5 animals to spot from your car at Whipsnade
Animal Operations Manager Matthew Webb knows Whipsnade like the back of his hand. Here, we take a car safari with Matthew as he shares some of his top animal sightings by road (just the thing for rainy days!).
- 1. European bison
One of my favourite species to look out for from the road, not far from the entrance to the Zoo, is our bison. Europe’s largest land animals, these mighty creatures can often be glimpsed through the trees – looking every bit as mysterious and majestic as they’d look in their natural habitat, the woodlands of mainland Europe. Once widespread across the continent, bison had been hunted to near-extinction by the early 20th century. But thanks to zoo breeding and conservation programmes, they are now starting to make a comeback in the wild.
- 2. Flamingos
Birds aren’t always easy animals to spot from your car – but you’ll always find a blaze of colour at our flamingo pond. Flamingos get their vivid colouring from the tiny animals they eat, and ours get a specially prepared diet which matches their wild diet – ensuring they display their rosy-pink feathers. Bear in mind that if you drive around the Passage through Asia route around Whipsnade, you miss out on an alternative loop past our flamingos, sloth bears and yaks. I always advise people to drive around the Zoo twice, varying their route, to see as many animals as possible – that’s what I always do whenever I bring my young son to visit.
- 3. Pere David’s deer
Not everyone gets excited about deer – but they should! We’ve got some impressive antler-wearers to spot at our Passage through Asia drive-through, including the spotted sika deer and our water-loving swamp deer, who can often be spotted taking a dip in the lake. Some very special residents are our Père David’s deer. Native to China, they’re officially Extinct in the Wild, although reintroductions are well under way, so hopefully that should change in future. These shaggy-looking deer have distinctive antlers that point upwards and backwards. We’ve been lucky enough to have 13 young fawns born to the herd at Whipsnade in the last year, helping safeguard the survival of this species.
- 5. Bactrian camels
Another instantly recognisable zoo species that’s easy to spot from your car in the drive-through is our Bactrian camels. Unlike the domesticated, one-humped camels you see people riding in Africa and the Middle East, these wilder and shaggier animals have two humps, and come from the remote deserts of Mongolia. Even by camel standards, they’re incredibly tough and hardy creatures. In the wild, they can withstand extremes of desert heat and cold, and go for days without eating or drinking. They can even survive by drinking salt water, something no other mammal can do.
- 5. Greater one-horned rhinos
Everyone loves spotting our iconic white rhinos and greater one-horned rhinos. After Passage through Asia, the road takes you past our greater one-horned rhino paddock, so you might well see these majestic animals if they’re out and about. We’ve had great breeding success with our rhinos over the years, so there’s often a young calf or juvenile to look out for. At the moment, that’s two-year-old Zhiwa, born to our experienced mum Behan and dad Hugo. She’s the 15th greater one-horned rhino to be born at the Zoo.
Matthew’s safari-spotting tips
- Watch out for our free-roaming Patagonian mara as you’re driving around. One of the world’s biggest rodents, they’re not at all nervous around cars – and in absolutely no hurry to get out of your way!
- The other animals that people enjoy seeing roaming freely around at Whipsnade are our much-loved wallabies. These animals can constantly produce young – as soon as one joey is out of the pouch, another baby will be on the way.
- See if you can find the spot on the road where you get a great view into the African lion enclosure – and for a moment, there appears to be no fence between you and the lions!
- There’s more wildlife to spot at Whipsnade than its resident zoo animals – keep an eye out for red kites. It’s always a thrill to spot these reddish bird of prey as they fly high about the downs on the lookout for their next meal.
Gold members receive articles like this one three times a year in our Wild About magazine. To get your paws onto the next edition, and to visit Whipsnade as often as you like, become a Gold Member today.
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