Discovery Centre

On your next visit to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo don't miss the Discovery Centre, a tropical experience that is home to a fascinating array of species.

Discover invertebrates abound, from the locusts and praying Mantis in the desert area, through to the giant salmon-pink bird-eating spider and leaf-cutter ants in the rainforest. Look out for the Argentinean boas, the basilisk lizard and tiny poison arrow frogs.

Then meet the emperor tamarins - the monkeys with the best facial hair!

egyptian tortoises eating at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

From snakes who can eat whole leopards to lizards who can walk on water, discover some of the world's most amazing reptiles at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.

Green tree python

If you don't spot the green tree python straightaway then just look up - this snake curls around branches disguised as a bunch of unripe bananas! It eats lizards, birds and small mammals.

Green Tree Python at ZSL London Zoo


Yemen chameleon

Yemen chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) originate from Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, living in hilly, arid scrubland. They eat mainly insects and vegetation when insects are unavailable. Chameleons are well known for their ability to change colour which allows them to remain camouflaged in a variety of backgrounds. However, they change colour far more often in response to their emotions.

Baby chameleon at the discovery centre

Plumed Basilisk

These amazing lizards are able to run short distances across water using both feet and tail for support. They are also excellent swimmers and can stay under water for up to 30 minutes. Plumed basilisk lizards are from the tropical forests of Mexico and Equador.

Plumed Basilisk at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

West African Dwarf Crocodile

The dwarf crocodile is a slow, timid and mainly nocturnal reptile. The West African Dwarf Crocodile is actually the most armoured of all crocodiles to protect itself from predators. Adult dwarf crocodiles reach an average length of 1.5 metres, but the laregst recorded was nearly two metres long.

A West African dwarf crocodile at ZSL London Zoo, also known as a broad-nosed crocodile.


Utila Iguana at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

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The Turtle Ark at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, in collaboration with countless other Turtle Survival Alliance participants around the globe, aims to maintain and breed these critically endangered species in order to hold genetically viable assurance colonies that may one day be used for reintroduction should the wild populations become extinct.

egyptian tortoises eating at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Why are turtles and tortoises going extinct?

  • Illegal trade is growing; an estimated 12 million turtles are being sold in China each year
  • Imports have increased dramatically from countries around the world
  • Most turtles sold are wild caught, but turtles breed and grow very slowly and they can't keep up with demand
  • Throughout the world their habitats are being destroyed

Why are turtles and tortoises being traded?

  • For their meat and shells
  • For use in Traditional Medicine
  • To be sold as pets

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's Turtle Ark

A Mccord's Box Turtle hatchling

A specially designed room in the Discovery Centre at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is home to an internationally important collection of freshwater turtles to the UK. The purpose-built breeding facility is part of an internationally coordinated turtle assurance colony programme, the Turtle Survival Alliance.

More than 10 million turtles are consumed and used in traditional medicine every year in China. The Turtle Survival Alliance, administered by the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist group, has been developed in response to the threat this poses to wild populations.

The six species introduced to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo represent some of the most highly threatened species on the planet and are rare both in the wild and in captivity. ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is the only zoo in the UK to hold McCord’s’ box turtle and the other five species are only held at one other UK zoo.

One turtle species in the collection is known only from the Chinese food markets and has never been found or seen in the wild by biologists. Its origin and natural habitat are therefore unknown and the fact this species is now absent from the markets suggests it may be extinct in the wild.

However, before such programmes can be undertaken, the major threats which face the wild turtles - uncontrolled and unsustainable over-exploitation - must be adequately addressed.

These new captive facilities and field conservation programme demonstrate ZSL’s growing commitment to endangered tortoises and turtles worldwide.

A mongoose at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

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