Twycross Zoo cares for around 500 animals, of which almost 150 are species of larger animals, including many endangered species. Renowned as a specialist primate zoo, it cares for a wide variety of monkeys and apes, and is the only zoo in the UK where visitors can see all types of great ape – gorilla, orangutan, chimpanzee and bonobo.

There’s plenty to see, from favourites including meerkats and penguins, and the Amur leopard, the world’s rarest big cat. Groups of 20 people or more can enter the zoo for £13.50 per adult, £9.00 per child (£1.00 for those under three years old) or £11.50 per concession. For educational visits, entry stands at £9.00 for College & University Students, £5.00 for school pupils, £4.00 for nursery children and £9.00 for staff.

Other adults can join the group for £10.00 per head, with one teacher going free for every five pupils in school parties.

ASPINALL FOUNDATION

The Aspinall Foundation offers two animal attractions in Kent – Port Lympne Reserve south of Ashford, and Howletts Wild Animal Park near Canterbury.

Port Lympne Reserve offers exciting and educational days out for groups and families of all ages, situated in a 600 acre site within an area of outstanding natural beauty. It features wooded walkways and paths to explore along with animal talks held throughout the day, and far reaching views across the English channel to France.

Visitors have the chance to jump on board a safari truck and be transported to The African Experience – 100 acres of Kentish Savannah – where giraffe, black rhino, wildebeest, ostrich, zebra and many more animals can be seen roaming freely. There are four on-foot zones waiting to be explored, where visitors can meet big cats and small cats in Carnivore Territory, and monkeys, lemurs and western lowland gorillas in the Primate Trail.

Discounted admission prices for group bookings are available, with a minimum number of 15 per group. Bespoke extras can also be arranged and there is ample parking for coaches. Howletts Wild Animal Park is open 364 days a year and is home to some of the most rare and endangered species on the planet.

It has the largest collection of critically endangered western lowland gorillas in the world and the largest collection of African elephants in Europe. Set over 90 acres of historic parkland, visitors have the chance to walk with lemurs, get up close and personal with Northern Chinese leopards in their new glass fronted enclosure and even copy the agile primates on the Treetop Challenge – an obstacle course set in the trees. Similar entry discounts and coach parking facilities are available here.