Sunday, 11 September 2011

A Day at Banham Zoo

Red Panda, Banham Zoo, Norfolk

I took our two year old to Banham Zoo yesterday. This was his and my second visit although he was too young to remember his first visit.

I grew up reading Gerald Durrell books including his manifesto for modern Zoo's The Stationery Ark. I also grew up in London and although I'm a great advocate of the view that if you have eyes to see you can find and experience the wild in our big cities. I also know that having London Zoo close by was an important formative influence on me.

So I'm pro good zoo's. Zoo's which have high welfare standards, which educate their visitors, who partake 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].

We enjoyed our four and a bit hours on site. 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!

My favourite moment was 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. We returned here just before we left for a rather lack lustre bit of live interpretation. The guy said all the right things but didn't engage at all with the audience. 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.

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.

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

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