Keeping your cool on a sunny bank holiday at Howlett’s Wild Animal Park, with their new Animals of the Ice Age exhibition.
The sun was blazing in London on the first May bank holiday. Instead of wandering to the nearest park and letting the children run free whilst we soaked up the sun, we drove our three daughters (aged 8, 6 and 2) to Howlett’s Wild Animal Park near Canterbury. With happy memories of a recent weekend at Port Lympne (also part of the Aspinall Foundation) we piled into the car with a sense of great expectation at 8am that morning, and we are all pleased we did. To add to the excitement, Howletts Wild Animal Park have just launched a fantastic new exhibition of prehistoric animals. Life-size models of the animals that roamed the earth over 2.6 million years ago are dotted amongst todays 400 or so resident animals.
As soon as we arrived it was clear that Howlett’s Will Animal Park is unique. The setting is beautiful, built in the grounds of the Aspinall Mansion, with magnificent views over the Kent Downs. The animal enclosures nestle amongst blossoming trees and beautiful lawns. You could be mistaken for thinking you were in the grounds of a stately home, if it weren’t for the resident tigers, monkeys, rhino, gorillas and elephants, to name just a few. The park was calm, and peaceful, with only the occasional roar of a lion being heard above the birdsong. Although ice cream and coffee were readily available in a number of cafes across the park, and there was, pdf course a gift shop to hurry through on the way out, it did not feel at commercial and offered a very welcome escape from the busyness of many London attractions.
We spent a while marvelling at a pair of the giant anteaters, and stood and stared in awe at the magnificent African Elephants, the largest herd in the UK, before heading to the of the Animals of the Ice Age exhibition. Clutching our map, we went to meet the guide for the daily guided walk though the exhibition. We were the only family on the tour at that time, so we had our guides’ full attention. Our tour was conducted with such enthusiasm that I found it throughly enjoyable and interesting. Our friendly guide successfully engaged all three children and was happy to go at the pace of our two year old. References were made to children’s movies, and common misconceptions about life in the ice age were dispelled. The exhibition includes wonderful information boards with each model, and a well designed children’s activity book, but I would highly recommend the tour, particularly if you are outnumbered by your children, like I was.
The Ice Age Animal models are very impressive, and really convey a sense of scale of the mammals of this era. The children gasped as they spotted a wooly mammoth, and sloth the size of a modern day elephant. It was easy to recognise similarities with the modern day animals, and see how they many have evolved over time. The exhibition takes you on a stroll through the beautiful woodland glade, conveniently finishing close to the main restaurant where we had a pleasant lunch on one of the many picnic benches under the trees and the children headed to the playground to stretch their legs.
After lunch we headed off to catch the Gorilla and Elephant talks. These brief talks were packed full of interesting facts about the animals, and gave you an impression of what it is like to care for them. The talks are also a good opportunity to see the animals closer up as they are drawn towards the visitors. We also found that later in the day many of the animals were fed, which is worth staying around for if your day allows.
Howlett’s Wild Animal Park has a very strong emphasis on animal rescue, rehabilitation, breeding, and, if possible, release back into the wild. The Aspinall Foundation have outreach posts all over the world, which help provide support local where it is needed. Many of the animals at the Park have been rescued from Java in Indonesia. However, many more that are rescued stay in Java, protected by the Aspinall Foundation’s expertise and and security in two Rescue centre they have established there.
The enclosures at Howlett’s are as large to allow the animals space to roam; the elephant herd has 9 acres, complete with swimming pond and mud bath. Many enclosures are partially obscured with trees and landscaping to allow the animals the privacy and peace and quiet they need. For example, the Cloud Leopard is known to be shy so his enclosure is set back from the path. This makes the Park feel very distinct from a zoo. I overheard a parent explaining to her son as they entered the park that the enclosures are built for the animals and not for the visitors. Some of the animals may take time to spot, for example the wonderful Siberian tiger Annica. I waited with my daughters for quite a while before we saw this huge tiger, but later in the day, she was racing around the enclosure for all to see. This may require a little patience from younger visitors, but it does add to the excitement. Other animals, such as the mighty silver back gorillas are inquisitive, and will approach visitors from within their amazing playground enclosure complete with rope swings and slides.
We enjoyed a wonderful day at Howletts. If you are able to get their over half-term, or before, I would highly recommend going to see the amazing Animals of the Ice Age exhibition, which is included in the price of your entry to the Park. There is a special offer in ticket running until the end of May – when kids can go for £1. https://www.aspinallfoundation.org/buy-tickets/
Lucy and her family received complimentary tickets to Howletts Wild Animal Park, but their opinions are their own.