- Five Sisters Zoo, West Lothian
I paid a visit to recently to the Five Sisters Zoo, in West Calder, south of Edinburgh in West Lothian and had a great time - even though the zoo is perhaps aimed more at customers considerably younger than I am!
Zoos are increasingly difficult to finance and run these days so the owners of Five Siters Zoo are to be congratulated for celebrating five years since opening. The zoo started as a private collection of animals to entertain children while their parents shopped in the former garden centre on the site. Now the site is dedicated to a wide variety of mammals, birds and reptiles from all over the world, including Fennec Foxes, Crocodiles, Porcupines, Bat Eared Foxes, Ring Tailed Lemurs, various varieties of Owls, Monkeys, Pigs, Goats, Ducks, Parrots and other birds as well as Meerkats, Prairie Dogs, Racoons, Wallabies, Otters and Guanacos. It sounds a lot - and it is - but many of the species on show are small and don't need a lot of space. Though I always feel it would be nicer if the birds could have a larger area in which to stretch their wings.
I came to the zoo already armed with a print-out of an excellent layout plan, courtesy of the Zoo's Web Site, but I didn't need a map to immediately recognise one of the zoo's star attractions - meerkats - in a large open area just past the ticket office and shop. Meerkats have become well known through documentary TV programmes such as "Meerkat Manor" and their rapid movements and constant look-out for danger by a "sentry" standing on a hind legs on a high rock have made them popular characters. They had plenty of room to scamper around and despite there never being any predators, there was always one of them on a high point keeping a watchful eye.
Of course, not all the animals at the zoo are cute, furry creatures like meerkats. The Five Sisters Zoo is proud of its two Dwarf Crocodiles (Osteolaemus tetraspis). The zoo is hoping to breed these rare reptiles in a state of the art pool and the crocs have managed to build a nest and lay eggs, but these have been infertile, so far. It appears that due to the crocodile's metabolic system, they are only fed twice a week (on Saturday and Sunday). Which not only suits the crocodiles but means that they are fed when the zoo has the most visitors! On the day I was there, they sulked under a bridge and refused to come out and have their pictures taken...
The colourful macaws, on the other hand, were too busy preening one another to bother whether or not they were going to get their pictures published on the World Wide Web and so I got some good portraits. Likewise, the snowy owls and some of the other birds just stared at me with that disdainful, fixed gaze they adopt when they know that they don't have to worry about where the next meal is coming from...
I always enjoy watching lively otters and those at the Five Sisters Zoo were certainly fast moving, so much so that it was difficult to get them in focus on the camera. But the arrival of feeding time soon got them riveted to the spot until they had their food. Hopefully the kids watching didn't get too upset by the delicacy they were being fed - dead, newly hatched chickens! Ah well, David Attenborough's TV nature documentaries have softened us all up to nature red in tooth and claw.
Needless to say, some of the cages appeared empty as the residents were tucked up in their shelters having an afternoon nap. But some, such as the Fennec Foxes kindly went to sleep in full view and made taking pictures easy for all the photographers. The unusual Bat Eared Foxes were not so co-operative, skulking at the back of their cage, but I still managed to get some decent pictures of these. While this page has some illustrations there are lot more in the Windows Media video Slide Show (also accessible via the Video Index. (If it doesn't play in your browser, just right click on the link and download it to your PC). The slide show has the names of each creature marked on the pictures - thanks to the helpful and informative notices on most of the cages.
What I Missed
While writing this page, I realised that despite that excellent map, I somehow managed to miss the reindeer and the pigs and a few other animals - that's what comes of hurrying on to the next attraction.
The Five Sisters Zoo is planning to create soon a Red Squirrel conservation breeding and release programme in an old shale mining bing next to the Zoopark. Getting a photo of these shy animals has been high on my wish list for a long time (on all previous attempts, the best I've managed is a blur as they scooted away up the nearest tree). So it looks as though I'll be back to West Calder again in the not too distant future. Fortunately, it's not far off the M8 motorway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, so it's easy to get too.
There is a small cafeteria at the zoo with surprisingly plush chairs but the menu, served by very helpful staff, is somewhat limited. The shop sells the usual souvenirs associated with zoology (though I do wonder sometimes where dinosaurs fit in..?)
That Five Sisters Zoo web site also has a helpful Web Site with a location map so finding your way there is made easy - another reason for making a return visit!
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