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Monday, 17 March 2008 00:00

A Day At Whipsnade

Following on from my recent trip to Marwell Zoo I recently visited Whipsnade Zoo which is part of the Zoological Society of London. Whipsnade, in Bedfordshire, is home to a wide range of animals from big cats like Lions & Cheetahs to Elephants, Rhino's, Brown Bears, Lemur's, Penguins and a whole host of other mammals, insects and reptiles. Being that the zoo is spread out over a large area the animal enclosures range from large to very large yet whilst keeping the needs of the animals first it also means that the visitor and the photographer can get excellent and unblocked views of these animals. Here is how I got on.

The first thing to mention about the zoo is the cost. At the time of writing admission into the zoo for an adult is £17.00 which includes a discrentionary £1.60 donation and for a child is £13.50 including the donation (under 3's go free). Whilst this isn't cheap and would certainly make an expensive day out for a typical family, for a day out for one or two adults or for a 'photography day' it does offer good value for money. The sting in the tail with the entrance fee though is if you bring a car. If you wish you can drive around the zoo stopping off wherever you wish to see and photograph the animals, however, this will cost you £14 ontop of your entrance fee which is somewhat expensive. If you don't need or want to drive around the zoo you can leave your car in their car park for a much more reasonable £3.50. It is a long walk around the zoo but this is certainly my prefered way as you don't miss anything and get to take your time.

The second thing to say about the zoo is the food. Take a packed lunch. Food at the zoo is generally pretty awful in all honesty and although not hugely expensive it's too much for what you get. Perhaps more of interest to those with small children, there are only a few places where you can buy food anyway which invariably means that you'll have a long walk to the nearest cafe with a tired and no doubt grumpy child.

 

So on to the animals.

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As soon as you enter the zoo the first thing you see is the Lemur enclosure where you get to walk amoungst all the Ring-Tailed Lemur's as they jump around you. Needless to say there are countless photo opportunities and you could easily spend an hour here on it's own just taking photos. There is often a keeper there to give talks, answer any questions and to generally make sure than nobody over steps the mark and try's to touch one of the Lemur's.

The Lemur's themselves seem to be perfectly used to having human's walking around their home and will happily sit on fences, posts either in groups or on their own and effectively pose for the camera's. In terms of what lens to use, I was using my 70-200 but you could equally quite happily use a 24-70 for many shots as you can get very close to them before they will finally move away.

whipsnade2.jpgAs you leave the Lemur enclosure you have multiple paths you can take depending on whether you wish to go clockwise or anti clockwise around the zoo. We opted to go clockwise which then lead us past the Chimpanzee enclosure, where due to the cold most of the Chimps where huddled indoors hence no photos, and on to the Brown Bear enclosure. The bear enclosure was the most dissapointing of the enclosures at the zoo. These animals are incredibly powerful and so obviously they did requre very strong fences to ensure that the public would be kept safe. From a photography point of view this presents a big problem. The fences to the Bear enclosures aren't mesh but strong metal bars that are about an inch thick, such bars are practically impossible to remove even by using long focal lengths with large apertures. For example at 200mm f/2.8 I still wasn't able to knock the bars completely out of focus and just ended up with shots with lots of dark vertical smudges through them. Obviously animal and public safety must come first but it's such a shame to not be able to get clean shots of these magnificent animals.

whipsnade3.jpgFollowing on from the Brown Bears we headed up to the Penguins. The Penguin enclosure is basically on top of a hill and so you do have fantastic views across the surrounding countryside. It also means that on a cold day, like the day we went, the winds race up the side of the hill and hit you full on in the face and drop the temperature even further by several degrees. I can only assume that the Penguins felt at home. When we arrived we noticed a sign that the Penguins where going to be fed in an hours time and from a photographic point of view I would have liked to have seen that as Penguins aren't exactly the most active of animals ,unless there is food involved, but neither of us could face waiting an hour in the cold or even returning to it once we had warmed up.

whipsnade4.jpgBefore we left the Penguins though I did snap this shot as it just looked like the Penguin was singing. I'm sure this photo is aching for a caption! It kinda reminded me of the Gary Larson cartoon of the Penguin jumping up in the air amoungst hundreds of other Penguins and shouting "I just wanna be me!"

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Moving on to the Rhino enclosure which was home to 4 or 5 Rhino's which is more than I've seen in any one enclosure before. What's more they were very active with a number ofwhat it appeared to be scuffles for dominence going on between them. Their enclosure is basically a muddy field but it is a very large area for them to move about in and one of the largest enclosures at Whipsnade

whipsnade6.jpgThe Rhino on the left of frame here seemed to be the most dominent animal and certainly had the longest horn and wasn't afraid to use it on the other Rhino's to let them know who was in charge. Although these were just very minor scuffles and mostly just pushing and shoving it was actually nice to see Rhino's interacting and doing something whereas so many times Rhino's at other zoo's are kept on their own or in a concrete enclosure and just look understandably bored.

whipsnade7.jpgWhipsnade like many other zoo's have taken the approach of putting a big glass wall in their Lions enclosure to let visitors get unblocked views of these amazing animals. This is a great thing from the visitors point of view but can be problematic for the photographer. The first problem for the photographer are all those sticky finger marks and smudges from other visitors, the second is dirt on the lions side of the glass and the third is reflections. To a certain extent you can combat all of this by putting your lens right up to the glass and using a fairly large aperture or by placing a coat over the end of the lens to create a 'dark cave' that is then devoid of any reflections. Fortunately for me the glass was reasonably clean when I visited and so didn't present too big a problem.

whipsnade8.jpgThe Lion enclosure itself was home to one male Lion and 3 or 4 Lionesses. As is often the case with Lions, they spent most of their time sleeping and generally just laying about but we were able to see some interaction between the male and what looked to be the alpha female when she came over to where he was sleeping. Unfortunately this all happened to close for my 70-200 to capture and all I got was a blurred close-up but it was nice to see anyway.

The final shot of the day was simply of the little steam train that you can pay to take you around the zoo.

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