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Longleat

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Longleat

Address Longleat Park, Warminster, Wiltshire
Telephone
How to Find it: Between Warminster and Frome. Signposted from the A362 or the B3092
Open: All year from 10 am
Prices:
Area: 81 hectares 200 acres
No of Species No of Animals Star Rating
Mammals 40 233 Conservation **
Birds 6 39 Enclosures ** * *
Reptiles 3 6 Education *
Amphibians Recreation ** *
Fish Research *
Total 49 278
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This critique last updated:  Feb 2008


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GoodZoos.com Reviews

 

Longleat is surely Britain’s most famous safari park, and justly so. It was, after all, the first park in the world, outside Africa, where visitors could admire the splendour of a pride of lions from the security and comfort of their own cars. Today the idea of the drive-through safari park is so common-place that it is hard to appreciate the huge controversy that Henry Thynne, the sixth Marquess of Bath aroused in 1964 when he announced his intentions to construct a 100 acre reserve for fifty lions in the grounds of his estate. Expert opinion was divided about whether the venture could ever succeed. The lions would fight, they would escape, visitors would be hauled from their cars and eaten. ‘No amount of soothing assurance,’ The Times leader proclaimed, ‘... can persuade sensible people that a quite gratuitous and unnecessary risk to life is not contemplated.’

In the end, of course, the scare-mongering publicity was the best thing that could have happened to Longleat. ‘The Lions of Longleat’, as the park became known for its first twenty years, opened in 1966 and the queue of cars waiting to drive through the park stretched for miles. No lions escaped, no children were eaten, and eventually the furore died down and Lord Bath was seen as an astute innovator instead of a danger to the population of Wiltshire.

The real motive for the Lions of Longleat was of course to make money. The upkeep of the four hundred year old Longleat House was hugely expensive, and although Lord Bath had been the first peer to open his home to the public in 1949, the hundred thousand visitors or so who came to the house each year were not sufficient to cover the burgeoning costs.But the man behind ‘The Lions’ was not Lord Bath himself, but an inveterate animal trainer, circus owner, and showman, Jimmy Chipperfield. It was Chipperfield who had noticed how cars in African game-parks would always congregate around the lions, and he felt convinced that with secure fencing, the same thing could happen in the English countryside. It was some time before he found a man with the land, and the enterprise to put the ideas into action, but not surprisingly, what was true for Kenya became equally true for Wiltshire, and today the visitors still flock to see the lions - perhaps not in the colossal numbers they did in the early years, but still numbering over half a million people every year.

Today it is simply called ‘Longleat’, and the lions are just one of a host of attractions. There are probably more than forty lions at any time, and they occupy a huge area of woodland (‘Lion Country’), living quite contentedly in large prides. There are tigers too (in ‘Tiger Territory’), and they include a white Bengal tiger, ‘Mayura’, and several tigresses that carry white-tiger genes. The group are well accommodated in a spacious tract of woodland, and undoubtedly there will soon be white tiger cubs to attract still more visitors.

The first animal reserve at Longleat is a massive sixty acre rolling pasture where visitors are encouraged to leave their cars and walk or picnic among the animals. A magnificent herd of Rothschild’s giraffe graze here, and Longleat has been consistently the most successful collection with giraffe in Britain. Over a hundred have been bred and reared here, and it is easy to see why - the giraffe are kept in a large, healthy group, and they have abundant space in which to exercise. There are zebra too in this reserve, and camels which give rides during the holiday periods.

The monkey jungle at Longleat was, like the lions, the first in the country. Originally it housed baboons, but today these have been replaced with docile rhesus Monkeys which can usually be relied upon to climb all over your car without doing any real damage. Pere David’s deer graze in the monkey jungle, looking splendid beneath the huge 300-year old oaks.

In the ‘Big Game’ reserve there are white rhinos, and a ;mall group of ican elephant. There are plans to build a secure corral for a bull elephant, but for the time being only cow elephants are present, kept safely at bay by the simple expedient of a movable electric fence,.

The final animals in the drive-round park are a splendid pack of over forty Canadian timber wolves, a healthv breeding group.

Beyond the Safari-Park itself there is a pet’s corner, a small reptile house, and a ‘Water Safari’, which offers the opportunity of a river boat ride down half-mile lake alongside Longleat House. Hippos graze a generous ten-acre field next to the lake, and wallow contentedly in the murky water. Behind the boat swim California sealions, and the group here breed regularly. More sealions have been bred here than at any other British Zoo. The climax to the boat ride is Gorilla Island, which houses a small group of three gorillas on a spacious, grassy island.

Many zoos, and conservationists were highly critical of Longleat when it opened. It was seen as little more than a outdoor circus, and Chipperfield was seen as an opponent of the new ideals that zoos were seeking to achieve, a reversion to a crude commercial exploitation of animals. True, no safari park can contain the same variety of species as a traditional zoo, but Longleat’s success with its giraffes, wolves, and sealions has made its critics think twice.

 

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