On the 2nd, I turned another year older, and decided to spend my day looking at cute animals at my local zoo, The Cotswold Wildlife Park, with my sister, Marie.
Marie picked me up just after eleven, and we made it to the zoo, paid, parked, and were wandering around the grounds within ten minutes- a perk of living just down the road.
We're lucky to live just a few miles from the wildlife park and have done all our lives, so it makes for the easiest day trip ever. The journey is so short, I don't even waste any of my limited energy or pain tolerance travelling there, so I can spend all of it enjoying myself instead. I've been dozens of times over the last thirty-one years; at least once a year almost every year since I was a baby, so I know the place inside out. It's one of my favourite places, and even after a life time of visits, I still look forward to and enjoy every one. As a huge animal lover, I've always loved going to the zoo and have visited many, but there's just something really special about this place that makes me want to keep returning, time after time.
We began at The Walled Gardens, which is one of my favourite sections of the park. It's exactly what it sounds like- a series of professionally landscaped gardens, edged and divided in to sections by stone walls. It's full of beautiful trees, plants, and flowers, as well as all kinds of small animals like lemurs, tamarins, otters, penguins, prairie dogs, parrots, monkeys and a wide variety of birds.
Our first stop was the Madagascar enclosure, a walk-through section with free-roaming lemurs and birds. The path inside is lined with a low fence, so you can't approach the animals and invade their space, but they often wander around your feet or along the fence just inches from you. We only managed to spot the ring-tailed lemurs this time, which were all huddled together for warmth in one big group and it made for some cute photos. There are usually a couple of other species to see, including some sifakas, which we didn't manage to spot, but we did see a ruffed lemur in an ajoining cage that was jumping from tree to tree.
After exploring Madagascar, we moved on to look at some tamarins, mongoose, and naked mole rats (which are just about the weirdest animals ever), and then wandered in to the largest section of the walled gardens. It was so green and lush with life. I don't know a thing about plants, but it looked really pretty and tranquil, and it's well worth a visit if you're in to plants and gardening. In this section of the gardens, there are also greenhouses, a walk through aviary, and a small tropical house, where we headed along to next.
The Cotswold Wildlife Park's tropical house is probably the smallest tropical house ever, but I think that works in Marie's favour as she's terrified of free-flying birds. I've been used as a human shield in there in the past, to protect her from "blood-thirsty" turacos and exotic.pigeons... that were twenty feet away minding their own business! This time, she ended up legging it outside after noticing a fruit bat hanging from the rafters above my head. I stayed to snap a few photos of it preening itself, but not for long as there was a scrum of people pressing me on. I've never been able to photograph a bat in the daylight before, and it was cool to see its webbed hands and the veins in its wings against the light, even if I couldn't get the photos I wanted.
After having a little rest, we moved on, and continued looking at the animals and plants in the gardens. We enjoyed watching squirrel monkeys, macaws, kookaburras, prairie dogs, otters, meerkats, and so much more. The prairie dog pups were particularly adorable, and I wanted to take them all home.
One of my favourite features in the gardens was the bed of cacti and succulents opposite the meerkats; I thought it looked really beautiful and interesting.
You can't visit the wildlife park without paying the penguins a visit; it's the law. Or it should be. They have a group of humboldts, and they're so damn cute. Most of them were hanging out around their caves, so it must be penguin chick time!
Once we made it out of the gardens, we got ourselves an ice cream, and stopped for another rest for a little while.* It wasn't the best ice cream I've ever had- it could've done with a little more flavour, but it was a nice birthday treat just the same.
*I can't walk far without needing to rest because of my health conditions. The chronic pain and sciatica get worse as I exercise, and my body gets stiffer with each step, so I have to take regular rests before continuing or calling it quits and going home. (Which is why I rarely manage to go on day trips like these).
Once I felt up to pressing on, we continued past emus and colobus monkeys, storks, and birds of prey. We spent some time watching the owls and vultures, until the rain clouds grew darker and it started to spit. We decided to head on over to the reptile and bat houses which were just up ahead, so we could shelter inside if it started to pour. Luckily, it held off for a while.
There are two reptile houses at The Cotswold Wildlife Park, adjacent to each other in the centre of the park. I can't speak for my sister, but I enjoyed wandering from tank to tank and playing a game of 'spot the well-camouflaged reptile'. There were all kinds of awesome snakes, lizards, frogs, and crocs, and for some reason, a group of teeny tiny mouse lemurs and a family of Simang gibbons. It seems like a random place to house them, but the animals didn't seem to mind.
The show stopper in the reptile houses- or the animal most likely to give people nightmares- had to be the green anaconda, which I think has been there all my life. Its body is as wide as a human head, and easily as long as a double decker bus, if not two! It's enormous! It's a little bit terrifying, even if you like snakes, like I do. Most of its coils were under water; so I didn't capture a decent photo of it this time, but trust me, it's a jaw-dropper.
We didn't end up going in the bat house as Marie didn't want to and I wasn't fussed, and we gave the insect house a wide berth, since I have a major spider phobia and most bugs make my skin crawl. I was far more eager to head over to the farmyard and be around cute fluffy things. We looked at the zebu, spotted pigs, goats, cows, and donkeys, and then commandeered a bench and had a long rest, and chatted with a view of the pygmy goats. You can actually go in to the goat pen and pet the goat kids with your human kids. but having no small child to borrow and the inability to stretch down to pet them, we just watched from afar instead.
There was an enormous turkey wandering around on the other side of the farmyard. I've never seen one with such amazing feathers before.
The farmyard also has a barn with the indoor pens for the miniature ponies and pigs on one side, and loads of rabbits and guinea pigs on the other.
The farmyard leads on to a woodland-style section of the park, which is my favourite part of the whole zoo. It's home to some pretty cool animals- tapirs, anteaters, capybaras, maras, wallabies, warty pigs, wolves, cranes, storks, flamingos, free-roaming peacocks, and all kinds of water fowl. It's such a peaceful section to wander around and it almost feels like you're taking a walk in the woods because there are so many trees canopying the paths and enclosures, and it's been designed so naturally. It feels so secluded, and most of the time you can even hear the wild birds sing.
One of the main reasons why I love this section is because it's home to a pair of tapirs, which are one of my most favourite animals. They may be a little weird-looking but I think they're adorable. It was a shame these guys were lounging right at the back of their enclosure this time, but I've been able to pet them a couple of times in the past, which was awesome! I would love to be a tapir keeper one day; it would literally be my dream job. Well, that, and looking after giraffes, anteaters, aardvarks, and well, just about every animal on the planet. I'm not fussy; I love most animals, and would love to work with them all.
This little wallaby and his friends were resting a couple of feet from us beside the path and weren't at all bothered about being so close to us.
However, this crowned crane was not at all happy to see us. He was stalking us along the fence line, with the feathers on its head going up in defence mode like the quills of a porcupine. Let's just say, I was glad there was a fence in between us and his wings were clipped! When we visited the place last Autumn, he actually tried to fly over the fence to attack us because his mate had a brood of chicks, and he was only about a foot shy of making it over the fence. We seriously thought he was going to get us, and ducked for cover. It wasn't funny at the time, but we can laugh about it now!
The wolves were curled up asleep and apart from their colouring, you'd be forgiven for thinking they looked just like German shepherds or huskies taking a nap.
We made it to the lake at the far end of the section in the middle of a feeding frenzy. There were peacocks, guinea fowl, geese, ducks, and moorhens everywhere you turned. I've never seen anything quite like it; it was chaos. Marie was a little freaked out by them all, so we found a quieter spot where the birds weren't running around our feet, and watched for a couple of minutes until we got bored and carried on to see the rhinos.
After covering so much of the park, I was really struggling and shattered by this point, so we found a bench with the perfect view of the rhinos, and took a well deserved rest. We sat and watched the rhinos grazing in their paddock just metres from us for the best part of half an hour, with the beautiful two-hundred-year-old gothic manor house in the background. I could've stayed there watching the animals all day.
The good thing about The Cotswold Wildlife Park, if you need to rest regularly when you're out and about like I do, is that there are benches all around the grounds. Dozens of them. You never need to walk far to find one, and most of them have a great view of the animals or plants. The park is also completely flat, so there are no steep hills to conquer and exhaust you like many zoos have, and it has decent, well-maintained paths around the majority of the site, making it accessible to all. With plenty of rests and enough painkillers, on a "good" day health-wise, I can just about make it around the majority of the park before I hit the wall and lose the ability to move for a couple of weeks. It's a relatively small zoo of 160 acres, and it's possible to make it round all the animals in as little as three hours if you don't stop for a bite to eat or take your kids to the playground, and know the place as well as we do. At the same time, you can easily spend an entire day there because there's so much to see and do. We just don't do it all because we've been so many times already.
We didn't have many animals left to see after the rhinos, so we kept moving, hoping to make it to the end and back to the car before it rained.
They have a small herd of zebras, including the cutest little foal.
Giraffes are another of my favourite animals, and there was no way I was going home without going to see them first. I mean, who doesn't love giraffes?? They're pretty much the coolest, prettiest animals on the planet. The wildlife park has a group of three, and we stood watching them graze for a few minutes. Then a small child wandered off from her grandmother and almost got herself electrocuted by trying to climb under the electric fence in front of us...
As we reached the lions at the far end of the zoo, the rain was starting to get heavier, so we took a quick glance at the king of the jungle, zoomed around the clouded leopards, porcupines, and meerkats, and watched the camels while we walked in the direction of the car park. By this time, it was lashing down with rain, and we got absolutely soaked walking back and trying to find the car. We just could not seem to find it! Seriously, it took us ten minutes of searching to find the car in amongst the others, and the car park wasn't even that full.
By the time we got in the car, we were soaked through, but we didn't mind so much. We had a really great few hours wandering around one of our favourite places, and it was great to get out and about again for the first time in months. I can count on one hand how many times I've left the house to do something fun all year, so the day trip was long over due. It was a great way to spend my birthday, and was totally worth the pain and fatigue it caused me afterwards. I will never get bored of visiting The Cotswold Wildlife Park, and I can't wait for my next visit.
If you love animals and you're ever in The Cotswolds, make sure you pay it a visit! I promise you'll love it.
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