“Mrs R. said we had to be there for 8:15,” she worried, once again checking the time.
“Well, I had a message from the office that it was 8:30!” I repeated for what must have been the millionth time.
As it was, we arrived in the playground at 8:23 and, the Mudlets hurried off to join the handful of their classmates already there. I strolled over to join the throng of staff and parent volunteers. By 8:30 most of the children had arrived, other than those who caught the bus in and the noise levels had surpassed being bearable, as the excitement levels reached boiling point (and that was just the adults).
Why the early start?
What was the cause of this excitement?
Today was school trip day and we were going to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park!
By 9:10 am, everyone was accounted for, the bus was boarded and we were off.
I had heard great things about the Wild Life Park but it was a bit pricy and so this was going to be a fabulous opportunity to see if it was actually value for money. I can’t remember the last time I’d been to a Wildlife Park but suspect it was Flamingo Land when Eldest Mudlet was around Littlest Mudlets’ age.
The children had been learning about Africa this term and were looking forward to the opportunity to see some of the animals indigenous to that area. Tigers, Leopards and Lions were all high on the list of animals that they wanted to see, as were the newly installed giraffes (I believe these arrived in December of last year) but oddly enough, the animal that most of them wanted to see was the diminutive Meerkats, probably due in the most part to a certain series of adverts that have graced our television screens for the last couple of years. Mind you ‘Meerkat Manor’ probably fueled the fascination of these tiny animals for the Mudlets, and then poor, down trodden “Sergei” cemented it.
With the weather dry but chilly, the Meerkats were still tucked up in their house when we finally arrived and started to look around. The group of 10 pupils I was with, were disappointed but did peer through the windows to find a huddle of Meerkats peering back out at them.
“Never mind,” the teacher said, “We’re here all day and you’ll probably find that as the day warms up, they will venture out.”
Nothing really keeps children down and a quick glance at the site map showed that the first of the big cats were only a stones throw away – although not literally please. Angry Lions are not recommended.
The story behind the parks pride of Lions is a desperately sad one. In 2010, the Lions were the subject of the largest ever lion rescue, having spent their lives in 3m x 4m pens, with filthy concrete floors, in a Romanian Zoo, with five animals to a pen! One of the education park rangers, explained that having never seen grass in their lives, the lions were initially too scared to venture out into their huge, new enclosure. They have now completely adjusted to their surroundings and, in true Lion style, were asleep or ‘resting’ every time we passed them. Thankfully, there were no long term health issues for most of the Lions, the Ranger told me, although one of the males had to have part of his tail amputated due to an infected injury, incurred in the tiny pen and another has a hunched back which was a result of the totally inadequate diet, they had in Romania.
The Wallaby walk through, allowed the children to get close to and even touch the animals and there were hand washing stations/sterigel dispensers at exits and entrances to these high contact areas. Many of the female Wallabys had Joeys and it did look a little odd to see ‘two heads’, one of which seemed to be coming out of the animals stomach. A couple of the Joeys were old enough to have made the transition out of the pouch and these were incredibly cute but they lived in a big scary world and we made sure that the children in our group respected the animals and didn’t chase after them.
The Lemur walk through was another close encounter area, although the various species of Lemur weren’t as accommodating as the Wallabys. It was amazing to see them leaping from tree to tree, chasing each other. The Black And White Ruffed Lemurs were not only striking in their appearance but extremely raucous in their greetings. We all jumped out of our skins at the noise which the pair made when they suddenly realised they were within a few feet of each other.
“They’re only saying hello,” the Ranger told us.
Well if that was them being nice to each other, I wouldn’t want to be around when they had a quarrel and, unnerved by the continued calls, we hurried through the rest of the section and decided the ‘Large Rodent’ section would be a quieter place to visit………. and it was, although the size of some of the rodents was astonishing, namely the Capybara which was the size of a small pig and as lazy as the Lions. Squirrel Monkeys were also in this particular section and generated much ‘Aahhing’ from the girls in the group, with the boys admiring, with envious eyes, the elaborate climbing equipment which took up a large portion of the enclosure.
We played ‘spot the Zebra’ at the African plains enclosure and admired the Ostriches.
Now here’s an interesting fact for you, as told to us by the educational Ranger at the start of our visit (we had a half hour session in the on-site classroom). Female Ostriches are brown/grey because they sit on the eggs during the day and their drab colour helps them to blend into the terrain. The male Ostriches, on the other hand, are black because they sit on the eggs at night and guess what? Yep! Gold stars all round. Their black feathers help them blend into the night scape. See! You learn something new everyday.
The Ankole Cattle (pictured with a Zebra) and Eland Antelope were also in this enclosure and looked stunning.
After lunch, our group headed off to see the Baboons but, although it was starting to warm up by now and the sun had actually put in an appearance, it was obvious that the Baboons were unimpressed and remained, for the most part, huddled together at the furthest point of the enclosure. We did spot a couple cuddled up in one of the little huts but the attention of the children was dramatically claimed by the discovery, in the mud behind us, of paw prints!
Not at all unusual or unexpected in a wildlife park, you might say but these prints weren’t behind an enclosure fence!There wasn’t a heavy duty or electrified barrier fence between us and them!
These were by the woods!
These were fresh!
Imaginations were running wild, as the children speculated about what could have made these prints.Was there a hither too undiscovered Lion loose in the park?
Had the Leopard managed to leap from Leopard Heights and clear its’ fence?
Had one of the Tigers climb one of the perimeter trees that ringed its’ enclosure and escaped?
Just a few meters away, a groundsman was raking over the mud, preparing, I assume, to sow some grass seed to cover the bare patches. A quick query from the excited and intrigued children dashed all hopes of escaped cats ……… the culprits were a pair of young Labradors which belonged to the park owners. Oddly enough, a second look and it became obvious that the prints which just a few moments earlier had been the cause of much speculation, were, in fact, far too small to be anything as dramatic as a Lion and so we moved on.
We spent the next hour or so looking at the things we hadn’t already seen and these included spotting the Leopard, watching the sleeping Tigers and visiting the giraffes before rendezvousing with the rest of the school at the adventure playground, where the children were given half an hour to run off any remaining steam before it was back to the bus ready for home. Luckily for the overall success of the trip, we did manage to pass the Meerkat section again and by this time, the sun was out and the little animals had ventured out.
It was a very tired set of children that were finally off loaded to waiting parents and as they dispersed back to various cars, or walked back along the street away from the school, an excitable babble of young voices could be clearly heard describing in minute detail, every second of the day. As for those of us who had accompanied the children, we were equally as exhausted and just as buoyed by the experience of being able to get so close to the animals but we were all ready for a nice drink …… and I’m not talking coffee here!
As for the park itself, although it was a great day out, I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay the full entry price of £14.50 per adult and £11.50 per child aged between 3 and 15 years. There doesn’t appear to be a family day ticket option, although there are annual passes which offer unlimited entry but I can’t see a child or family annual pass and an adult pass is £45! Other parents tell me that there are often discount vouchers available from places such as the local leisure centers but I have no idea what these offer.
No, as it stands and for what it has to offer, £52 is too much …… we could visit a couple of castles which our girls love and still have change and, frankly, unless they have new animals arriving, once you’ve been once, you’ve pretty much seen it all, so I can’t see why you would want to pay for an unlimited access annual pass. You would have to visit 3 times in a year, by my calculations just to justify your annual pass and don’t forget to add the £23 for the 2 girls, each visit – sorry but at full price, I really don’t think it’s worth it.