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Purrr-fect if you like big cats...
Isle of Wight Zoo
Member Name: magenta23
Isle of Wight Zoo
Advantages: Good location, sensible entry price, impressive collection of big cats
Disadvantages: Very limited.
I visited The Isle of Wight Zoo last week. I must admit, I had been warned it wasn't very good and when visiting the Isle of Wight, places like Flamingo Park and Amazon World are better animal attractions. We were in two minds to go, however by chance we were on an open top bus ride which stopped right outside so thought we may as well have a look whilst we were there.
It's a lovely location, situated in Sandown, just over the road from the beach. It's an easy walk from Sandown town. Bus, rail and dotto train run regular services to Sandown from most places on the Island, as I mentioned the open bus tour, or Island Breezer to give it it's proper name, that runs via Shanklin, also stops right outside. If you are based in Shanklin, as we were it's a pleasant walk along the beach to Sandown, when the tide is out of course!! There is a fairly big car park if you are driving, and easy to find from Sandown, but stick PO36 8QB, in your sat nav if you are prone to getting lost!
The Zoo opens at 10am and closes at various times depending on the season. Right now, in summer months and through to the end of September it closes at 6pm. Just to warn you however, this place is not a day out. A few hours at most. A good thing to do if you are spending the day in Sandown though as it's so convenient for town and beach.
Admission prices are reasonable for a zoo, though reflect the amount there is to see. Adults are £5.95 to get in, and kids and Senior Citizens £4.95.
Apparently, the zoo featured in the ITV series 'Tiger Island' which I admit I had not heard of until I saw the banner outside the zoo. The logo for the zoo features a tiger on one side of the title and a lemur on the other. Largely because this is more or less all you will see here!
If you are a tiger fan this is the place for you. With no exaggeration at all about half the zoo is dedicated to big cats. The zoo houses twenty tigers, the largest collection in the country and a few Lion and Jaguars chucked in for good measure. Don't get me wrong, when you come up close to these big cats, they are beautiful and magnificent. However, this only happened once as most of them were asleep. To be honest I can't blame them either. There wasn't a great deal for them to do, and although the zoo had done as much as it could with the enclosures given the room it has, ultimately I couldn't help looking at them thinking they needed more than they had.
There is a whole section on the website about environmental enrichment and how the zoo does the very best to ensure their animals have the best quality of life and do not develop any abnormal behaviour, whether it be a tortoise or a tiger. I applaud them for this and honestly think the zoo do their best. I just don't see that physically the place is big enough for all these huge cats, nothing can compare to it being able to have a good long run surely?
In addition to the tigers, there is as I mentioned big emphasis on the collection of lemurs. These cute critters looked like they were having a lot more fun than the tigers, and were really putting on a show for the audience. The zoo has dedicated a fairly large area for their collection of ring tailed lemurs, and they proved a real hit with the visitors that day. If you have never seen a lemur sunbathe, it's hilarious, they sit upright with arms out as if they are meditating!
There is a good exhibit of small mammals, spider moneys and capachins in the middle of the zoo and caged walkways from one enclosure to another so they can walk over visitors heads, which I thought was a nice touch for interest for the visitors, giving a really good view of the monkeys, but also a nice bit of stimulation for the monkeys, who seemed to find us as interesting as we found them!
Another area is 'Jeepers Creepers' which is the first little attractions as you come in, a door leads your into a small room with vivariums containing small reptiles and invertebrates. It easy to miss, this part, but it's worth a look if you visit, though finding out which species you are looking at proved difficult as a lot of the labels were missing. All crucial for an area containing arachnids. I love reptiles, but why are they always housed with the spiders? I hate looking at lots of cute geckos and corn snakes to suddenly be faced with a tarantula! I like to see the labels before I peer in so I know what I'm going to be confronted with!
Last but not least, the children's zoo is always a favourite with me (who resents them being called 'children's' zoos!). Luckily the Isle of Wight Zoo had named there 'Zoolittle Farm' so there was no discrimination!! However, little is right. A few cute bunnies and guinea pigs, one lonely chicken and a gorgeous young piggy called Winston made up this area. There was no walk though area for petting like in some zoo, so all in all a little disappointing. The leaflet claims there are goats and sheep but we saw none. This is a new exhibit however, so maybe there is more to be added.
The Zoo offers a timetable of presentations to keep the public entertained such as lemur feeding, big cat talks and bug handling. I must admit when we went however, we went against the crowds. Although the feeding times are good fun, the majority of the guest attend them, and its hard to get a good view, so it's a good time to get round some of the other exhibits while the masses are busy! I wouldn't say the zoo was over busy when we visited, but it was early in the day. As always, avoiding summer holidays, means avoiding crowds.
As with most animal attractions, the zoo's budget is spent feeding the animals and not the guests. The usual greasy muck and boring over priced sandwiches made up the Zootique cafe, so we went and had lunch in Sandown afterwards! The gift shop that all places like this make it impossible to exit without visiting, contained all the usual tat kids will love! More pencil sharpeners and cuddly toys to add to the collection!
With a small zoo like this it will be interesting to see what it does to keep itself fresh in the future. Zoos which have vast areas of land add attractions all the time, with a small place like this I guess keeping the interest alive will prove more challenging. I think many zoos depend on repeat visitors. I've visited Longleat numerous times and have lost count at the amount of times I've graced London Zoo with my presence. Unfortunately, I can't see myself going back to the Isle of Wight Zoo unless they think of something new that's going to tempt me.
I'm not saying that being a small zoo is always a disadvantage, Newquay Zoo for example is small and one of the most charming zoos I've visited. I think being so big cat orientated means I didn't enjoy it so much. Apes, parrots and reptiles are my must sees when I visit a zoo, so I guess it's just not got the variety for me. A big cat enthusiast, I guess will be this zoos 'repeat visitor'.
Overall, the zoo is a good attraction if you have a few hours to kill while you are in the area. I wouldn't make a special journey however, as we were reliably informed, there are better animal attractions on the island.
Summary: ...not so purr-fect if you like a bit more variety.
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