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Colchester Zoo

Address Maldon Road, Stanway, Colchester, Essex, CO3 5SL
Telephone 01206 331 292
How to Find it: On the V1022 Tiptree to Colchester Road, 3 miles south of Colchester.
Open: From 9:30am, closing times vary with the season.
Area: 24 hectares/ 60 acres
No of Species No of Animals Star Rating
Mammals 83 194 Conservation
Birds 62 192 Enclosures
Reptiles 30 130 Education
Amphibians 5 15 Recreation
Fish 21 186 Research
Total 201 717
Click here for a Link to the Zoo’s own Web Pages
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This critique last updated:  Dec 2010

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GoodZoos.com Reviews

Colchester Zoo is set in the grounds of the historic Stanway Hall in forty luxuriant acres of Constable country. There has been a manor house on the site since the time of King Harold, and the land was owned by the Crown until the time of King Henry 11. The name ‘Stanway’ is thought to derive from the ‘stone way’, the original Roman road which ran from the garrison at Colchester to London. Today the zoo is just a few miles from the new A 12 trunk road linking the two towns, and it is a splendid setting for a zoo. Cars park within the zoo grounds, and a tour of the zoo takes you on a languid figure of eight on a lightly wooded, hilly, walk.

Colchester Zoo has a large collection of animals, despite its size. There are around 180 species here and there is a lot to take in. This is a typical ‘collector’s’ zoo, with most of the popular species represented: animals like lions, elephants, sealions, chimpanzees, and penguins. There is also a rather circus-like attitude here with daily performances by the sealions, parrots. elephants, and birds of prey.

Cats are perhaps the speciality with fifteen species including the rarer seen leopard cat of eastern Asia, and beautifully exhibited ocelots. Most of the cats are well housed, although possibly more space could be made available if fewer species were kept. There are jaguars, leopards and pant hers, all beautifully housed in splendid good sized enclosures. A pair of snow leopards share an enclosure, well landscaped with a waterfall and high rocks. Snow leopards are secretive, and you may need patience to see them. Patience is also needed to spot the little fishing cats in a densely planted, interesting enclosure, and there is an excellent nocturnal exhibit featuring the rarely seen black-footed cat; and here, as elsewhere in the zoo, the information signs are very good.

The tigers occupy one of the newest developments — a carefully lands caped area of the zoo called ‘tiger valley’. A taped commentary provides some background information about the tigers and the other animals that share the valley. The compounds are glass fronted, and the design motif is predominantly Indian, which is attractive, although slightly inappropriate for the pair of Siberian tigers. Nevertheless, tiger valley is well designed, and bodes well for future developments within the zoo. The same area houses a pair of maned wolves in a new and imaginative enclosure, the jaguars, and a little group of coatis. There are wooden walkways which provide good vantage points for seeing the animals.

Perhaps the first animals to catch the eye at the zoo are two young African elephants, both female. A signboard explains how they were rescued from a Southern African cull — a justification for several baby elephants within British zoos. The enclosure, and the elephant house, already looks much too small for the growing elephants, especially the doors, and for a while the zoo was worryingly reluctant to answer enquiries about how they expected to cope as the elephants grew to adulthood. Such a tendency towards secrecy was quite unnecessary, and now the zoo has openly launched an appeal to raise money for a brand new elephant house; but this may not be started much before 1994. Rather boldly, the elephants are being trained, an uncommon idea with African elephants, and they perform a popular, regular show in the centre of the zoo.

There is a children’s farm area, an amusement arcade, a miniature scenic railway, and a wonderful adventure playground. The animals in the children’s area are labelled Familiar Friends’, and are fenced off with very effective ranch-rodeo corral-style fencing. Among the more unfamiliar of the familiar friends are ‘zeedonks’ — the strange hybrid offspring of a zebra and a black Arabian ass. Colchester claims to have the only zeedonks in the world, and there is little reason to doubt it.

Some new accommodation for primates houses an interesting group of silver leaf langurs, and there is a well designed marmoset house with high, interesting enclosures. There are golden lion tamarins here, among others.

There are white rhinos with a generous outside pen with a pond, tree trunks, and muddy wallows. A wooden walkway provides a good view of these splendid animals. There are condors, and bateleur eagles, in rather cramped aviaries, and there is an effective wolf-wood with Canadian timber wolves; a satisfactory aquarium, a small reptile house, improved accommodation for bears, an attractive birdcage walk, good waterfowl and flamingo ponds, and a small penguin pool. There are also sealions in a fairly small pool, and they put on performances at regular times.

There is a mood of change and rebuilding that currently possesses this zoo, and many of the unsatisfactory enclosures that characterised the zoo in the 1980s have been rebuilt or replaced. Most notable among these is the new £250,000 chimpanzee house which covers an impressive 6,000 square feet, and which provides the chimps with very good day and night accommodation, allowing them plenty of climbing, with ropes and trees, and access to a large outdoor area that will open in 1992, including an artificial termite mound, and more features for climbing. The outdoor compound is walled, with viewing through glass.

Another new development has been Out of Africa’. a walk-through area featuring mangabeys and colobus monkeys and the zoo now keeps endangered lion-tailed maqaques in impressive new enclosures.
Through all the changes, Colchester looks set to remain a traditional, and very varied collection. It would be good to think that the visitors would welcome more specialisation —perhaps with the cats that the zoo keeps so well. However, there is still a place for generalist zoos like this, and with innovative direction, the New Colchester Zoo, as the signs recently called it, could well become The New and Improved Colchester Zoo. The omens look good.


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