Mumsnet were invited by ZSL to review their new ‘Meet the Animals’ experience.
Meet the Animals is designed to give visitors the ultimate behind the scenes encounter with their favourite animals at the zoo. There is a choice of six animals to meet, which include: meerkats, lions, outback (kangaroos, emus and wallabies), aardvarks, Rainforest (monkeys, sloths and armadillos) and owls. I was lucky enough to meet the aardvarks, the Rainforest animals and the owls.
First up were the aardvarks. We were escorted to the aardvark enclosure where a welcoming zoo keeper met us and took us inside the enclosure to meet their two female aardvarks. He explained that aardvarks were friendly creatures, and likely to come up and sniff us enthusiastically. However, since they are nocturnal animals, once they had checked us out, they’d just go back to sleep, which is exactly what they did. Meeting the aardvarks was very similar to meeting an excited Labrador – they were bumbly, snuffly and then happy to snooze while you stroked their ears. In between answering our questions, the zoo keeper encouraged us to stroke their snouts which were as soft as velvet (and only a tiny bit snotty). It really was a fantastic experience to be in the enclosure with them whilst other visitors to the zoo looked on from outside.
We then moved onto the experience I had been most looking forward to, the Rainforest. Even without the ‘Meet the Animals’ experience, the Rainforest enclosure is fantastic to watch, as it is an open space where tiny monkeys scamper freely about, whilst you watch sloths ponderously moving among the trees. Again we were met by a friendly zookeeper who gave us all a handful of meal worms and opened the staff entrance onto the forest floor. Having a family of Emperor Monkeys flock to you and take food from your hand is even more fun than you could possibly imagine. They have no fear, and would have stuck around as long as the meal worms kept coming. We were lucky enough to also see Tammy the tamandua who came and wandered among our group, eating meal worms right from the bowl. In was truly amazing to be in and amongst the wildlife in that way, and a fantastic way to observe the animals.
Our final encounter was with the owls. The two keepers helped us don a heavy leather glove and let us carry a Spectacled Owl sat on our hand, and even give him a little scratch on the head. We then had a wonderful demonstration with Yoda the burrowing owl, who flew to us when called and ate a mouse leg from our hands. Finally we were shown a magnificent Eagle Owl whilst the keepers answered our questions.
With experiences starting at £35 on top of your normal zoo admission ‘Meet the Animals’ is a trip perhaps best saved for special occasions, or it would make a great birthday surprise. There are age restrictions on the experiences, so double check these before booking to avoid disappointment. Throughout the experience it was wonderful to talk to the keepers, who were able to answer every question we asked whilst showing genuine enthusiasm for their job and love for the animals they were looking after. To be able to go behind the scenes at a zoo and interact with animals that normally you’d only be able to watch is a tremendous privilege, and one I would recommend to anyone who has a passion for animals.