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We were invited this half term to be among the first to experience the new Amur Tiger Trail at Knowsley Safari Park. The Tiger Trail officially opened on 25 May, allowing visitors to get up close to the park’s two resident Amur tigers – sisters Sinda and Bira. Of the nine sub-species of tiger in the world, three are already extinct and the Amur – or Siberian – tiger is the largest living species remaining. Amur (or Siberian) tigers are endangered, with only about 500 thought to be left in the wild. The park’s intention is to breed these tigers as part of its wider conservation efforts.
On arriving at the park, I asked one of the reception staff what time of day is best to see the tigers and she helpfully told us that the morning is best, as they get very sleepy in the afternoon. With that in mind, we headed straight off to the Tiger Trail. The Tiger Trail is a foot safari, next to the area where the giraffe and meerkats live (and where the elephants lived until recently – apparently they have moved to France!). The Tiger Trail is in a newly developed area, comprising the giant tiger enclosure and a woodland trail running alongside it, with interesting information on everything tiger. At the start of the Tiger Trail, you can pick up a booklet with tiger-related activities and questions, with all the information you need to complete it being found on the trail. There are passport stamping machines dotted about the trail, so children can stamp their booklets as they fill them in. My kids’ favourite bit of the walking trail (apart from seeing the tigers themselves) was the Dinner Dash. A digital timer is set next to a 10 metre running track, and you have to see if you can run as fast as a tiger. Tigers can cover 10 metres in less than one second (and 100 metres in just 6 seconds!!). The kids managed 3 seconds each but I think there was something wrong with the machine when I did it, as it seemed to suggest it had taken me 5!
The journey through the tiger habitat includes full length viewing windows at various points along the trail, meaning you get to see the tigers close up and without feeling like you’re looking at them in a cage. We didn’t spot the tigers until right at the end of the trail, so I was getting a bit nervous that we’d somehow missed them as we went round! Luckily, we arrived at a viewing area right at the end of the trail, just in time to see a ranger start feeding the tigers giant pieces of meat from a stick, through a heavy duty wire fence. The trail was really quiet at that time in the morning, so we all got a great view of Sinda as she approached the fence, 6 feet from where we were standing, and reached right to the top to take her snacks. Bira stayed stretched out on the ground under a tree and the ranger told us that she is the dominant tiger, so Sinda will take food to her. The ranger explained that they only feed them like this once in a while, as if it were more often, the tigers would get bored and wouldn’t approach the fence. He said that they need to keep it interesting, so they get the chance to see their tummies when the stretch up for the food, to make sure there are no cuts and they’re all healthy. He said this will be especially important when they’re pregnant, so they can see how well they’re progressing. We watched Sinda being fed for about 15 minutes, while the ranger told us more about the tigers and answered our questions (including Charlie’s ‘Who would win in a fight – a lion or a tiger’?).
When the big bucket of meat was finished, Sinda went back to her spot under the tree and we headed over to a nearby table covered with various animal skulls. Another ranger, Molly, spent ages with my children showing them each of the skulls, asking them to guess the animal and whether they were a herbivore, omnivore or carnivore judging by the shape and size of the teeth and how their jaws moved.
After the Tiger Trail, we headed over to the rides. For £10, you can get a wristband for unlimited rides all day. The rides are more geared towards smaller children, although my 10 and 11 year olds loved the dodgems, the swing chairs and the big pirate ship. There’s a fantastic little roller coaster for young children, a tiny pirate ship, a carousel and a few variations on the waltzers theme. Even though it was half term, we never had to queue for longer than a couple of minutes to get on anything, so the wristbands are really great value.
There are 3 or 4 sea lion shows a day at Knowsley, each lasting about 30 minutes. We loved watching the two sea lions do various tricks and the presenter was really brilliant.
Knowsley’s safari trail is the longest in the UK and it takes about an hour to do the 5-mile circuit. The park is home to hundreds of animals, including rhino, camel, buffalo, lions, moose, zebra and lots of different types of deer. Visitors can stop on the route to sit and watch the animals, and you can go round as many times as you like. We spent a while sitting and watching while two inquisitive ostriches inspected our car and peered in at our window – quite surreal! A major difference since we last visited a few years ago is the Knowsley app. This is a fantastic tool for the safari drive. It senses where you are on the route, and gives you information about the various animals you can see in each part of the park. This made it a really engaging and interactive experience for the children and we all learned some really interesting wildlife facts. A highlight for us was seeing the 20 week old baby rhino playing with the rest of the crash of rhino (collective noun learned from app!) in a mud pool.
There is a separate baboon enclosure on the drive, and you can either take your chances and drive through it (accepting that the baboons may well rip off whatever bits of your car are removable) or you can park next to it and watch other people’s cars get trashed. We opted for the latter on our last visit some time ago, but the kids were desperate to actually drive through so I booked us onto the ‘Baboon Bus’. I had mistakenly assumed that this bus would just drive to the baboons, park there for a bit and come back. Unfortunately, it turned out that it does the complete safari drive (complete with excellent commentary from the driver) and takes about an hour. We visited on a warm day, and with no air conditioning in the bus (and warm air actually pumping out under our seats), and only two small windows that hardly let any air in, it was a very uncomfortable experience. The actual baboon enclosure looked set to be a disappointment as we’d nearly driven through it before any baboons jumped on the bus, but when they did, the intense heat was forgotten for a few minutes and there was great excitement.
We had a great day at Knowsley (Baboon Bus excepted) and loved the new Tiger Trail and everything else the park has to offer.
Jane and her family were guests of Knowsley Safari Park but all views and opinions are her own.