Monday, 12 September 2011

Banham Zoo - second attempt

Emperor Tamarin, Banham Zoo, Norfolk, UK

I had tried to put up a post yesterday about a visit I made with my two year old son to Banham Zoo on Saturday. Unfortunately for reasons only known to blogger I wasn’t able to do this, so I’ve had another day to mull on what to write.

I guess I should make clear my broad views on Zoo’s first as they can raise strong emotions in people. I grew up in north London and one of my key early influences were the books of Gerald Durrell. Of relevance to this post was his manifesto for modern Zoo's The Stationery Ark. I learnt my early birding skills in and around north Londons' parks and reservoirs and as a member of the XYZ Club [Exceptional Young Zoologists I believe] also spent many happy hours wandering around London Zoo. on me.

So I'm pro good zoo's, zoo's which have high welfare standards, which educate their visitors, who take part in conservation initiatives and who help to change how people feel about wildlife conservation.

Over my two family visits to Banham Zoo I have gained an impression of a family friendly, reasonably well run zoo. One or two of the cages look a little small, but I know size alone doesn't make a good home for wild animals. I also like the sense that they haven't tried to squeeze in the full suite of stereotypical zoo animals. There are for example no Lions, Rhino's, Hippo's or Elephants. This isn't universally popular with all their visitors and I overheard one young mum saying to her chap "I can't believe they don't have elephants" as if you couldn't call yourself a zoo without at least one Elephant.

The Zoo does seem to be in a state of flux at the moment with several new enclosures either about to open [The walk through Lemur exhibit] or on the cards down the line [The Rainbow Lorikeets]. These look like they could be exciting additions to the zoo adding not only to the animals well being but also to the quality of visitor experience.

But I do feel that the zoo need to think more carefully about how it interprets the animals both through static and face to face interpretation. Being in sole charge of a lively two year old, I like many visitors had my hands full on Saturday and had little time to absorb messages. On the odd occasion I looked at an interpretation panel it did seem a little wordy and in need of an edit. The only live interpretation we listened too was about the spectacular Siamang Gibbons, this was somewhat lack lustre and tried to pack in too many messages, but much more importantly it was broadcast to the visitors and there was no attempt to interact and build excitement.

I also think that Banham Zoo could think harder about placing seats in positions that make it easier for folk to dwell by exhibits, so that they can slow down and wait for the animals to behave, rather than wandering past each cage and moving on if nothing is happening there and then. I wonder what is the dwell time in front of an exhibit here?

Having said all this we enjoyed our four and a bit hours on site and the zoo got many things right. From a parents perspective the baby changing facilities were great [they have them and they are unisex]. I didn't bother with the cafe which looked just as poor as last time, but we came prepared with a packed lunch and there are plenty of tables to eat at. The Safari Road Train ride was a great way of spending 10 - 15 minutes with a two year old boy and a great way for the Zoo to exceed my jaundiced expectations as it was free!

I’ll finish with our favourite moments. Mine were on arrival listening close up to the deafening calls of the Siamang Gibbons, this brought back memories of a couple of visits I made to Khao Yai National Park in Thailand in the early 1990's where I was woken each morning by a dawn chorus dominated by Gibbon's. I also, as before, loved the Red Panda exhibit and I think the Emperor Tamarin's with their free access to Birch trees is great, especially if like me you want to photograph animals without bars or reflections in the glass getting in the way. But it would be even better if there were more / better placed seats by this exhibit.

My little boy loved the Penguins and we had to pay these a second visit. He was also keen on the Giraffe's and wanted to see more of the sleeping Tiger. Of cours ethe large Dinosaur that we saw from the train was also a firm favourite.

I'd go back maybe once or twice a year with the family and perhaps as often again on my own with a camera.

For more Banham Zoo pictures check out my Flickr page at

No comments: