Chimpanzee Eden: Twycross Zoo
It was my privilege to be invited to Twycross Zoo today to celebrate the launch of their latest habitat – Chimpanzee Eden. This facility is part of the zoo’s ambitious £55m masterplan which will transform it into a world class conservation facility as well as leading visitor attraction.
Chimpanzee Eden is a multi-storey £3.5m building which seeks to give the animals the same kind of stretch and challenge that they would experience in their lives in the wild. This includes carefully designed structures and environments to stimulate their natural social behaviour.
We were welcomed to Twycross with a fascinating set of introductions about the development of the space from the CEO of the zoo, along with a really interesting talk from long time supporter of the zoo, Professor Alice Roberts. In particular, a short film of the chimps being introduced to their new habitat at Chimpanzee Eden and exploring the outside space really got me in the feels – you can’t fail to be absolutely melted by their obvious joy at their new environment.
Of course, some of you reading this will be anti-zoo, but you may not realise the distinct focus on animal welfare, conservation and conservation research that is absolutely embedded in the culture there. And of course, as we were told, the major species of great apes are all currently predicted to become extinct in the wild in our lifetimes – a devastating fact which places the emphasis on world-class facilities like Twycross Zoo as a sort of ‘ark’, giving humanity more time to figure out how to undo the damage we have to done to our environments.
After the welcome we were treated to a fabulous afternoon tea. The venue is flanked by huge windows facing out on to the enclosure of a family of Snow Leopards, an absolutely breathtaking bunch of beautiful felines who held us all captivated as we ate. This is one reason that I think venue hire at Twycross Zoo is an amazing idea. The second is the quality of the food.
The afternoon tea was beautifully presented by a sleek, professional team of staff. A delicate selection of sandwiches, homemade sausage rolls and an enviable selection of cakes and scones was placed before us, along with piping hot pots of tea.
As if that weren’t enough, additional plates of eclairs, lemon possets and vegetarian sandwiches soon followed! This was a lot of food, even for the hungry folk at our table. However, we managed and soon it was time to make our way through to see Chimpanzee Eden for ourselves.
We enjoyed the experience lubricated with a glass of fizz, which was an unexpected treat. The whole of Chimpanzee Eden is full of nooks and crannies, where getting up close and personal with the chimps is delightfully easy, but also feels like it gives the animals the maximum opportunity to escape the gazing hordes when they prefer. It was quite clear to me that the fascination of watching primate behaviour was very much a mutual activity.
There are also plenty of hidey-holes for the smaller members of your family to explore and to get a unique view of the chimps. It was genuinely a fascinating experience and great to see that classroom spaces and study facilities have been built into this space to allow for the continuing role of education and inspiration, as well as the building of our knowledge of these bewitching animals – our closest cousins in the animal world.
Sadly, there was not a huge amount of time remaining for us to explore the rest of Twycross Zoo, which was a real shame as I have never been able to visit before. The main barrier to me visiting has always been the absence of public transport and I think it’s something that tourism bosses in both city and counties (Atherstone is on the border of Leicestershire and Warwickshire) should really have at the forefront of their minds.
I’m sure that with 60,000 school visits per year a lot of Leicester’s children get the chance to go to Twycross, but I fear that for families without their own transportation the amount of time it would take to get there would be prohibitive. Not to mention that a visit for a family of four would amount to something in the region of £60 (not an unreasonable charge for the quality of experience in the fleeting estimation I got from my visit) – but add on transport costs to this and I think that it would put people off. However, this is not the zoo’s fault, but an infrastructure problem which I hope is considered more broadly as their Masterplan continues.
Many thanks to Twycross Zoo for inviting us to this fantastic celebration. I found it fascinating to learn about the zoo’s conservation pedigree, relationship with the fantastic Ape Action Africa charity and of course to come face-to-face with some sublime, well cared for and happy animals.
** If you fancy visiting soon, the zoo is offering free entry for dad’s this weekend to celebrate Father’s Day! Don’t miss this limited time offer **