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Friday, 4 September 2015

South Lakes Zoo

Sumatran Tiber, South Lakes Safari Zoo, Cumria

This is a bit about South Lakes Zoo - or, more properly, “South Lakes Safari Zoo”, formerly South Lakes Wild Animal Park.  It is located just outside the small Cumbrian town of Dalton-in-Furness, on the edge of the English Lake District that attracts thousands of visitors every year.

South Lakes Safari Zoo, giraffe, rhino

I feel a little ambivalent about zoos and what-not.  Of course, they do much valuable work these days, preserving threatened species - most of which would probably have been perfectly OK if we’d left them and their habitats alone in the first place.  Zoos also increase our knowledge of the other beasts we share this fragile planet with.  But, let’s be honest, zoos are primarily designed to entertain by exhibiting incarcerated creatures.  I do get decidedly uncomfortable seeing some poor, diminished, helpless animal pacing up and down in its well-trodden path, looking forlorn and puzzled in a cage that is evidently far too small; can there be many sadder sights?  On the other hand, if conditions are reasonable, it is a privilege to see some of these creatures – and I confess to enjoying a visit to a decent zoo - as long as I don’t have to do it too often.

Ducks, terrapins, South Lakes Zoo, Australian Pathway

The English Lake District seems an unlikely place to keep and exhibit wild animals.  After all, it’s not exactly the warmest, or driest, part of the country – possibly that’s why lions, tigers, giraffes, rhinos etc decided sometime ago not to live there, voluntarily.  Then, given all the wonderful, unique, countryside on the doorstep – which is, after all, the reason people visit the Lake District in the first place – why would anyone want to spend time at a zoo?  Are there not zoos in other, less interesting, places?  I guess some people can only stand so much natural beauty, and discover that walking over hills and taking in the scenery isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.  Then, when they also notice they’ve brought children with them who need less subtle visual stimulation and are unable to walk, unaided, further than their bedrooms, the presence of a nearby zoo begins to make a lot of sense.

Kangaroos, marsupials, South Lakes Zoo, Cumbria

Never having had any problem with my own hypocrisy, I’ve visited South Lakes Safari Zoo several times.  As a zoologist of world renown, I should say that most of its inhabitants appear happy and to enjoy better conditions than some other zoos provide.  There is also a useful miniature railway which carries children, as well as fat old blokes, with ease.  However, a word of warning to disillusioned ramblers; you will still need to walk a lot.  When I last visited (2014), I required a long lie-down and a small tonic at the end of the day.  And, the place has ambitious expansion plans – so be warned.

Arctic wolves, wolf, South Lakes, zoo, Dalton

In fact, South Lakes Safari Zoo has had a chequered history.  In 1997, a 3-ton white rhino escaped (it burrowed under hut 3 and hid the sand in the roof).  Cornered in a field, the poor creature was shot dead by the zoo owner.  In 2014, a couple of capuchin monkeys went walkabout and, in addition, a number of sacred ibis were found enjoying themselves in the nearby countryside having, presumably, learned how to fly over the wire.  Some of these birds were also shot.  Far more seriously, and tragically, a young keeper was mauled by a Sumatran tiger in 2013; she died from her injuries shortly afterwards.  That was – and is - simply horrific.  I like to think that standards are high in the UK – and they probably are – but I don’t suppose any zoo is immune from escapes, serious accidents, or even breaches in safety.

Snow leopard, South Lakes, zoo, Dalton

The zoo’s owner, David S Gill, is a controversial figure who has been criticised by many for his views and behaviour.  I’m sure you can read all about this elsewhere if you’re interested.  At one time, he also owned a zoo in Australia.  Yet he has created an undoubtedly successful visitor attraction in this slightly marginal and wind-swept part of Britain, founding the zoo on what had been waste ground in 1991 and opening its doors in 1994.  Perhaps surprisingly, South Lakes Safari Zoo has often received the accolade of ‘the Lake District’s top attraction’ – though I have no idea how that is measured.  And the zoo is heavily committed to conservation.  Ironically, it has successfully bred the Sumatran tiger and the white rhino, both endangered species.

Macaw, South Lakes, zoo, Cumbria

South Lakes Safari Zoo is not laid out as a series of boring, depressing, cages.  There are interesting enclosures where the animals appear to enjoy a relative amount of reasonable space.  A number of aerial walkways take you right over some of the pens so you can often get amazing views of the inmates, including bears, big cats, rhinos and giraffes.  The ‘Australian Pathway’ conducts you through an enclosed area where the animals – including kangaroos, wallabies, emus and lemurs – are free to roam as you walk by.  It is possible to get up close and personal with some of these creatures, though I do worry a little about whether that is fair; and you do wonder sometimes who is looking at whom and which ones should be locked up at night.  Anyway, it’s a more fascinating place to visit than it might otherwise be.

Baboon, South Lakes, wildlife, zoo, Dalton

But - it can get really busy and there could be more room for people.  So, on a practical level, you might want to consider getting there early – parking and queues can both be a problem.  On the upside, you will enjoy the close proximity of your fragrant and ever-courteous fellow humans, all of their offspring, and will have particular fun playing the exciting game of ‘jump over the careless pushchair.’  The facilities get mobbed – there is a restaurant but think about taking a picnic in a rucksack.  Finally, check prices before you go; last time we went, children under 3 got in free, but everyone else paid full entry – which could be expensive for some families.

Prarie marmot, South Lakes Safari Zoo, Dalton, Cumbria

Ending with a little personal experience, the zoo was, unfortunately, once home to the Great Peeing Bat (magnachiroptera urinae) as well as a nasty little monkey that derived extreme pleasure from playing with itself in public.  I hope it was a monkey.  Then, during a subsequent visit, our ears were assaulted by a series of deep grunts, with a delay of several seconds between each one.  It not being anywhere near Wimbledon, we sought the source of this curious noise and came upon a small crowd gathered round two extremely large tortoises engaged in what might be, euphemistically, referred to as a very friendly act.  The (presumably) male tortoise appeared to be making heavy weather of the matter – though he could easily have been well over 100 years old (in which case, he was doing just fine) – and was being generously encouraged by the assembled throng.  Covering the memsahib’s eyes, we rapidly moved onto feeding the penguins.


Otters, South Lakes, wildlife, zoo

At this point, I’d normally add "find out more by visiting South Lakes Safari Zoo’s website", but at time of writing this merely seems to link to a Facebook page.


39 comments:

  1. I am a fan of visiting zoos.
    But not a fan of caging the animal.
    It appears this zoo has done well in giving the residents room to wander.

    "...successfully bred the Sumatran tiger and the white rhino..."
    What exactly did they call the result?

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  2. Some very quisitive looks from some of those characters. :-)

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  3. First of all, thank you for your delightful and well mannered images that are now in my head, of... animals doing the "wild thing" and naughty monkies... haha!
    Second of all, I have to say that the topic of any zoo washes upon me many emotions, such as anger and contempt, as well as feeling both grateful and joyous... If you were talking about Sea World or any other large enclosure for mammals and large swimming creatures, I would be upset, however, though some zoo's need to be shut down entirely, it seems these days that some animals are so much safer being locked up! Poachers have nearly knocked the whole species of Rhino's right off of the planet! Elephants aren't too far behind... and then there are American "hunters" cough ... poachers that pay thousands of dollars to hunt the gorgeous lions and tigers in Africa. So very sad. So on one hand, a thanks to many that help keep a species alive, but on the other hand. There need to be some serious regulations and rules regarding zoos!!
    I hope you have a great weekend, and your photos are gorgeous!
    Tammy

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  4. My wife and I hold membership to our local zoo. A mile away is one of the better animal parks (Busch Gardens). So I venture to see the inmates as often as I can (It has to cool off some before I return this year). I appreciate your issues. I remind myself many actually live healthier lives in captivity. It helps when you see them being given plenty of mental stimulation (besides the stimulation you mentioned).

    Have a great weekend over thar.

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  5. This was an absolutely wonderful read! I too have conflicting feelings about zoos- the girls love it so we go often.

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  6. I enjoyed your thoughts. I loved your photos.
    Carla

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  8. All the times we have been up that way we have never visited the Zoo! Your photo's and account are lovely, so may just visit next time.

    Have a good weekend

    All the best Jan

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  9. I too have mixed feelings about zoos but if the animals have lots of space they are probably safer there than in their native lands. I watched Martin Clunes show this week about lemurs in Madagascar and it was awful to see what is happening to their habitat.

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  10. Zoos have given me the opportunity to see animals up close, so, although they are not perfect, my world would have been less colourful without them. I have never been here and in fact thought I had never heard of it until you mentioned that poor girl who was killed. Next time I'm in the Lakes I must keep an eye out for it.

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  11. I've got mixed feelings about zoos, but on the other hand, these animals are not made to do tricks like a Seaworld or what we have here, Marineland. And it does seem they have a good deal of space, so they're not penned up in a few square feet of cage.

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  12. That looks a lot nicer than the zoo in London.

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  13. Wonderful photos. I especially like the one of the tiger. Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

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  14. I'm with you on zoos, I hate the idea of animals in cages, but realize that they are saving animal lives. I prefer the zoos with open expanses of animal enclosures, like the San Diego Wild Animal park.

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  15. I also prefer zoos with wide open ranges for the animals. Animals in the wild is always best, but I realize it is not always possible in our day and time.

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  16. I find the thought of visiting zoos quite impossible now Mike. After visiting Africa a couple of times (and many other countries where wildlife was prevalent) and seeing the magnificent animals - the Big 5 and many others - birds, reptiles etc. in their natural habitats, I just can't bring myself to watch them in a zoo situation. I know they are often well cared for, that children especially deserve to see these animals while they are still around, but some zoos/circuses are so pitiful and the animals live such miserable lives mainly for the so called pleasure of the public who pay to see them. So, that said I must confess I will never visit another zoo - I wish to always see and remember those beautiful animals where they are supposed to be - in the bush, on the prairie, in the ocean, along river banks, on a rocky mountainside, or eyeing me from an iceberg! Yes, I'm one of the lucky ones who has managed to travel to those places, and for that I will always be appreciative and so grateful to those who made this possible for me.

    Your pix are great by the way - thanks for sharing Mike - and I enjoyed your narrative as always.
    Best wishes - Mary

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  17. This looks like an exceptionally nice zoo, clean and roomy for the animals.

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  18. I too have ambivalent feelings towards zoos, but I do realise that today 'conservation' is the key word. I know that our local zoo in Bristol have a breeding programme which returns animals back to their wild habitat each year, but then of course they are often endangered by the locals who kill them for meat and trophies.

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  19. I'm torn. Zoo's in general are much better places than they were in the past but it still seems wrong. Yes they play a part in conservation these days but it's still captive conservation generally. It's amazing to be able to see these animals if you aren't fortunate enough to be able to travel but is that a really good enough reason to keep them in captivity ... My favourite author is Gerald Durrell who I'm sure you know. He was a great animal lover and conservationist and founded the Jersey zoo. I believe his intentions were good and they do some valuable work there but I still struggle with the concept that we have a right to take animals away from their natural habitat.

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  20. Betwixt and between many of us are about zoos. However, I feel very grateful that I can see animals I would never get to see otherwise. Also most of them have great conservation programs. I would obviously rather see them in their own natural habitat but places like you have shared with us today seem to take the care of their animals very seriously. Then there are the poachers who seem to be doing their best to bring these animals to the point of extinction. Like I said, I'm one of those betwixt and between. Great photos Mike!

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  22. Great photos Mike! I am not a fan of zoos, but I know that many of them do much valuable conservation work and bringing awareness to those of us who might not otherwise know so much about these endangered animals. I wish that the conservation work could be done in the wild though!

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  23. I'm ambivalent about zoos, too, Mike, but needs must, and the grandchild has to be inducted into the ways of the Australian marsupials, at the very least. That is an awful story about the tiger, but doesn't surprise me in a way. I have always feared them, and the few I have seen in zoos have eyes filled with hate. And why not? They should be in a jungle somewhere. Thank goodness good zoos now concentrate on conservation of species, and try to provide better facilities for the animals. I still felt sad seeing those kangaroos in the Lake District though.

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  24. I never knew it existed. Isobel and I both enjoy wildlife parks enormously so I really will be going there before the year is out. As always, thanks for pointing me in a fascinating direction.

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  25. I enjoyed your post Mike, but I don’t like zoos. Like Mary I have been fortunate to visit Africa and see wild animals in their natural habitat, although having said that animals are safe from poachers in zoos, and many zoos put a lot of thought into caring for their animals. This does sound like a nice place.

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  26. Yet another place I have never heard of and which is well worth seeing, from the look of it. I love to see the animals roaming around like that. I think you should offer your blog to the English Tourist board as you publicise more splendid things towards the North of the country than any other website I know!

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  27. That's very flattering, Jenny - thank you!

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  28. Your zoo seems to be a very interesting part of the country with its non-typical zooy stuff. The photos of the animals are just incredible.

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  29. I have to admit that I am not a fan of zoos due to the animals being in captivity and often are not properly cared for. However, this place looks fine, and the animals look healthy and content. :)

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  30. gorgeous shots of all animals & birds. i have mixed feelings about zoos, etc. are the animals happy & well cared for & all that. i would prefer them n their natural habitat & ok. but is that able 2 b real this day & age? not sure? ( :

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  31. Amazing and delightful images of the animals. A very good post indeed.

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  32. Excellent shots of the magnificent animals and an interesting commentary.

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  33. I don't know why it surprises me that there's a zoo at the edge of the Lake District, but it does. I notice that a flock of sheep is nearby, so I might have missed the zoo, had I been driving through the area. The photos are wonderful, especially favorite are the first and last. It's always refreshing to hear someone admit that, although they don't like the idea of taking animals out of their natural habitat, they do enjoy seeing them up close and personal. We're all hypocrites at heart. LOL Nice post!

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  34. Good photos and the elevated walkway sounds fun. I share your thoughts with animals in zoos but I suppose we need them as many of the larger animals in the wild are in danger of disappearing for good.

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  35. My opinion of zoos seems to coincide with most people on here. I hate the idea that the animals can't roam free where they come from, but I love the chance to see them. Your photos are great - and I love the very friendly looking giraffe - but I think my favourite is Punxatawny Phil's mate. (I assume he's a groundhog)

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  36. Very good images and interesting to hear the background of the project.
    I've never visited the zoo before but know a few animal lovers who have and come back with glowing reports.
    It's unfortunate that the location is a little off the radar as there are so many other great things I have to pass in the Lakes. During the summer I had to make a very early morning trip to Barrow but unfortunately opted for a photographic afternoon to Grange over Sands ... maybe next time.

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.