Reflections from Whipsnade

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Owen Craft, Chief Operating Officer at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, reflects on what this coming year means for us all. 

Owen Craft, Chief Operating Officer, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

As we approach the end of the first month of 2022, I’ve been reflecting on what this coming year means for us all. I think I can safely say that we all hope to have a year free of restrictions and worries, a year where we can see family and friends spontaneously, and a year where we can make plans in confidence.

The latter is certainly true at Whipsnade, and we’ve got lots of exciting plans in the pipeline that we’re working hard to bring to fruition. From new arrivals to new events, new catering options through to new developments that’ll start to take shape this year and launch in 2023 - we’re working hard behind the scenes to ensure Whipsnade remains a great place to visit and inspire the conservationists of the future.

Our animals are what we’re ultimately all about, and they will always remain our number one priority. Whipsnade is home to 10,000 animals of many different species; our expert vets and keepers adapt to meet the individual needs of every animal and demonstrate dedication and professionalism of which I’m very proud. 

As a team, we were delighted to welcome a white rhino calf to the herd last year (if you haven’t seen Nandi, you must– she’s very playful!) and fluffy flamingo chicks to our flock, plus we celebrated the birth of a Przewalski's foal, the world’s last truly wild species of horse and we’re all looking forward to seeing what new arrivals 2022 will bring. 

Baby southern white rhino Nandi and mum Tuli explore their paddock

But life at the zoo is unfortunately not always about celebrating baby animals, and our vets and keepers have to look after animals that are unwell and require different care or medical treatment. In Autumn last year, our greater one-horned rhino Hugo underwent sight-saving surgery – thanks to keepers and vets quickly noticing there was an issue. A huge procedure, and a first for Whipsnade, the 19-year-old, one and half tonne rhino had cataracts removed by a specialist eye surgeon while under anaesthetic and recovered brilliantly. 

Unfortunately not every case has a positive outcome, and we also have to make difficult and heart-breaking decisions to ensure none of our animals struggle or live in pain. We’ve sadly had to say goodbye to some of our much-loved elderly animals in recent months, including our last three African lions, a zebra foal, and Clara, a 40-year-old white rhino. 

We’re hoping that the Spring of 2022 will finally see the arrival of three new male cheetahs at Whipsnade, to start a new group at Cheetah Rock. The move, which has been in the works for more than a year has faced setbacks due to Brexit changing the requirements and documentation for animal moves. We’re also working on plans for the African lion habitat. We are committed to caring for lions at Whipsnade and want to ensure any pride we’re home to contributes to the conservation and protection of their species – we’re working closely with breeding programme coordinators and conservationists to  establish the best next steps. 

2022 will also see us making headway on big projects for 2023, including construction of a new reptile and amphibian experience, and a new home for Sulawesi crested macaques – a glossy-haired, forest-dwelling monkey that will be swinging its way to Whipsnade from London Zoo. 

Another big cat we’re working hard on bringing to Whipsnade Zoo is a brand new photo-voltaic solar lion. Part of our mission to become net zero carbon by 2035, our intention for the panel array, shaped to replicate our iconic chalk lion, is to provide the electricity we need to power the zoo. We are currently in the process of seeking an appropriate partner to support this ambition. 

We hope to see you at the zoo soon, we’ve got some fun events planned for February half term and the Easter holidays. We’ll keep you posted as we go, and we’re always updating our website with news – so do check it out.

Thank you for your ongoing support and love for Whipsnade, we couldn’t appreciate it more.  

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