My other half knows I have a passion for both pandas and penguins, so this year’s Valentine’s treat was a trip to Marwell Zoo in Hampshire.
Marwell Wildlife is an awesome charity, world renowned for its conservation programmes in the UK and Africa. The 140-acre Marwell Zoo is a showcase of that work with more than 1200 animals and 135 species. It’s also a genuinely great day out for us, as 20-somethings, or frankly for all ages. An added bonus is that, by visiting, you support the international work of the charity and the wonderful creatures who call Marwell home.
Tickets bought online in advance ensured we skipped the queues and could head straight to my first dedicated port of call, The Penguin House. I had a soft spot for Ralph – the oldest Marwell penguin, a Humboldt, famous on social media for wearing a bespoke wetsuit. I’d heard that Ralph had passed away and I wanted to pay my penguin respects and check how the others were doing without the old man of the pond. Unsurprisingly, they were fine, and we had 20 minutes enjoying their comic antics.
Although these little creatures are great fun, there is a serious side to Marwell Zoo. A sense of the importance of conservation and care is evident across this massive destination and you get the opportunity to get close to the animals without ever feeling that may stress them.
Bad weather meant the giraffes were in the Giraffe House. These stunning creatures had holed up inside – ideal for us as they were really up close and personal but also clearly relaxed in our presence. Neither of us recalled ever seeing a giraffe in person and spent quite some time standing and watching, fascinated at their size and the way the move and interact. I knew I had to bring my eight-year-old brother to see them! In the meantime he’ll have to just check them out of the Marwell webcam.
In the warmer months a picnic outside would be idyllic – but in February we opted for the indoor picnic lodge with its benches and heaters and then on to the Café Graze, open all year round – for coffee and hot chocolate.
There’s a Marwell app, and a helpful map narrates your tour of the enclosures and makes sure you don’t miss anything. We saw lemurs, cheetahs and rhinos, amur tigers, zebras, flamingos, the African wild ass, snow leopards, siamang gibbon, zebras, a lowland tapir, and literally dozens of other beautiful animals.
Last but by no means least though was my favourite, a red panda. The red panda, named Mei Mei, resolutely refused to come down from the treetop to be photographed so I had to settle for a not-so-close encounter of the panda kind – but it was a treat nonetheless.
April will see the launch of the new Tropical House at Marwell. Part of a massive £17m investment programme running over a decade, the new attraction will offer the opportunity to experience face-to-face encounters with a diversity of wildlife and exotic plants in a tropical climate. It might just be my excuse to go back!
Tickets for Marwell start at £20 for an adult and £16 for a child. It truly is an exceptional day out for families, couples or groups of friends.
W: Marwell Zoo