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I had visited Jersey Zoo twenty years ago and on a recent visit back to the island I was keen to revisit the attraction. The first difference I noticed was the name change, the project is no longer called Jersey Zoo, it is now the headquarters of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
The well-known author and naturalist Gerald Durrell set up his conservation programme 50 years ago. He saw his zoo as an establishment to help protect vulnerable species from extinction and his vision was to work towards a time when this would not be necessary because all animals and their habitats would be protected. Gerald Durrell died in 1995 but the work of the Conservation Trust goes on in many areas of the world, protecting species and habitats that are being threatened by the actions of man.
Durrells (as the Zoo is now known) is situated just 4 miles North of St Helier, it is easy to find by following the brown tourist signs. As Jersey is so small we never had any problem finding anywhere as there really aren't that many roads! The car park is free and seemed large and there was obviously also an overspill area.
You enter via the visitor's centre which holds some educational material and also the inevitable gift shop that you have to walk through to exit. Durrells opens at 9.30 every day (except Christmas Day) but the closing time varies with the season. Entry prices are £12.90 for adults, £9.40 for children over 4 and £39.95 for a family. We had purchased a Jersey Pass which gave us one free entry. There were guidebooks available to purchase but we were given a laminated map of the site with a polite request to return it after our visit as they are trying to minimise waste.
---On To The Exhibits!---
One of the first things you notice on entering is how green the site looks. There are lots of shrubs and bushes, unfortunately it was still cold when we visited and a lot of the plants were still covered but I imagine it is a beautiful place to be in the summer months with a brilliant display of quite tropical planting.
Firstly we visited an exhibit called the Cloud Forest, this was not a good start as the bats hadn't been moved back into the display as it was too cold and we couldn't see any bears either so we soon moved on and entered the reptile house. This warm building was very welcome and there were a large number of frogs, iguanas and snakes on display. All the information panels were clear and up-to-date with the vulnerability of the species. There was also a display of Cane Toads with information on the problems that have been caused by their introduction around the world.
We then came across a huge exhibit which has obviously only been recently finished, it said that it housed lemurs and aye-ayes but most of the exhibits were empty. I presume they are in the process of moving some of the animals from the less visible exhibits around the park to this new, purpose built area. I think there were only a Gentle Lemurs in the whole area but it will provide good viewing when it is finished.
We found our way into a free-flying aviary which had an extremely colourful mix of birds which flew around you as you tried to identify them from a picture board that you collected on entry. We found the staff in there very happy to stop and chat about the birds.
Heading further around the park we came across a door stating that it contained Aye-Ayes. I had never seen one of these before except on television so I was quite keen to see one. We entered a really dark room with an extremely dull light in a cage. We could see absolutely nothing after the brightness from outside, we stood quietly for a couple of minutes to let our eyes adjust but it was really so dark that we could not see anything at all so we left, disappointed. We then came to another door in the same building which also boasted Aye-ayes so we went in. This time there was a fraction more light but more importantly there was actually an Aye-aye, I was so pleased to see it and it was so much bigger than I expected, it had a huge run and this went up very high so I think we were very lucky to spot him at all as he ran around before hiding back in a corner.
We walked past other exhibits containing Lemurs, Tamarins and flamingos. These were all nicely landscaped and were very spacious. There were lots of bird cages which I tend to not pay much attention to as I have never been keen on seeing birds in cages, however I was hoping to see a St Lucian Parrott as we didn't manage to see any when we were in St Lucia and we were lucky, there were several brightly coloured examples.
We then arrived at one of the biggest enclosures which house the Gibbons and the Orangutans. There is an enormous outside area with lots of equipment to keep them busy as well as a large indoor area with full height viewing windows. They have a large number of Orang-utans who were very entertaining to watch as they played, the dominant male sat on the top of a pole looking suitably intimidating.
The final exhibit we visited was the Gorillas. Once again this is a very large enclosure where it was a delight to watch the females interacting. The male sat quietly under a tree providing ideal photo opportunities, he actually looked like he was posing for the cameras. Considering that Jersey Zoo suffered the awful incident of a child falling in this enclosure years ago I was surprised to see that it could happen again easily. They have tried to grow plant across the front of the walls to deter people climbing on them but I still saw a family lift their child up to sit on the enclosure wall to see better.
The staff give talks at the enclosures at set times throughout the day and there is a notice board as you go in telling you this information and also the feeding times. It would be useful if they put a copy of this in with the plan as we had nothing to write the information on and we had forgotten the times by the time we had walker around and it wasn't pinned on the enclosures either.
When we visited the play area was closed for refurbishment but was due to re-open the next week. It looked like a brilliant area that I know my children would have enjoyed when they were younger.
I believe there is a restaurant on the site but I didn't notice it, the kiosks that were dotted around were closed but as I said we did visit in low season.
---Is It Worth a Visit?---
Overall we spent an enjoyable couple of hours walking around Durrells. On a warm day you would probably sit and observe the animals for longer but I think this is an attraction that would only take a morning or afternoon to visit; it certainly would not take up a full day. I felt there was quite a lot of work going on ready for the summer and hopefully there would be more to see in high season as a lot of the animals don't like the cold. There was certainly plenty of information expressing the Trusts passion for conservation and telling their success stories with many of the world vulnerable species from fragile habitats. The staff were helpful, the environment was pleasant and the animals all appeared well-cared for so I would certainly recommend this for an educational trip out but buy a Jersey Pass to make the most of your money.
Back in September we had a lovely week in Jersey. Our main reason for visiting was to go to Jersey Beer Festival in St. Helier, but we also used Jersey's most excellent bus service to tour the island. One of my favourite days out was to Jersey Zoo
let me tell you about it!
~~~WHERE IS JERSEY ZOO?
The zoo can be found around 4 miles north of Jersey's capital (St. Helier) and is in the parish of Trinity. We went on the bus (which seemed the best choice as parking on Jersey is a little scarce), though there is a large car park dedicated to the zoo which is free. There are a choice of buses there, all of which leave from the Bus Station (called the Weighbridge) next to Liberation Square in St. Helier. We went on the service bus number 3a (buses 3b and 23 also go there, as does the Easylink bus) which cost us £1.60 each way (no returns are available on public buses on Jersey).
~~~HOW MUCH DOES IT COST AND WHEN IS IT OPEN?
The zoo is open every day of the year (except Christmas day) and stays open from 9.30am til 6pm during the summer and from 10am til 5pm during the winter months. Current admission charges are £11.50 for adults, £8.50 for pensioners and students and £7.40 for children between 4 and 16 years of age (little ones under three are free). There are rates for groups but you need to sort the rates out in advance ~ there were only 6 of us so this didn't apply anyway.
~~~A BIT OF BACKGROUND.
Jersey Zoo isn't a zoo that contains lions, tigers, elephants and a lot of the usual suspects. It was started in 1959 by conservationist and writer Gerald Durrell (remember "My Family & Other Animals"?) as a sanctuary for endangered animals. Visitors to Gerald's remarkable zoo will find around one hundred species in various stages of endangerment ~ some are so rare that they are on the verge of extinction. The purpose of the zoo is to try to save these creatures, to educate visitors about them, to raise awareness and to provide an excellent day out!
Jersey Zoo isn't a zoo in the normal sense of the word. The animals are not there for your entertainment! They are there because Gerald Durrell had a vision to save animals from extinction ~ the breeding programmes are already helping to ensure that future generations will have the pleasure of seeing the animals we take for granted!
As well as the excellent zoo (which is well worth the £11.50 entrance fee) there is a café (called Café Dodo) which sells snacks and main meals, as well as drinks and stuff. You can also hire the place to hold parties and I could see this being an excellent venue for children's birthday dos. If you take your own food there are plenty of picnic tables and seats around the grounds ~ some of the seats are also near the children's play area, which is very convenient if you want to entertain your kids while you eat!
There are plenty of toilets around the zoo all of which are clean and well sign-posted. There are also baby changing facilities and disabled toilets too.
If you are going with a group or tour party you will probably have a guided tour. These are free (and available in English, French or German) but guided tours DO need pre-booking either by phone or email (+44 (0)1534 860000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.). The information given on the various houses and enclosures is good enough for you to guide yourself round though and I preferred this because we could go around at our own pace and in what order we wanted.
There are pathways throughout that make most of the zoo accessible for wheelchair users and parents with pushchairs. I was also pleased to see that there were a number of scooters and wheelchairs for hire in the main entrance. There is also the option to pre-book a tour in the Dodo Mobiles ~ these are like golf carts and are a good potion for the less mobile. I would say though that anyone who has difficulty in walking long distances would not appreciate the whole of the zoo if they don't hire a scooter or chair. As you will see from the rest of my review, the zoo covers a really large area and you will need to be able to cope with this to see all the animals to full effect.
It is also worth noting that no animals are allowed into the zoo at all (except the ones already there of course). This includes guide dogs, hearing dogs, etc. They aren't being nasty and trying to exclude anyone from visiting and there are excellent reasons for this rule. Jersey Zoo houses lots of animals and birds that are extremely endangered and any contact with other animals is potentially dangerous for their breeding programmes. If you are visually impaired then guide will show you around if you contact the zoo in advance.
~~~WHAT WILL YOU SEE?
When you enter the zoo you are given a photocopied map of the zoo (there is the option to purchase a guide book) with a suggested route around. The park is very well signposted and you can go round in whatever direction you want and still see everything. I will warn you that the zoo covers quite a large area and there is quite a lot of walking involved. There are plenty of seats, picnic areas, etc though if you need a rest along the way.
We started (passing the statue of Mr Durrell himself) with a look at the Andean bears. They were great and seemed to revel in posing for the audience. Their enclosure is huge and has lots of places for them to go and things to entertain them. We then went into the Bird House (where the birds fly free around you), the Bat breeding centre (I didn't realise some bats were so big) and onto the Reptile House (some rather pretty bright blue frogs stole the show here, almost as much as the poor girl trying to clean out the turtle are ~ whenever she got all the turtles out and started to clean they all jumped back in!).
The sun was now out so we decided to forgo the film show about the zoo and concentrate on walking around looking at the animals and enjoying the glorious weather. We were not alone because most of the animals seemed to be sunbathing too! The gorillas were on fine form ~ chasing the little ones and strutting their stuff around their HUGE enclosure. There are no little cages here and the gorillas seemed to be happy and relaxed in their environment. We found a seat and had a rest for a little while being watched by the gorillas as much as they were watching us!
After our rest we headed on to the orang-utan area (via the flamingos and the other bird enclosures). Here there is a hut where some of the baby orang-utans were sheltering from the heat and amusing each other. On the walls there is info about the breeding and conservation programme that is in place, along with photos of the orang-utans and the gibbons you will see in the main enclosure. This was very interesting and meant we could identify the animals we were about to see.
As soon as we stepped outside the gibbons were jumping and whooping! They spotted us straight away and began trying to wake up the sunbathing orang-utans! The big orangs were hiding under blankets, hiding from the sun and creating a bit of self made shade. The gibbons were jumping around next to them and trying to pull off the blankets ~ much to the annoyance of the nursing mother orangs! We spent ages here and were laughing out-loud at their antics.
Eventually we managed to prize ourselves out of this area and walk on through the lovely tree lined areas, passing the various enclosures containing birds, gibbons and came onto the Red Ruffed lemur area. We ended up like excited children when one of the staff started putting out feed and the usually shy lemurs came up right in front of us. It was fascinating to see them and we really enjoyed seeing how beautiful and inquisitive they were. I was actually quite upset when we had to leave this bit of the zoo but the meerkats were calling!
I LOVE Meerkats! They are funny, cheeky and very entertaining. There seemed to be dozens of them in the enclosure ~ a couple were "one guard" and the rest were playing happily and really seemed comfortable even though we were very close to them. We stayed here for a good long time and also at the next enclosure containing the ring-tailed coatis and the other lemurs.
By this point we were hot, tired and getting ready for something to eat and drink. The Dodo café was very busy as it was way into lunchtime (we had been in the zoo for a good few hours by now), so we decided to have a look around the well stocked shop (full of clothing, soft toys, ornaments and the usual souvenirs) and head off back on the bus to our next port of call.
~~~SO DID I LIKE IT?
Yep! I LOVED it! We spent hours there and found it was definitely worth the money we paid to get there and get in. In fact I thought the entrance fee made me feel like I was contributing to help save these endangered animals from extinction. Jersey Zoo is a worthwhile cause and it is great to see how much success they are having in helping to breed birds and animals for re-introduction to their native environments.
I was surprised to see how suitable the zoo was for a great age range of people. We were all adults and we found it fascinating. I also saw there were lots of things designed to attract and keep the interest of younger visitors too. All around the park there were brass rubbing areas, information for both adults and children with each area and animal enclosure, play areas, seating and so much to see and do.
I would certainly visit again in the future and will definitely recommend Jersey Zoo as a must see attraction for visitors to the Island. Next time you are in Jersey, or our planning a visit soon, make sure you head over to Jersey Zoo.
Jersey Zoos visitors call us the zoo thats not a zoo. But we think we are what ALL zoos should be a crucial part of the effort to save wild animals from extinction. Here our conservation scientists can work with the animals up close and learn what they need to maintain good health, breed, survive and thrive in their natural habitats. We can then share this vital information with our colleagues working with them in the wild. Wherever possible our animals live in specially landscaped, spacious enclosures which closely resemble their natural homes that way we can see them behaving just like they would in the wild. Like this tamarin who lives in our totally open woodland, scampering around as it would in the rainforests of Brazil.