H’s love of animals was initially sparked off by watching the film Madagascar. It’s led to a strong interest in wildlife. He enjoys finding out more about animals by watching TV programmes, reading books and visiting zoos or wildlife parks. So when MoneySupermarket Days Out Discounts offered us the chance to review a family day out, a trip to Dudley Zoo was an obvious choice for us.
Getting to Dudley Zoo is really very easy. As a child I used to go there regularly, partly because it was so accessible by public transport and my parents didn’t drive. It’s just as easy today. It made more sense for us to drive cost wise and it’s £3.50 to park all day. I don’t usually agree with car parking charges at attractions, but as the zoo is in Dudley itself, non-visitors could use the car park if it were free.
Alex the lion is the star of Madagascar and the lions are certainly a big draw at Dudley Zoo too. They have a large one acre enclosure that makes Alex’s Central Park Zoo quarters look rather small. It’s wrapped round the circular, former bird house, which one of many of the zoo’s 1930s structures (some of which are listed buildings and are about to get a Heritage Lottery Fund facelift). Into the lion enclosure is set the front half of a jeep, so children can pretend to be on safari and get up close to the lions. This was particularly appealing to H and his friend (who we’d taken along), in fact we had trouble tearing them away.
Next on our must see list were the penguins. They’ve got a prime position just beneath the ruins of Dudley Castle. Their lovely new enclosure has presumably been made really luxurious to discourage escape plans. They’ve a large pool, lots of little houses and special tunnels under the footpath lead to a gravel garden. You can really get up close to the penguins. There are a number of viewing platforms, plus you get good views from the path that curves right through the middle of their area.
Another highlight for us was the Monkey Tails exhibit which allows you to experience the heat, sounds, smells and sights of a rainforest. You walk through a large indoor area filled with tropical plants and trees, small monkeys swing freely from branch to branch and exotic, colourful birds stalk around. It really is a magical experience and a great place to spend some time on a cold day.
It was the gorgeous snow leopards that reminded me of Alex the lion most though. When we arrived at their pad, they were sitting aloft and imperious on their perches. But when they heard the zoo van drive past they jumped into action, because they thought their steaks were arriving.
Another great indoor attraction is the Reptile House. This is kept toasty warm for the residents (much appreciated on a January day by the non residents too) . There’s a good selection of lizards and snakes. For once we found it quite easy to spot them. How often have you been to a Reptile House and spend 5 minutes looking at a seemly empty glass box before giving it up as a bad job? We didn’t experience that frustration here. In fact, ss you can see some of the lizards were keen to say hello.
No trip to Madagascar would be complete without a visit to King Julien’s domain: Lemur Wood. The cheeky, inquisitive and friendly lemurs love to ‘move it, move it': they leap through the tree canopy; scuttle through the bushes; run along the railings; swing from the ropes; and pose for the cameras (naturally). A noisy bunch they are too and you can hear their chattering (and sometimes arguing) long before you actually set foot inside Lemur Wood. Dudley Zoo have a number of lemur species living together here, just like in the films, including ring tailed lemurs like the king himself.
No king should be without his castle and rest assured King Julien has his very own castle. That’s one of the real beauties of Dudley Zoo: there’s a zoo and there’s a castle too. Perfect for budding knights and would be princesses to act out their adventures. You can climb the tower in the keep and walk along the ramparts. Then explore the kitchen and find out about life in the castle back in its heyday. The castle makes a wonderful backdrop to the zoo – where else can you see meerkats and sea lions against the silhouette of a Norman castle? The castle isn’t an attraction that’s worth the entry fee in its own right, but it’s well worth a visit as a part of your day.