Exploring the wilds of Whipsnade

by ZSL on

Fresh from her first new ‘pop-up’ education session, Discovery and Leaning Officer Samantha Viner discusses how to make the most of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s unique expanse. 

Sam the elephant at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Taking on the UK’s largest Zoo may seem to some like a daunting task – particularly if you’re accompanied by visitors with little legs. But Whipsnade’s size is one of the reason why it’s such a unique place – as well as the nearly two hundred species that call Whipsnade home, and the chance to encounter a roaming wallaby or two jumping across your path.

Even from its inception in 1931 Whipsnade was all about space. It was built with the intention of being one of the first ‘open zoos’, housing animals in large enclosures so that visitors could see them in natural surroundings – a trend now commonplace across the world. This means that the site, covering a huge 600 acres in all, is full of areas to explore. 

Female African Hunting Dog at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

We’ve created a new ‘drop-in’ style education session to help schools do just that. Taking inspiration from Healesville Sanctuary in Australia as well as Temaiken Biopark in Buenos Aires, we’re running a brand new Interactive Adaptation Trail, to help teachers make the most of a visit to wild Whipsnade. 

By hosting short pop-up activities next to our Asian elephants, African hunting dogs and penguins for schools to drop-in to at any time within an hour slot, schools can explore the different adaptations of these species through a range of interactive activities whilst exploring all the different areas of the zoo in between.

Taking turns to try out having an elephant’s tusks and trunk; spotting our red panda pair in their tree; taking on the challenge of a wildebeest crime scene investigation; meandering past our playful trio of brown bears; trying on our penguin poncho to see how they camouflage themselves - the new trail allows school groups to explore a huge range of animals from across the globe, with the flexibility of moving between enclosures at their own pace. 

Penguin poncho

We’ve had some fantastic responses to the sessions so far. As always, students have been amazed when presented with a real elephant tooth – although the elephant poo has been causing a slightly more interesting reaction! All taking place it the open air, our final stop at penguins has the added benefit of featuring the phenomenal view from the top of the Dunstable Downs – just another of the Zoo’s unique features.

Teachers have loved how seamlessly the activities can slot in to their visit of the zoo - and we look forward to welcoming a new host of explorers in the summer term! And as always with any visit, it’s worth planning your route before you visit so you can make sure to catch all the favourites – from our cheetahs over in the Africa Outpost to our troupe of chimpanzees. You can download a map for planning here.

Find out more about school visits to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo 


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