You might have read the story of the 13 Romanian lions saved from their cramped cages in 2010 by a new Yorkshire zoo. In a pitiful condition they were patched up and are still star attractions at Doncaster's Yorkshire Wildlife Park, a “zoo” with an emphasis on conservation and a burgeoning national reputation.
And the park has something the world's great city zoos can't match – space. It occupies over 80 acres of what used to be farmland and has over two times that left for expansion.
My grandchildren love the place. Since opening in 2009 the park has grown very substantially. Latest infrastructure additions are the café, shops and, hot off the press, the polar bear enclosure. Viktor, the middle aged polar bear newly arrived from the Netherlands, has been retired from the international breeding programme and has a giant enclosure in which to idle away his retirement. During the winter he will eat more meat than the all the lions, tigers and leopards put together. He's a big boy.
We all have our favourites: tigers, giant anteaters, baby giraffes and camels, a vast 16 acre African plain, wallabies to pet, lemurs and giant rodents to rub noses with, mini presentations all over the place. As I say, everyone has a favourite. There can be fewer more inspiring sights than seeing the huge Amur Tigers standing by the cascading waterfall gazing at the crowds, or the leopard romp up the towering climbing frame in search of food. You certainly wouldn't climb a tree to dodge one in the wild! Don't miss the seventeen or so Guinea Baboons with their very human squabbles, babies on their backs.
All the animals seem to have stories: the baboons were rejected by their families in Edinburgh Zoo; the lions were rescued; poor old Viktor was only allowed fifteen offspring.
This is a place that prides itself on allowing premium access to the animals and the often young staff from all over the country simply exude enthusiasm. After their talks it is a marvel to see them answer the many questions from kids and adults. “Would Viktor hurt me?” “Well… he wouldn't mean to, but his claws are very large you know!”
The park is spread over many acres so there is plenty to see. A children's outside play area and inside super-slides give the kids an opportunity to let off steam.
The park must be proving popular for hordes of visitors throng the place, packing the car parks and leading to the opening of several overspill areas. School groups from all over the north flock to the park, particularly towards the end of each term.
We have an annual pass, a great gift, and an economical treat if you live within striking distance.
Finally a warning: Beware of the Toy Store! Difficult, as it is right by the Exit. And they do a roaring trade in fluffy lions!
You may also find interesting:
• Days out with the grandchildren – Brodsworth Hall and Gardens
• Days out with the grandchildren – Burghley House, Garden of Surprises
• Days out with the grandchildren – Clumber Park