I know it’s late, I take full responsibility (and blame my dissertation!) but at long last, THE EDINBURGH ZOO! As I mentioned a while back Fraser and I got a nice long walk in the day before my half marathon by wandering about Edinburgh’s zoo, home to the only koalas in the U.K. and the first chimpanzee successfully reared in Scotland in 15 years. We had a beautiful day for walking around and, with clear skies, were able to enjoy the animals along with the stunning views awaiting you from the top of the zoo’s hill.
*A quick disclaimer: Given the recent tragedies at zoos elsewhere in the world, and the general controversy over keeping animals in enclosures for human spectacle, I know zoos aren’t always the most polite conversation topic. Truthfully I’m not educated enough on the pros and cons of zoos beyond the occasional post I see on my Facebook feed, so this is not the place for an argument over zoo ethics. Of course, if you know more about this issue and are willing to have a civil, constructive conversation on it please please reach out to me! I’m always eager to learn more and would love to hear from someone more educated in this subject area than me.*
As soon as we checked into our hotel and grabbed a bite to eat we headed out to the zoo. It’s super easy to get to by bus or car; directions on their website can be found here. We bought our tickets when we arrived, though by that time unfortunately all the spots for viewing the giant pandas were booked…so Fraser still has yet to see a panda bear 😦 if you’re planning on making the zoo a weekend trip, or you’re able to book in advance, I strongly suggest doing so in order to make sure you don’t miss out on the pandas! That said, even if you’re unable to secure a viewing spot there are plenty of other beautiful creatures to see and learn about here.
The zoo is situated on a hill, so I’d recommend making your way up to the top and having an easy second half of the day coming back down. The trails provide a fair bit of walking both uphill and on level ground, which was perfect for a pre-race day and makes for a great amount of low-impact exercise. Trust me, you could easily get your steps for the day in just by making your way down each path here! A copy of the map we used is below, and you can find the full map through this link. As you can see, closing times do change depending on when you go, so keep a watch nearby. I’d say it took us three or four hours to go through, though it didn’t feel nearly that long. With all the activities for families and different feeding/exhibit times, you can make a full day out of it. There are sites specifically for picnics as well, so pack a lunch and enjoy your time there!
Because it’s Scotland the weather can change in an instant, so be sure to wear shoes that can withstand any passing showers…this will also help in the uphill climb. The map also has different suggested routes based on the weather, which I was really tickled by-they plan for everything here! Sadly the koala enclosure was closed when we made our way that far up the hill, but we were consoled by the stunning panoramas from the very top of the zoo, beyond the zebras. (Photo proof: right here)
Some personal highlights were exploring the chimpanzee habitat, known as Budongo Trail, hearing the otters (literally) squeal with delight at feeding time, and seeing the Tapir mother and baby. We were also graced with the rhinoceros coming within three feet of us…and letting us know exactly how he felt about humans intruding on his territory by leaving a steaming pile of dung in his wake. A beautiful, if pungent, counterargument for those who say animals have no distinct personalities.
If you or your companions are interested in seeing how animal families interact, it’s well worth waiting to get an up-close view at Budongo Trail. The newest member of the tribe, Velu, was born in June 2014 so he’s just shy of 2 years old and really coming into his own! One of the staff members told us his mother, Heleen, only started letting him play a bit away from her in the last four months-before then he simply climbed on her back and tummy-but she still keeps him within arms reach! We were lucky enough to see him enjoying the ropes hung in one of their spaces, teasing his mother with a stick and entertaining some of the other chimpanzees. It’s seeing interactions like this that, in my experience, truly show people just how similar we are with other animals. Sure we’re more “evolved” and all that, but seeing families, no matter the species, love and care for each other can teach us all a little bit more empathy. And who doesn’t love seeing a little chimp with his hair sticking every which way worry his mom as he climbs everywhere? Reminds me of my brother at that age!
Fraser was absolutely buzzing to see the penguins at Penguin Rock, and after watching the colony I completely understand why. There are a few species here, and we were lucky enough to catch them during feeding time. Penguin Rock actually has a bridge where you can walk over their miniature lake, for a near-360° experience. We watched penguins race each other, compete for tricks, and I managed to dupe one penguin into chasing my shadow for a few minutes…like a cat and laser pointer, only completely unintentional.
One hidden gem was the monkey house. We stumbled upon it as we were making our way to the exit, and ended up behind the actual house as it was closed. Turns out, the indoor enclosures lead to outdoor spaces which you can still see from behind the building. There were a few rather lively capuchin monkeys (Pirates of the Caribbean, anyone?) including one fellow who kept racing around his enclosure and coming right up to us. He even put his little hand to the window near mine and I about died from it all.
If you have an afternoon or entire day free in Edinburgh, the zoo is well worth the trip. About a 15 minute drive or bus ride from the city centre, it’s a lovely haven of nature and animals, perfect for families or a group of friends. If you’re looking for an alternative to Arthur’s Seat, or want an educational and fun venture for the kids, this will satisfy your cravings for panoramic views and make for a lively and entertaining trip.
Have you been to the Edinburgh Zoo? Any favourite animals or demonstrations? Let me know!