23 Jan 2013
A snowy day at the zoo
The coati sat rather defiantly in the tree, his fur fluffed up and his stripy tail swishing gently beneath him. While his three friends curled together under their heat lamp, presumably dreaming of their usual home in the deserts of Arizona or humid Amazon, he was evidently channelling his hardier kin which live on the slopes of the Andes.
Either way, even if there was several inches of snow on the ground, he had a great view from the branches and wasn’t budging.
It wasn’t the most obvious day to visit Battersea Park Children’s Zoo, admittedly. The whole of the UK was enveloped in snow, to the delight of everyone building snowpeople, having snowball battles and sledging in the park.
But a combination of Christmas busyness, various germ-ridden bouts of illness and a few other commitments meant this was our last possible day to use our tickets and a dusting of white wasn’t about to stop me. Not even a relatively thick dusting.
And while it might have been perfect weather for penguins and polar bears, it was also one of my most unexpectedly memorable family days out. Minnie was snuggled up in her snowsuit and fleece-lined buggy cocoon, and we had the zoo almost entirely to ourselves.
Shamefully, although I’ve lived in London for over a decade, I’ve never found myself in Battersea park before, although had I realised there was a children’s zoo (and more importantly ring-tailed lemurs) I’d have been there years ago.
I do love lemurs, especially since my trip to Madagascar. Unsurprisingly, although it can get pretty chilly in the hill forests on the island, the monochrome trio were huddled in a furry muddle under their own heat lamp, tails wrapped around each others’ necks and heads like bonus fuzzy scarves, occasionally stretching up onto their back paws to get a bit closer to the warmth.
But a few other hardy creatures were happy to head outside. A squirrel monkey poked his head out into his enclosure several times, looking at us curiously as he debated whether to risk the chill.
The two Asian short-clawed otters had no such qualms, scuttling towards us making high-pitched squeaks for food every time we passed near.
The friendly member of staff I bumped into while looking for the coatis, unfazed by my dodgy map-reading skills which had brought me to the conclusion that their canteen could be the animal’s enclosure, had already given us a heads up about the ravenous – and remarkably cute – pair, who would happily try it on despite having had their quota of food.
In fact, even without many keepers wandering around (evidently following the lemurs’ example), there are boards of information about all the animals you see, packing in quirky trivia and useful information but still written in an easy-to-understand fashion for the youngest visitors. There’s also nice touches like chalk animals drawn on the walls for children to colour in.
And among the more exotic inhabitants, from meerkats and capuchin monkeys to chinchillas and chipmunks, there’s also plenty of more everyday animals – rabbits, guinea pigs, donkeys, goats, kune kune pigs, along with a couple of inquisitive emu. Nothing’s too scary for small animal-lovers, so even if you’re hankering after lions and tigers, at least there shouldn’t be terrified toddlers who’ve been roared at either.
Just as exciting than the animals, I suspect, is the adventure playground and mock fire engine where kids a bit older than Minnie will probably happily spend hours. One determined toddler, the only other visitor apart from his father, was attempting to do just that.
But despite the snow, we spent almost an hour wandering around and had it been less cold, I’d have whiled away much longer taking Minnie out of her buggy for a close-up look.
So, although the entrance fee means it’s not the cheapest day out – £6.95 for an adult, and £5.50 for children aged two to 15, or £22 for a family ticket until March 1, 2013 – you won’t come away feeling short-changed, especially if you keep an eye out for money-off vouchers to get your kids in for free as well.
Whatever the weather, this friendly little zoo is somewhere I’m sure I’ll return to.
Disclaimer: Our tickets were provided courtesy of MoneySupermarket and Battersea Children’s Zoo.