Once we’d filled up on a hearty Premier Inn breakfast, we checked out and made our way to Edinburgh Zoo. Over a thousand animals call this 82-acre hilltop zoological park home – though there were two in particular that I was hoping to see: Tian Tian (Sweetie) and Yang Guang (Sunshine), the UK’s only giant pandas.
Upon arrival, we parked the car (side note: the zoo sign is pretty easy to miss; keep your eyes peeled for the Holiday Inn, as they share the same car park) and headed straight for the entrance. Once through the gates, we planned our route round the zoo to accommodate our Giant Panda viewing slot at 12.15. The meerkats were busy sunning themselves and disregarding the plastic tubing in favour of digging their own tunnels; across the path, the Chilean flamingos and scarlet ibis were clustered together in a flock of vivid pink feathers.
A little further on, we passed the Chinese goral (a creature akin to a mountain goat) before entering the monkey exhibit, filled with inquisitive white-faced saki monkeys. From here we wandered along to the Lemur Walk-Through – we were too early to walk through the exhibit alongside these furry beauties, but the ideally-located aerial viewpoint afforded fantastic views of the ring-tailed and crowned lemurs alike. Much like King Julien in the Madagascar films, these lemurs were only too pleased to show off their tree-climbing, tight-rope walking and all-round agility to an eager audience.
We then spotted Mansion House, a beautiful red-brick manor, complete with turrets, fortified towers and climbing ivy. It was closed for a function, so we didn’t get the opportunity to explore the grounds.
Next, we detoured back to the Chimpanzee Budongo Trail, where the chimps were breakfasting and lounging in their newspaper-lined hammocks. More so than at any other zoo I’ve visited, these chimpanzees behaved so much like us – from the way they sat, to the way they loped along holding onto other ropes or logs for support.
After our chimpanzee encounter, we spent a while admiring the gibbons, pygmy hippos (who despite their name still weigh in at a hefty 180-275kg!), cassowary and sun bears before wandering through the ‘Brilliant Birds’ walkthrough aviary.
The adjacent Small Monkeys Magic Forest was filled with adorable miniature monkeys – but the ‘Squirrel and Capuchin Monkeys Living Links’ stole the show. It was an indoor/ outdoor monkey paradise! Some of the squirrel monkeys had tiny babies clinging on for a ride, and these monkeys even have their own live webcam – so the viewing experience can continue even when you’re back in the comfort of your own home. After our comprehensive monkey-fix, we went to Koala Territory. A lovely volunteer told us all about the trio at Edinburgh Zoo – and we were fortunate to see two of them munching their eucalyptus, as apparently they’re only awake for around three hours a day!
Wallaby Outback was up next – another walk-through exhibit, with lots of females (and one very excitable male) lounging around in the sun. The keeper supervising the exhibit told us that many of the females had joeys (and, in fact, could have up to three on the go at any one time!) . . . and that there were wild rabbits who’d built their warren in the lion’s den!
After a quick look at the Sumatran tigers, we made our way over to the Zebra and Antelope African Plains. Those Grevy’s zebra had the best view; as the zoo is located on a hill, you could see right across the city! We then looped along the zoo’s highest footpath, taking in the paddocks, giant anteater, and vicuna (similar to an alpaca in appearance). Whilst the kunekune pigs were nowhere to be seen, I got my piggy fix in the form of the Visayan warty pigs – whose exhibit was adjacent to the majestic Visayan spotted deer.
A detour via the lions took us past a contender for ‘Noisiest Zoo Visitors’ (of the disrespectful, banging on glass and shouting at animals variety) before we made our way to the giant pandas. Unfortunately, the pandas weren’t feeling cooperative on the day we visited and had decided to feast on their bamboo indoors instead of outside. Having seen giant pandas at several zoos before (Madrid, Toronto and Washington D.C.), I wasn’t too disappointed that we didn’t get a good view, though of course it would have been nice!
After a bite to eat at Grasslands Restaurant, we went to Penguin Rock. The penguins were busy basking in the sun, swimming, sheltering under their miniature parasols and showering in their waterfall. If the zebras had the best view, the penguins had the best exhibit.
We failed to spot the Scottish wildcat, so decided to make our way down past the macaques and painted dogs (again, nowhere to be seen) before going through the pelican ‘walk-through’. All in all, Edinburgh Zoo was an enjoyable day out – just don’t bank on getting a prime view of the pandas!