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Highland Wildlife Park

Address Kincraig, Kingussie, Nr Avimore
Telephone 01540 651270
How to Find it: Only 7 miles south of Aviemore. Travelling north on the A9 (Inverness), turn off for Kingussie / Kincraig, and follow the B9152 north. Travelling south on the A9 (Perth), turn off south of Aviemore for Kincraig and follow the B9152 through Kincraig to the Park.
Open: April to October 10 am to 5 pm (last entry 4 pm) July to August 10 am to 6 pm (last entry 5 pm) November to March 10 am to 4 pm (last entry 3 pm)
Area: 105 hectares / 259 acres
No of Species No of Animals Star Rating
Mammals 29 177 Conservation
Birds 30 139 Enclosures
Reptiles Education
Amphibians Recreation
Fish Research
Total 59 316
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This critique last updated:  Dec 2010

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GoodZoos.com Reviews

Twelve thousand years ago, when the great glaciers that created the Scottish valleys began to retreat, they were followed by a wealth of wildlife. Herds of reindeer, musk oxen, and saiga antelope followed the melting ice northwards. They in turn were followed by wolves and arctic foxes, lemmings and hares, brown bears, lynx, and bison- The early broadleafed forests that hugged the Scottish Highlands were rich with living creatures. Eagles and buzzards soared high over the rugged lands cape. Beavers dammed the streams. Roe deer and wild cattle grazed in the clearings.

Then came man to farm the valleys, with wheat and barley, cattle and pigs and sheep. The stage was set for another slow change in the landscape and wildlife of Scotland. Roman and Vikings burned and cleared the forests. The auroches, the lynx and the bear were hunted to extinction; the beaver was trapped for its fur; and in the centuries that followed hardy breeds of sheep spread across the hills, and the forests became moorlands. The bountiful wildlife paradise that Scotland had been was gone forever.

Forever? Well, perhaps not quite. There is one small corner of Scotland that serves as a reminder of what was, and what might have been. It is the Highland Wildlife Park, two hundred and sixty acres of heath and hillside set aside to keep and breed and show animals of Northern Europe, cousins of the creatures that stalked the same highlands in the dying centuries of the last ice age.

The man responsible for this simple and quite natural idea was a chartered surveyor named Neil Macpherson. He leased the land from a local landowner, persuaded the Highlands and Islands Development Board to fund the project, and in 1972 he opened the park to the public. For most visitors, and even for most Scots, the park is a long drive north on the A9 to Aviemore and Inverness. It is part drive-around ‘safari’ park, and part walk-around zoo. The two halves of the park complement each other, and perhaps provide the best of both worlds for visitors and for the animals. For many, the drive through area may be just the opportunity to stop and admire the magnificent highland scenery. Be patient in this part of the park. Stop in a lay-by, and turn off the engine. Wind down the windows, and just watch the animals. Be sure to bring binoculars and zoom lenses if you have them. There is a great deal to see, and you will need time to take it all in. You can often find deer lying up in the natural vegetation, and a guide book may help you identify the different species that graze the park. As well as deer you will find European bison, Przewalski’s wild horses, and a variety of highland sheep and cattle. There is something awe inspiring about coming across a bison grazing on a Scottish hillside; and where else can you see such a magnificent herd of red deer where the backdrop is so perfect?

Drive through the park and eventually you reach the zoo, where your walking tour begins. Here you will find a scattering of well-sized pens, well planted for Scottish wildcat, lynx, polecat, arctic fox, red fox, otters, and badger, just to name a few. The last two on that list have indoor dens with viewing inside or out. Most enclosures are rustic, chicken-wire and rough-pine posts, but they are effective nonetheless. Small aviaries house capercaillie, black and red grouse and some pheasants, and there is a waterfowl area alongside the beaver lake with a variety of European geese and ducks.
The other side of the zoo has an attractive, rocky, reindeer pen (what superb animals they are, when you see them in profile on a crag); and a row of aviaries, tall and built into the cliff face, with golden eagles (that every visitor wants to see), white-tailed eagles, buzzards, ravens, snowy owls and eagle owls.
Very few zoos seem to know what to do with bears. The Highland Wild life Park has two rather traditional bear pits. They are fortunate to have natural rock and trees as an alternative to concrete, but the pits are pits all the same. They house European brown bears.
Close by are pens for wild boar, and there is a wolf compound which you can see walking or driving, but you cannot yet drive through in the way you can at some safari parks. It is an irony, perhaps, in the zoo world that it is often easier to get exotic species than it is to get native Europeans. Thus it is that the wolves are Canadian, rather than, say, Pyrenean, or Italian wolves, which are both particularly rare.

In January 1986 the Highland Wildlife Park was taken over by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which also operates and develops Edinburgh Zoo. The merger looks as if it may benefit both collections. In particular, the Highland Wildlife Park will now fall under the direction of a society whose objectives are becoming rigorously conservationist. Already the park has introduced an education service, and has begun to outline its plans for future development. The otters will be moving to a larger enclosure; small mammals like hedgehogs, mice, stoats and shrews will be exhibited, as will some reptiles. The adder, after all, is not uncommon in these Highland pastures, but is not yet kept in the park. An education centre, with classroom facilities for sixty children was opened by the Princess Royal in 1991. More interpretational signs are planned, and the collection may even be rearranged around the habitat zones in the park. Imagine roe deer and lynx in adjoining broadleafed woodland paddocks, to represent the predator and its prey; or bison and wolves in mixed pine forest.

Finally, be sure not to leave the Highland Wildlife Park without climbing to the hill-top for the magnificent views, east over the valley to the Cairngorms, north towards Aviemore and Loch Insh, west to the Monadhliath range, and south down the River Feshie valley. Imagine how it must been as the melt waters of the great glacier swept down the valley, and the land belonged to the animals. The animals must be protected for the future. One day much of the land may belong to them once more. That is the sustaining image that we hope you bring away from this optimistic and attractive wildlife park.


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