Shepreth Wildlife Park in Cambridgeshire

Local news for me at home has featured the fortunes of the Shepreth Wildlife Park during the current pandemic. I had watched park employees interviewed on the TV and their manner had grabbed my attention. I had only passed the estate on the train before. I was captivated by the care, love and commitment directed toward their animal kingdom. I decided in the end to take a visit for myself, and I was not going to be disappointed.

Meerkat The park was a mature yet compact ‘zoo’ in the depths of the countryside. There was a very embracing selection of wild creatures living all together amongst the trees and plant life in a spacious and sheltered area.

The origins of the estate started with the locally well regarded Willers family. It had begun as a sort of animal care home for injured wild creatures. It has evolved now into an extraordinary family collection of quite exotic species. Animals live now in complete peace within very adequate, robust and well protected individual shelters. The establishment is a very well run parkland green area that is maintained to a very high standard. It continues to be operated with great determination and selflessness by present members of the Willers family. A large land space was donated by their father for its present purpose. All members of the family, past and present, are undoubtedly wonderful animal lovers.

Shepreth Park is located just a few miles to the southwest of Cambridge and easy to find. If you travel on the cross-country Kings Cross train from Cambridge, you will find the park just by the platform as it stops at Shepreth station. The local countryside is remote from urban life, quiet and peaceful. I travelled by car. Take the A10 towards Royston and follow the road signs.

After I had paid my entrance fee, I was greeted by a selection of plastic dinosaurs just beyond the gate. I thought that they would be a scary sight on a dark and stormy night.

Sumatran tiger It was the sight of the real animals that excited me, though. I had never really had an especial interest in wildlife in the past. I visited ultimately a very large selection of little and somewhat larger beasts. They took my attention and held it. Children will love it all. Some creatures presented a bit of a threat, though. Warning signs pointed this out, and wire fencing protected the visitors.

The first live creature I spotted was a basking tiger sitting on the roof of his pen. He was magnificent and threatened by nothing around him. There was an electric fence around his enclosure and this was clearly signposted. It was to keep him in I assumed and not to keep visitors out. I stared in awe at the tiger for some minutes. He just yawned out of boredom. The tiger dominated his corner of the park, crouching, cat like, on his wooden shelter roof. No other animal was going to pick an argument with him. He was dominating, powerful and Lord of all he surveyed. He seemed quite happy though to be where he was and was very well-fed. My landlady’s pussycat, Peanut, would not even have made a tasty mid- morning snack for him.

Otter warning The animal groups were divided into geographical sections around the park. The Americas part featured a big hairy armadillo alongside much smaller bugs and reptiles. There was a ring-tailed coati with a white-lipped tamarin. They were housed alongside a tropical selection of other associated creatures.

I moved along the visitor route and came to the African enclosure. Living there were lemurs and meerkats of TV advertisement fame. Children will chuckle at them. Spot the genet and spurred tortoise. Find also the crested porcupine and African birdlife. There is much birdlife from around the world, all peacefully preening themselves amongst the trees.

The tiger was within the Asian enclosure. There were otters close by, splashing in their water. Take care that they don’t bite you, visitors are warned. Plodding about as well was a red panda.

I found also an English style farmyard on its own, containing a Shetland pony and donkey. They lived together in contented harmony with other ponies that galloped in green fields close to them.  In nearby allocated space too was also a group of alpacas and domestic rabbits doing whatever rabbits do. A separate nocturnal enclosure nearby featured Egyptian fruit bats amongst other night creatures. This section was closed when I visited during the afternoon.

Rabbit Such a wide range of so many different animals from all over the world were represented. So many that I cannot describe anything like all of them. Visitors will find them all for themselves. A few rather obscure monkeys appeared as I walked, enjoying their happy life together. They were quite amusing. One of them loved to explore the way he could open and shut his window frame while his friend watched on.

Further along the pathway as I strolled revealed a red panda sniffing out the plant life around him. There were also some long spine porcupines coming out for a look about in the chilly drizzle.

Shepreth is also home to a hedgehog hospital. Injured hedgehogs from the wild are treated for their injuries and then carefully released back into their homeland. They were recovered by a beautiful, shiny ambulance vehicle that is provided by a Cambridgeshire motor dealer sponsor.

Other facilities are provided as well. There is a substantial café providing take away food. Loos of course and baby changing facilities. Also, a first aid centre. Children if they wish can play in a well provided for and equipped playground away from the park in complete safety.

Sacred ibis Much personal sacrifice has been made by all of the staff at the park. It has partially re-opened now, but was deprived of funds for a long period due to the pandemic. Donations I believe sustained all of the creatures, and they had been well-fed on a daily basis. Visitors again now can see that for themselves. The animals have prospered and not one has been removed due to lack of food. I should think that the tigers need a large juicy joint of beef even before their breakfast. I discovered recently that my Cambridge landlady’s husband, Mark, had visited the Park every week. His company had been delivering hay for the horses in the farmyard. The animal feed company that he works for has always been paid in full during the pandemic.

It is easy to sense the tenacity and love of animals that is embedded amongst all of the staff members. Shepreth Wildlife Park continues to exist due to the commitment and dedication of its employees. The Park is their life, and continued determination from them will ensure that it survives. Visit if you can sometime and pay your fee to enter so that the funds can bolster the company back up again. It cost me ten quid for my entrance, and that included the car park. I could have arrived at 9 am and not left until 5 pm. Post Covid pandemic entrance fees will rise of course, but just give them your money. The staff give it to the animals for all of us to enjoy.

Barn owl The Wildlife Park remains beautiful and shiny, well created and maintained. All of the staff do whatever they can to help and advise the visitor. They are the perfect people in the perfect job. The animals are all very well cared for and seemingly very happy.

I changed my mind about my vague interest in wild creatures. I sensed the love and dedication of all those employed, and shall visit again. I want to have a word with that yawning tiger, anyway!

I generally like to avoid pretentious language, but the Shepreth Wildlife Park is a real, almost secret, oasis amongst the peaceful Cambridgeshire chalk countryside. Give them a visit, give them your money and make sure that it can exist for all time. It will reward you with quite the most sophisticated and splendid day out. Children will adore Shepreth.

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Bob Lyons

Retired airline pilot and European explorer

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