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Creature Feature: Find your favourite zoo animals

Jo Dorey

06 April 2018

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5 minutes
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What are your favourite zoo animals? Maybe roly-poly red pandas, or elephants? There are SO many to choose from and more often than not, a troop of cheeky monkeys (aka kids) fill the role easily enough; that includes muddy paw prints and items flung here, there and everywhere...

Rather than choosing right away, get ahead of the pack with our guide to finding your favourite zoo animals in the UK. We’ve picked not 1, not 2 but 13 fantastic beasts and where you can find them - we’ve even thrown in a few fascinating facts for you to play ‘guess who’ with your tribe.

Find your favourite animals at these zoos in the UK now!

Zoos with Polar Bears

A polar bear’s defining feature is its thick, white fur… or is it? Shock horror: a polar bear’s fur isn’t actually white, rather transparent with a hollow core that reflects light! This helps them blend into their surroundings - a useful trick when hunting wary seals - and allows them to travel largely unseen in their frosty hometowns like Alaska. It also means that when kept in captivity in a UK zoo, they can often appear light brown instead of white. MIND. BLOWN.

Where can you see polar bears in the UK?

  • Yorkshire Wildlife Park: If you’re looking for a polar bear-based UK zoo, look no further. They have 4 here called Nobby, Nissan, Pixel and Victor.
  • Highland Wildlife Park: At the time of writing, The Highland Wildlife Park have welcomed an adorable bear cub who loves to play.

Zoos with Pandas

Poor old pandas. They’re some of the most impressive creatures out there and yet their collective term is still an ‘embarrassment’. We don’t see what they have to be embarrassed about: ZSL London Zoo used to have a propaganda panda called Ming in 1938 who boosted morale during the war. In fact, their most famous monochrome mate, and one of the few pandas in the UK,  inspired the WWF logo. Which other bears can say that?

Where can you see pandas in the UK?

  • Edinburgh Zoo: They are the only zoo with pandas in the UK - 2 actually, on loan from China for 10 years called Tian Tian (Sweetie) and Yang Guang (Sunshine). Visit them in their state of the art enclosure while you still can.

Zoos with Koalas

A common misconception about these fuzzy fellas is that they’re bears. Au contraire! They’re actually marsupials and not related to bears at all, which makes us think that the title ‘koala bear’ isn’t all that helpful… Anyway, these little cuties can normally only be found in the wilds of Australia and loads of tourists travel across the world to see them in their natural habitat. Koalas also only eat Eucalyptus leaves which means that not only do they look good, they smell great too with that lovely Eucalyptus scent.

Where can you see koalas in the UK?

  • Edinburgh Zoo: Yet again Edinburgh has pipped the post with the UK’s only koalas. It’s truly something special seeing them up close so be sure to plan a visit soon.

Zoos with Red Pandas

Another misleading title here  - biologists really didn’t help us out! The Red Panda is red (kind of) but they’re not actually pandas and are more closely related to racoons, which you can probably tell by their big, bushy tails. Like pandas, however, they are native to China, mainly eat bamboo and have a wrist bone like their black and white pals which allows them to use it like a thumb. They spend their lives in trees and sleep aloft so when you’re in their proximity, make sure to look UP.  


Where can you see red pandas in the UK?

  • Bristol Zoo Gardens: Introducing Chota and (possibly our favourite zoo animal name EVER), Lady Hilary. They call Bristol Zoo home. 
  • Paradise Park: At Paradise Park, kids can get nose to nose with these tufty tubs of fluff on a Red Panda Experience. Hand feed them, stroke them - just try not to take them home with you at the end of the day.
  • Folly Farm Adventure Park and Zoo: Don't miss the cute new arrivals to Folly Farm, Bhalu and Bagheera! Having moved in in July 2018, they’re getting a purpose-built open-topped enclosure very soon, but you can see them in their temporary enclosure near the rhinos right now!

Zoos with Elephants

Zoos with elephants in the UK are considered ten-a-penny but there’s nothing common about these majestic beasts. They are the largest land animals in the world and can even take a dip whenever they want as their trunks double up as snorkels. They might not be able to jump but their feet are covered in soft padding that helps hold up their massive weight and means they can move almost silently. (Elephant spies? We’d watch that programme.) In other words, elephants are awesome!

Where can you see elephants in the UK?

  • Colchester Zoo: Here you can feed mighty African elephants - a privilege which is included in the price of entry.
  • Chester Zoo: Cover both bases as Chester Zoo has Asian elephants too. They’re typically recognised for their smaller ears which are said to be the shape of India.

Zoos with Bears

Did you know that there are only 8 species of bear in the world? Or that they can see in colour? They’re a surprisingly intriguing bunch, with loads of top trumps including the fact that a gang of bears is called a ‘sloth’ and Grizzly bears have a bite strong enough to crush a bowling ball! Our favourite factoid though has got to be that the original word for ‘bear’ has been lost. Medieval folk believed that saying the ferocious animal's name would summon it, so instead referred to it as ‘the brown one’ which now means bear. Cool, right?

Where can you see bears in the UK?

  • Wildwood Trust: These are actually 2 of the few zoos in England with bears. Come and shake a paw at a pair of European brown bears; they had a rather tough time before being rescued by the team at Wildwood but are now as happy as Yogi!
  • Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm: Fantastically named Spectacled bears live here and are in fact the only species native to South America - they even build their nests high up in trees.

Zoos with Hippos

With their big, round bellies and short legs, Hippos don’t look all that athletic but they can easily outrun a human. They are actually as comfortable on land as they are in the water and usually get out of their tub around the time the sun goes down. Us, jealous..? Other fun facts about hippos: their full title ‘hippopotamus’ means ‘river horse’ while a group of them together is often referred to as a ‘bloat’. How rude! Also, for fans of all things teeny-tiny, they come in pygmy size too.

Where can you see hippos in the UK?

  • ZSL Whipsnade Zoo: There are both regular and pygmy hippos here and, at the time of writing, a brand new baby called Hodor. The markings on his legs make him look like he’s wearing little socks!
  • Marwell Zoo: The pygmy hippos here are, like all of their kind, a solitary bunch. See if you can spot them waddling in the shadows.

Zoos with Komodo Dragons

This is where things get a little creepy… it’s Komodo dragon time. They might not breathe fire and swoop around on leathery wings, but these lizards are pretty close to their magical namesakes and can reach up to 10 feet in length and weigh up to a massive 200 pounds. They even have poisonous venom. Yikes! If that sounds all too terrifying, know that they are only found on 4 islands of Indonesia: Komodo, Flores, Rinca and Gili Motang. Holiday in the sun, anyone?

Where can you see komodo dragons in the UK?

  • Chester Zoo: If you fancy a fright, go to see the dragons at Chester Zoo. It’s well worth the thrill!
  • Crocodiles of the World: As the only zoo of its kind in the UK, this specialist centre has komodos alongside modern-day dinosaurs (better known as crocodiles).

Zoos with Gorillas

As mighty as they are gentle, gorillas are the world’s largest primates and are famous across the globe. Still, while we think we know them, they are secretive and have some truly fascinating facts to their name. First off, their DNA is a 99% match of ours. They build nests to sleep in made of leaves and branches and do so in groups. Gorillas also have unique nose-prints, much like human fingerprints, which can actually be used to identify individuals! That last one is a cracker of a fact but we still don’t recommend you test it in person.

Where can you see gorillas in the UK?

  • Bristol Zoo Gardens: Their gorilla house has had a £1 million redevelopment so the residents - Jock and co - are sitting pretty these days.
  • Longleat Safari Park: Visit silverbacks in their lakeside retreat at Longleat and see if you can hear them whooping and beating their chests from afar!

Zoos with Giraffes

Well known for their polka dot pattern and long necks, these gorgeous giants are the world’s tallest living land animals. In fact, an adult male can grow as tall as 5.5 metres which is bigger than 3 adult humans stacked together! They’re very social and always roam in groups - one can only imagine they're having a good, old chinwag at the top of the trees. Also good to know: when they’re in groups, they’re unsurprisingly referred to as ‘towers’ and typically have around 15 members.

Where can you see giraffes in the UK?

  • Colchester Zoo: You can actually feed giraffes here and at no extra cost - it’s included in your admission ticket.
  • Folly Farm Adventure Park: These are the only giraffes in Wales but we can’t say for sure if they’ve picked up the accent yet.
  • Port Lympne Wildlife Park: There are different types of giraffes and the Rothschild variety live here - see if you can count their spots.

Zoos with Lions

If you hear a lion’s roar in the wild, don’t immediately panic. Well, do, but know that a lion’s roar can be heard as far as 8 km away so you still have time to leg it! While they might make short work of you, they are the most social of the big cats and live together in prides of about 15 at a time. Some of their kind are under threat though with the last remaining wild Asiatic lions found in Sasan-Gir National Park in India, which was primarily created to protect the species.

Where can you see lions in the UK?

  • ZSL London Zoo: Join a pride of Asiatic lions in what the locals call, Land of the Lions. It’s a specially created home with a breeding programme in place to boost numbers.
  • Isle of Wight Zoo: Have you ever seen a white lion? They are serious stunners and the Isle of Wight has one of their own: Casper the friendly feline.
  • Folly Farm Adventure Park: Known as the Pride of Pembrokeshire, the African lions here spend their days snoozing, playing and scratching their post - just like domestic cats.

Zoos with Binturongs

What has a face like a cat, a body like a small bear and a tail like a monkey? It’s a binturong, of course, also known as a bearcat and as our teammate Jess’ favourite animal EVER. She filled us in on everything binturong, for example, they smell like buttered popcorn and have a prehensile tail which works as another limb when they’re climbing. Even when they sleep, their super-strength tail is anchored securely around a branch - handy! Admittedly this is one of the weirder zoo animals on our list but we think that makes it all the more special.

Where can you see binturongs in the UK?

  • Birmingham Wildlife Conservation Park: This lovely conservation centre is a great way to see unusual creatures in their element and you could even sponsor your strange new pal.
  • WILD Zoological Park: Meet Baloo the Palawan binturong. He’s one of few of his kind in the UK and is currently waiting for his girlfriend to join him from far off shores.

Zoos with Rhinos

Rhinos are ALL about the fun facts so we won’t hang about. Their name means ‘nose horn’ and a gang of them together is aptly called a ‘crash’. Look at your fingernails and hair - they’re made of keratin, the same stuff a rhino’s horn is built from. Rhinos both look and run like machines, with top speeds of 30/ 40 miles per hour. (Top tip: do NOT try and outrun a rhino.) And now for our favourite: they communicate with their poo and identify each other through their unique scent.  Oh, and the Sumatran rhino is the closest living relative of the ancient extinct woolly rhino. Phew!

Where can you see rhinos in the UK?

  • Paignton Zoo: This would be a fantastic opportunity to see one of the rarest creatures in the world: the beautiful black rhino.  
  • West Midland Safari Park: The park run Rhino Weeks and are always excited to share information about these endangered creatures. There are also white and Indian ‘one-horned’ rhinos here!

This post was roaring good fun to research so we hope you find your favourite zoo animal. Plus if you fancy a few more creature comforts, take a look at our blog. There are plenty of posts for animal lovers so grab your binoculars and get searching!

The 10 best zoos in the UK | Wildlife-themed days out for your little animals | 6 Safari Parks in the UK you must visit | Our most loved animal days out

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Jo Dorey

06 April 2018

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Jo is a Copywriter at Day Out With The Kids. She’s lived all over the world in places like Pakistan, Hungary and Hong Kong - these days though she loves a good, long walk and hanging out with her cat, Fergus.

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