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Whipsnade Zoo

Address Dunstable, Bedfordshire, LU6 2LF
Telephone 01582 872171
How to Find it:
Open: All year from 10am (except Christmas Day).
No of Species No of Animals Star Rating
Mammals Conservation
Birds Enclosures
Reptiles Education
Amphibians Recreation
Fish Research
Total 0 0
Click here for a Link to the Zoo’s own Web Pages
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This critique last updated:  Dec 2010

Official Description

Visitor Reviews

Review by Martin Harrison, 21st March 2009

My family and I visited Whipsnade about a month ago.It was a wonderful day out,and well worth travelling from the north of England.We secured a very reasonable deal from the zoo's website.Booking in at the Local Holiday Inn, getting a deal with combined admission.This gave us a full day at the zoo, before driving back the next day.


We arrived at the zoo, as the gates were opening,and to be sure we needed a full day to scratch the surface of this zoo.The first thing to strike the visitor is the sheer size of the place?.There is a free safari bus that travels around the park,and stops at the various enclosures,this is highly recomendable to use,even for part of the day,as the distances between the enclosure's is vast,even for an athletic man of 31 as I pretend I am.


Whipsnade zoo must have the best balance of species in one zoo in the UK.For the paying visitor it is excellent value for money.Tigers,lions,cheetahs,hippo,Asian elephants,bears,the list is endless!.There is an apparant lack of buildings,as you look around the place and the zoo favours the park like style of Port Lympne,with massive expansive paddocks.The penguin pool is a beautiful place,situated on a hill top ledge with wonderful views.The bear enclosure at the entrance is one of the original features still in use.


Whipsnade is a pastiche of old and new.The emphasis on conservation,space and endangered species is entirely new,yet the steam train,railway, and sealion  performances etc. give the place a more traditional zoo feel.There is more space and room for expansion than anywhere I have visited,the animals are given copious amounts of space,and the Rhino paddocks go on for miles.There is so much to interest all kinds of visitor.My family loved to see the Asian elephants walking around the roads with keepers,trunks holding tails in a line,at one with the public.


Another unique and different feature, is that certain animals such as wallabies roam free around the zoo.They sit quite happily on verges,lawns across the zoo.And pop up everywhere.


Whipsnade is a 'different' zoo.It is not a safari park,yet you can take your car in,and drive around(Parking it up and getting out,allowing you to walk around like a conventional zoo).This was the only confusing part of the experience?.We opted to leave our car in the 'official' car park outside the gates,and walk around the Zoo.This occured a £4 charge.But there appeared no apparent charge to drive in the zoo and use your car,or get out and walk?.


On the whole Whipsnade was a marvellous day out,I would take my car in next time,as the distances between enclosures was quite far for a family.The setting is beautiful,and the value for money emmense,On the whole this zoo works,and is different.

GoodZoos.com Reviews

Whipsnade is Europe’s biggest zoo. Compare its 547 acres with even our largest safari parks. Woburn and Windsor together don’t amount to as much space as Whipsnade; and this is a zoo you can walk around. Many visitors do take the easy option and take their cars into the park, but even they will find that to get the best from Whipsnade they have to walk, at least some of the way around. Most still park outside, and take the really rather pleasant exercise of walking round the zoo. 

Whipsnade is famous for being the world’s first open zoo. Today the idea of keeping tropical animals in open fields seems perfectly natural. In the 1920s, however, it was revolutionary. Zoos at that time were city- centre affairs. They were invariably small and cramped, and most animals were kept indoors. Until 1902 virtually none of London Zoo’s exotic species were allowed any fresh air, and whenever one died it was assumed that somehow it had been subjected to a fatal draught. It took developments in Germany at Carl Hagenbeck’s zoo in Hamburg to convince informed opinion in Britain that perhaps animals could become used to a European climate, and perhaps even thrive in it. That was the view of Dr Peter Chalmers Mitchell, who in 1902 was appointed Secretary of the Zoological Society of London. He proposed to London Zoo’s Council thai a farm in the country should be bought to house some of the surplus animals from Regent’s Park Zoo. The Council repeatedly rejected the idea, but Chalmers Mitchell was stubborn. The idea began as a summer rest home for animals from London. Soon it became thought of as a ‘breeding farm’, and finally the idea emerged of a ‘country zoo’ to which visitors might travel by car or bus or train for a day of animal watching. 

Under Chalmers Mitchell’s repeated insistence the Council finally relented. They bought Hill Farm at the village of Whipsnade on the Dunstable Downs in 1927, and began to prepare it for the arrival of animals from London. Still there were problems; this time legal ones. It took a special Act of Parliament (The Zoological Society of London Act 1928) to be passed before the animals could be moved. But moved they were; and in May 1931 Whipsnade Zoo opened to the public for the first time. 

Twenty six thousand people visited Whipsnade on that first Whit Monday. So great was public interest in the new zoo that railway bookings from London were cancelled by order of the police. Chalmers Mitchell must have been delighted. But no doubt he was more delighted by the success of his plans for the animals. Because they did thrive on the chalky downs of Bedfordshire. 

Sixty years later Whipsnade remains a showpiece among British and European zoos. The zoo breeds successfully more large mammals within I.U.C.N. programmes than any other zoo in Europe. In places you may find that the relict ideas and constructions of the l920s and 1930s sit rather uncomfortably in the 1990s, but in general the concept of specialising in herd animals in wide open spaces still works very well. The park today is broadly divided into five zones. The first three represent the Animals of Asia, the Animals of Africa, and the Animals of the North. The fourth is the ‘Family Centre’ where you will find the award winning children’s farm, sealions, falconry displays, cafes and the excellent discovery centre: and the final zone is simply ‘The Downs’, an open area of hillside with the great white lion cut out of the turf, where you can picnic or stroll and ad mire the fabulous views out over the Vale of Aylesbury and beyond. The downs themselves have been designated a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), and are populated with hundreds of red necked wallabies, which effectively roam wild within the confines of the zoo. Visit in the early summer and you will see the little joeys popping in and out of their mothers pouches. Little muntjac (a tiny species of deer), and Chinese water deer, also roam free. So too do peafowl, jungle fowl, and mara. Look out for them all around the park, but especially on the downs. 

The first animals you may see at Whipsnade are the Asian elephants, disappointingly housed in a rather pokey building with yards that seem small by today’s standards. The building, however, is listed. It was built by Lubetkin and was presumably once seen as a model elephant house. The zoo has started ‘Elephants at Work’ demonstrations outside the enclosure to compensate for the shortage of space. Close by, however, are the cheetahs, and these are sure to raise your spirits. Whipsnade has become the world’s leading zoo for breeding cheetahs, and over 130 have been born here. Considering the difficulties that most zoos have in encouraging cheetahs to breed, this is a tremendous achievement. On most visits to Whipsnade you should be rewarded by a endearing glimpse of cheetah cubs in the long grass of their simple wire enclosures. 

The chimpanzees are housed in a chimp house based upon London Zoo’s design, built in 1991 the zoo added a half acre outdoor enclosure to what had once been a disappointingly small cage. Now the chimps have plenty of space to rush about, as well as room to climb. They are held in by the simple, but effective, use of an electric fence. 

The brown bears have a curious enclosure. It is a spacious dense wood of young hawthorns, with a small concrete pond in which they wallow. But the wood is surrounded by a wall topped by terrifying spiked bars which curve viciously inwards, making the enclosure a strange conflict between the open space of a country zoo and the ironwork of a Victorian one. Rather the same principle applies to the lions. Historically, perhaps, they might serve to remind us of the dreadful awe in which earlier generations held these great carnivores. As modern exhibits, however, they seem unnecessarily gruesome and anachronistic; this despite the relative spaciousness of the cages themselves. In 1993 the lions will be moving at last to a large open area. 

Perhaps the real problem with the lions, bears and elephants, is that Whipsnade does not really feel comfortable about keeping them. Whipsnade exists for the great herd animals, and these it keeps extremely well. Most of the zoo is divided into huge grazing fields, each one tens of acres in size. Here is where the geographical ‘zoning’ of the park comes into its own. In ‘Africa’ you will find the giraffe, an exquisite herd of delicate Thompson’s gazelle, the rare and beautiful Grevy’s zebra recognisable by us fine stripes and its long upright mane, water buck, the ‘bambi coloured’ sitatunga antelope, and two great specialities of Whipsnade, the scimitar- homed oryx, and the white rhino. Scimitar-homed oryx are graceful fawn and white antelopes with sweeping curved horns. They are believed to have become extinct (or virtually extinct) in the wild over the past two decades. A joint operation by Whipsnade, Marwell, and Edinburgh Zoos recently succeeded in returning several oryx to a park in Tunisia, where they appear to be thriving: a good example. if you should ever need one, of real conservation in action. The white rhinos of Whipsnade were one of the first reserve herds established outside Africa. Dozens have been bred here, 15% of the white rhino world population in collections, and it is always a spellbinding sight to see a whole herd of these mighty lumbering creatures grazing so peacefully on the lush grass of Whipsnade. Hippos have bred here eighteen times. 

The grazing animals of Asia include the rare barasingha (or swamp deer), blackbuck, mouflon, hog deer, fallow deer, nilgai, Przewalski’s horse which has been breeding so well here, and Great Indian rhino who are guaranteed a place in the photograph albums of thousands of visitors.  The Indian rhinos have twice bred here, and their first calf is now at Chester Zoo. A new idea to allow visitors closer to the animals is the ‘Passage through Asia’, a drive-through 80 acre field with no barriers and about 300 free roaming animals. 
For many years the tigers at Whipsnade occupied the same sort of enclosures as the lions. But in 1991 the zoo opened ‘Tiger Fails’, described by the zoo’s promoters as ‘almost certainly the most ambitious and exciting project ever undertaken at Whipsnade’. The enclosure is home to endangered Siberian tigers, and is a large, richly landscaped and well wooded tract of hillside. It features a turbulent waterfall and a rock pool and has a suspension bridge over which visitors can walk, creating impression of a walk right through a tiger reserve. From all points of view it is a huge improvement upon the earlier cages. 

‘Animals of the North’ are not really zoned, but are scattered around the zoo. They include quite a host of penguins (which are really animals of the South, but let us not quibble), musk oxen, European bison, and the bear; but perhaps the best displayed are the timber wolves in a splendid new wolf wood. ‘The Timber Wolf’ a sign informs us, were ‘almost exterminated because of man’s fear. Yet they have hardly ever been know to have attacked man.’ All the wolves at Whipsnade are descendants eight brought here in 1953. 

The family area and children’s farm here is one of the best in Britain. It is a real ‘encounter’ centre where children can meet and touch a variety 4 creatures, from hand-reared calves of the grazing herds, to domestic animals of all sorts. It houses a variety of rare breeds — redpoll cows, shire horses and Lincoln long wool sheep, among others. There is also the best railway ride in any zoo, the Umfolozi Express, a real steam train ride which winds right through the paddocks of the Animals of Asia. The ‘Run-wild’ play centre offers children a fortress of an adventure playground. There is also a ‘Woodland Bird Walk’, a delightful pathway through an ancient tract of broadleaved woodland. 

Finally there are sealions, which mount daily demonstrations, an excellent wildlife museum, and impressive displays of falconry. 

Whipsnade Park Zoo was conceived by Chalmers Mitchell as a breeding farm for grazing herds. Today his vision stands, broadly unchanged after over half a century. Apart from the notable exception of the cheetah that is where its success has been. The ‘Whipsnade Experience’ is the experience of those splendid herds. Long may it continue to be so. 

Species List


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