Who knew that the largest protected collection of monkey and ape species in the world has its home just off the M42 in Warwickshire? Since its modest opening in 1963, Twycross Zoo has grown to become not only one of Britain’s major zoos, but to win international status as the World Primate Centre.
As well as monkeys, the zoo is home to all sorts of other species – elephants and hyenas, for starters – but it’s the size and diversity of the primate collection, and the dedication to research and conservation, that sets Twycross apart. It’s reassuring to see so much space and stimulation provided in the animals’ enclosures; spider monkeys and gibbons, for example, have plenty of room to swing effortlessly through the branches in their areas. Vantage points for visitors are great and well considered too – although when you’re sitting three inches away from an enormous silverback gorilla, mimicking your every movement, you may feel like you’re the one being observed. One of the largest additions to the zoo is Uda Walawe, a Sri Lankan-themed enclosure, that is home to four Asian elephants, while 2014 has seen the arrival of Amur Leopard cubs, baby elephants, zebras, and a new children’s adventure playground.
The zoo and its staff have a commendable grasp of the needs of visitors with disabilities and facilities are impressive. The plentiful disabled parking spaces in front of the Himalaya visitor centre (the zoo’s main entrance) are well signposted. Twycross is wonderfully flat with very few slopes, and certainly no steep ones. All path surfaces are hard gravel or tarmac. Powered scooters can be rented for £12, with manual wheelchairs available for free. All the cafés, shops and toilets are easily accessible, as are all the animal houses, except for inside the lemurs’ abode. The lower trail past the elephant enclosure is fully accessible. The Tropical House is only accessible if accompanied by a ranger guide – it is well worth booking a tour at the information desk, for the chance to see the birds, bats and free-roaming animals in the house. Unfortunately assistance dogs can’t go near enclosures for apes, elephants or some of the large carnivores. Some large-print guides are available and induction loops can be picked up at reception. BSL interpretation can be arranged in advance, although it is not available at weekends.
Food & drink: You don’t have to be visiting the zoo to enter the Himalaya centre, which, with its huge glass windows overlooking the snow leopard enclosure, is a great spot for a family lunch. The restaurant has several styles of moveable seating, while the hot and cold menu includes healthy and child-friendly options.