Wildlife Centres in Scotland
Discover the many wildlife centres currently welcoming visitors in Scotland.
There are many, many important reasons for zoos and wildlife centres. That said, for decades they have sparked debates as to their moral and ethical standing (who doesn’t remember arguing both for and against zoos in english class?) and have faced severe resistance to keeping animals in captivity, rightfully so in the cases of bad zoos desperately in need of improvement or closure. But the importance of zoos, wildlife centres and safari parks are now more crucial than ever.
The necessity of zoos for conservation and the prevention of the extinction of endangered species is unarguable, with zoos providing a critical pool for endangered species. Many animals that are critically endangered in the wild are going strong in zoos, whilst others already extinct in the wild only survive because of populations kept going in captivity. But with our natural world facing new territory in ongoing and future issues with climate change, which animals will be at risk cannot be fully predicted. As such, the role of the zoo may become even more vital in our fight to preserve our wildlife.
The extreme weather events, the warming atmosphere and the change in sea levels can have dramatic and unexpected effects on wildlife, with the number of species harmed by climate change only likely to increase as more species are affected by changes in their habitats from environmental pressures. At least in a zoo, the endangered species are already protected from any such events and trends, but the worry that even species that are common can come under severe threat very quickly means that we will rely even more so on breeding programs and conservation efforts to keep any real measure of biodiversity on the planet. Even those critical of zoos surely agree that it is better to have species preserved somewhere than be lost for all time?
Zoos are essential for research and education, and can spark a life-long interest in ecology and biology. Education about the natural world, its uncertain future and our global responsibility to take action to address it is the best defence we have. Armoured with information and education, the decisions today must serve the survival of tomorrow. So, why not learn more and visit some wildlife centres today, starting with these excellent parks for family days out.
Deep Sea World (Edinburgh)
Deep Sea World, set in a fantastic location in North Queensferry, in the shadow of the mighty Forth Rail Bridge, is an exciting and informative trip for all ages. A fantastic variety of tanks takes you from the depths of the ocean, to the rugged shorelines of Scotland, and the humid jungles of the Amazon. Education and inspiration for all ages is the name of the game here, and the exhibitions show the amazing habitats and lives of creatures in oceans around the world. The talks, feeds and diver sessions allow fantastic interaction and you can ask the knowledgeable team any questions you may have. So whether it’s a hands on encounter with either the bearded dragon or the snakes; watching the seals roll, swim and jump to get some exercise; learning about the rain forest animals such as piranhas and the alligator snapping turtle in the swamp; or witnessing the shark feeding, there is definitely something for everyone!
The piece de resistance is the underwater tunnel, the longest in Europe – walk through a magical land as hundreds of fish swarm all around you, and look out for the sharks, prolific as it has one of the largest collections in Europe. Learn about how the marine life is kept in conditions as close to their natural habitat as possible using mineral rich seawater from the Firth of Forth, and how the aquarium tackles conservation, a major aim of the park, from breeding programmes to housing endangered species. You can opt for an Access All Areas tour for £3 which is definitely a highlight of any visit, as it really lets the visitors discover more about how the aquarium is run and gives you a really eye-opening experience of life behind-the-scenes. There is always something new to see and enjoy! And of course, pick up a memorium at the gift shop, and a cake and coffee at the cafe…just perhaps not straight after the feeding frenzies!
For a large family or group, check out Holeburn House (view here) in Dollar, a mere 35 minute drive away. A big, spacious and bright open plan house, the decks and balconies provide lovely views and a private place to enjoy the sunshine. And on the rainy days and evenings, enjoy the fantastic bar area, complete with fridges, a counter and of course a dart board! The bedrooms are spacious and luxurious, the bathrooms modern and stylish and the public space light and doubled, with two sitting rooms and two dining areas! A place for a truly sociable holiday.
Reindeer Centre (Aviemore)
Situated just 5 minutes from the banks of Loch Morlich in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, and a mere 20 minute drive from Aviemore, The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre is a must do trip. Re-introduced in 1952 with 2 bulls and 5 cows, and with an injection of 18 others in the following years, the herd today stands at a mighty 150, with approximately 50 of them ranging the Cairngorm Mountains and the remainder on the Glenlivet Estate, the locations being some 30 miles apart. The split makes management of breeding and prevention of disease transmission much simpler. The centre is open from the February half-term holidays right through the year to early January. A visit to the centre offers up a shop and close-by paddocks, and from March onwards daily guided Hill Trips to see the reindeer on the slopes of the mountain itself (May to September sees and extra scheduled trip at 2.30pm). During the Winter, the trip may be dependent on whether the herd can be found, remember they are free-ranging! The walk departs at 11.00am and one of the experienced and friendly reindeer herders guides visitors on a solid 20 minute walk in the summer, and a 30 minute walk in the winter (it can be up to 45 minutes if the reindeer are further afield) potentially over rough, snowy and icy terrain so being well equipped with appropriate clothing and footwear is a good idea! The pace is relaxed, so it suitable for all ages and abilities, and the views as you ascend are spectacular. When you arrive you will be right in amongst the reindeer herd and able to walk amongst them freely, with opportunity to hand feed them, stroke and take as many photos as you can manage.
The whole trip usually lasts around 1 1/2 hours, depending on the reindeer and the weather! Luckily, for those unable to make the Hill Trip, the paddocks and exhibition in Glenmore offer an alternative, easier way to see the reindeer. From Easter to New Year a small group of reindeer are cared for down at the Reindeer Centre in Glenmore, alternated regularly with the reindeer on the hill and chosen carefully so the reindeer in the paddock are those who may benefit from a slightly easier life off the hill. They are wheelchair and pushchair accessible, and as well as being able to see the reindeer, there is lots of information about every aspect of reindeer in the centre. There is also a quiz for the kids, a play ares in the elves’ house and they can even visit Santa’s bothy. The Reindeer Centre (view here) is welcoming, informative and super friendly, and getting to be so near to these gentle and beautiful animals is unmissable.
Sleeping 7 and located nearby in Kingussie why not book for a week at the charming Brier Grove (view here)? This traditional Scottish stone villa is set in acre of private garden, and has all the charm of the Victorian era whilst enjoying modern interiors allowing for a stylish and comfortable stay. Set in the heart of the Cairngorm National park on the edge of the highland village of Kingussie and surrounded by rolling hills and mountains, Brier Grove is ideally situated to enjoy both the local amenities of the town and the rural delights of the Highlands of Scotland.
Blair Drummond Safari Park (Stirling)
Located on a perfectly flat 120-acre estate just outside Stirling, Blair Drummond is an wonderfully exciting family visitor attraction in Central Scotland and the perfect place for a family day out – ages will enjoy all that is on offer. From accessible enclosures to drive around reserves, to built up adventure play areas there is ample entertainment for the whole day. The four wildlife reserves are full of exotic animals adding a true safari experience: keep a lookout for rhinos, zebras, lions, camels and antelope to name a few. Be sure not to miss the famous Barbary macaque drive-through where the cheeky monkeys may clamber all over your bonnet. It is optional though, just in case you don’t want to risk damage to your wheels! The adventurous activities are endless: once you legs get tired why not take a boat trip around Chimp Island offering fantastic views of the chimpanzee troop scaling great heights on their climbing frame, or foraging for a tasty snack. Your boats skipper will be keen to answer any questions, so get them ready. There are also numerous keeper presentations, with free informative talks at animal enclosures offered to visitors daily. These talks introduce you to the animals, and discusses how the species has adapted to survive in its environment and highlights the conservation concerns, as well as welcoming any questions.
The sea lion’s presentation is a must see, and allow the keepers to show off how the animals are trained for exercise and vet checks by making everything into an enjoyable game, with lots a fish as the reward. Make time for the youngsters to enjoy the wooden pirate ship found in our sand pit; the wooden fort; the five seater boat and the flying fox. The restaurant, cafe and snack bars will keep all family well fed and watered, and all the food is locally sourced and the menu has been revamped for 2019. The education resources are fantastic, from learning how we can reduce our environmental impact to touch-tables (a collection of rare artifacts that offer an exciting multi-sensory experience), and there are a variety of workshops, talks and guided walks. There are an impressive range of conservation projects and lots of information about them and how you can get involved. In short, this is a fantastic day, that will leave you talking long after it is over – the huge variety of fascniating and exotice animals, from a round of up the African greats, lions, giraffe and rhinoceros, to the two humped Bactrian camel, and the majestic fallow deer will leave you in awe.
Located close by in Dunblane in perfect seclusion and a enviable rural position you can find Cauldhame House (view here), a spacious, light and modern house that sleeps 13 people. From the user friendly and modern kitchen, complete with aga and double electric oven, to the elegant dining room and busy games room with full sized snooker table, there is something for everyone to enjoy. The large drawing room on the first floor looks out over the gardens and to the hills beyond. If you want to really make an occasion of it, then you can also book Stable Cottage and Barn Cottage too! However both are available separately as well. Stable Cottage (view here), a traditional cottage with up to date new kitchen and bathroom has recently undergone refurbishment, and sleeps 4 in two spacious bedrooms. Barn Cottage (view here), a conversion to contemporary and stylish accommodation sleeps 4 in two double bedrooms, with wonderful oak flooring throughout. Cosy and quirky, a stay here is memorable indeed!
Five Sisters Zoo (West Lothian)
The Five Sisters Zoo was officially established in 2005 with just a small collection of rabbits, guinea pigs, goats, and pigs. Since then the zoo has grown into an exciting collection of over 165 different species of mammals, birds and reptiles from all around the world. We are now BIAZA and Balai accredited, for which we have to maintain very high standards of animal care and welfare. Five Sisters Zoo is the most-visited wildlife attraction in West Lothian! The five sisters zoo is an exciting collection of over 130 species of mammals, birds and reptiles from all around the world, located in west calder. The layout of the zoo is such that it is really compact with viewing areas accessible for everybody form little tots to people in wheelchairs, and many new walk through areas and it’s just a great opportunity to get up close to the animals.
There is a daily programme of free keeper talks throughout the day so there is an opportunity to learn more about the amazing animals such as the otters, the meerkats, the porcupines, the bears, the arctic wolves, the lynx. You can also feed the brown and ring tailed lemurs throughout the day at various times which is really special experience, both adults and children enjoy the keeper experiences that are offered at the zoo: it is a chance to shadow a keeper and really engage with the animals. There are three daily pubic handling sessions at the zoo and they happen in the education centre, and lasts about 30 minutes and it’s fantastic opportunity to learn more about some of the smaller reptiles and mammals and a chance to touch them. The facilities are set up to cater for an entire day out, with a large picnic area and a large outdoor play area too at the centre of the zoo. The Leaping Lemurs Restaurant offers is the perfect place for a bite to eat too. Five Sisters is a family run friendly zoo that lets you get up close to the wide variety of animals that they look after and care for. Five Sisters Zoo is a great day out for everyone all year round!
Within an hours drive, located in a charming location in a small hamlet in the hills in the Upper Tweed Valley between Peebles and Biggar, you will find The School (view here), a delightfully converted holiday home at the same time both traditional and quirky. From here you can walk for miles along the “Thieves Road” and enjoy the beautiful Borders views all day. Sleeping 4 in two bedrooms this is perfect for a family get away. The large open plan kitchen/dining/sitting room forms the bottom floor, complete with wood burning stove for cosy evenings.
World of Wings Birds of Prey Centre (Glasgow)
Situated in the village of Luggiebank just on the outskirts of Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire, World of Wings is ideally located for visitors from Glasgow, Stirling, Falkirk and Edinburgh, and all in between! And for a day out like no other then look no further, for World of Wings has Scotland’s most fantastic and extensive collection of birds of prey. Hawks, eagles, owls and falcons are but a few of the majestic birds that you can see. In the summer months the entry ticket includes two daily flying displays,with the first one at 12.00 noon and the second one at 3.00pm. They last approximately 1 hour, depending on birds and weather, and feature two different teams of birds. And not even the weather can halt this – if the rain and wind settles in the display moves to the Education Centre.
Witnessing the fantastic team of birds show you their skill in the air, whether that’s an owl swooping low over your head; watching a falcon stoop to the lure or watching a vulture gracefully soar above your head is an unmissable experience. And all accompanied by a fascinating commentary from the knowledgeable falconers. The centre has a variety of experiences that can be purchased to tailor the experience to exactly what you want, from photography days to private tuition, where you can learn the skills you need to keep and fly your own bird of prey. The handling and flying sessions are some of the most popular events, and everyone from the littlest to grandparents fully enjoying getting up close and personal with the magnificent birds of prey, and allow you to experience the thrill of having one of the majestic birds flying straight on to your glove. The friendly and informative staff will make your day a success, and the introduction display is very well presented. The cafe is a pleasant place to eat and relax, with a range of hot and cold food, filled rolls, home made soup, sandwiches, full Scottish breakfasts, baked potatoes and plenty more. And make sure you try a deluxe hot chocolate!
So there you have it, a wonderful array of wildlife centres in Scotland which are bound to fill you with joy when fitting them into your holiday schedule. For those of you who live in Scotland already, we hope this was useful and you get to some of these attractions on the occasional weekend, we know we will be working our way around them.