Hey friends, here it is, part 2 of my amazing trial experience at ZSL London Zoo. If you haven’t already, please take a look at day 1 vlog and blog. Thank you!
I have taken the sound out of the video, this is because I want everyone to have their own amazing experience if they go to the lodges.
We had to be up, packed up, ready and out of our cabins for 8am on Wednesday morning, this is so we could have breakfast and do more out of hours exploring of the zoo before it opened at 10am. If we were ready early we were allowed to wander into Land of the Lions enclosure by ourselves until everyone was ready so I made sure I was up and ready a bit early so I could do some private filming. It was amazing to see the lions first thing in a morning, they were so active. The females were playing with the enrichment things the keepers had put into their enclosure and interacting with each other so I got loads of amazing footage to share with you all. The best bit is that I could actually see into the enclosure without any worries. There was lots of glass walls and see through barriers so even children in push chairs would be able to see inside without being lifted. This was great for me, I very often can’t see things like this because I’m in my wheelchair but this zoo knew how to make sure everyone has the same opportunity to see.
At at 8am we gathered outside the lodges and headed to breakfast, this was in the main cafeteria area. There are 2 wide ramps to get up to the food choice benches and theres plenty of seating options which was good to see. I had a bit of breakfast and some orange juice and a muffin to take with me for if I get hungry later in the day. The breakfast spread was lovely and lots of options to suit everyone from full English breakfast, to cereals or yoghurt. At 9am it was time to start our morning tour, this was our chance to see how the keepers prepare for the day ahead, we went to the penguins to give them their breakfast. We each was given some fish to throw over the glass wall, I am very lucky as my electric chair goes up and down so I am able to reach over the glass but for children and people in wheelchairs it may not be the best animal to feed. The penguins were so active, there was a special penguin called Rainbow that we learnt about and he kept swimming around really fast and jumping in and out of the water, that shows us that he is happy with his environment, it was really funny to watch. Next we walked to the other side of the zoo, we passed the wheelie bin vehicle taking the bins where they needed to go and saw the keepers getting their areas ready for the public. We were very lucky when we went to see the Galapagos tortoises. The keeper, Charlie, was ‘finching’, this is where the keeper imitates a bird called a finch by giving the tortoise the option to participate in being rubbed/ scratched and ‘cleaned’ of anything stuck in their creases. ‘Finching’ paralyses the tortoise for a short period of time, that’s why the keeper gives the tortoises the option if they want to do it or not. When she had finished, Charlie came outside to us and we got chance to ask her any questions, the tortoises on the vlog were about 25 years old but they can live to around 150 years old! We also learnt that they had a tortoise before that weighed 170kg (that’s the same as the male lion in my vlog and 10kg less than the silverback gorilla! That is heavy!) From the tortoises we went to see where the enrichment treats we made last night had been put; we went to the gorilla enclosure to see the gorillas being allowed outside once their keepers had left the area and it was all secured again. The gorillas loved the treats we had made them; the babies were very funny, they collected a bag and watched the older gorillas open them and eat the chickpeas inside and then copied what they were doing. They were very cheeky, they tried to pinch the bags off the older gorillas even though they didn’t know how to get them open.
Once we had seen the gorillas it was 10am, that meant our experience had finished. I said thank you to the keepers and the staff and met back with Joy to discuss how our trial visit had gone.
I think ZSL London Zoo is fantastic for wheelchair users and people with complex health needs, I had a suggestion about the new bathroom facilities on day 1 and by day 2, Joy had spoken to the right person and it had been sorted. I told her how I felt about the restaurant situation in the evening and how the access could have been really good; there was a door with a ramp next to the restaurant that we could have used but it was locked, so we had to go to the unlocked door that was the furthest away, next to the toilets. After speaking with Joy, she cleared it up and that it was a miscommunication between the her, the keepers and the restaurant staff. This was a minor issue, but it made me feel isolated from the group, I suggested that if they have a wheelchair user in the group, that they all go up the ramp to the restaurant rather than the majority of the group go up the stairs and get to their tables then the wheelchair user has to come in separately and everyone stares at them when they get in.
The only thing I found for accessibility was a small door lip on the entrance to the keepers kitchens, which really wasn’t an issue, but if I was in a manual chair and had heavy oxygen tanks and equipment on my chair, it may have been harder to get over. Joy said she would look into getting metal door ramps to make it even easier. Everything I suggested and mentioned, Joy noted down and really paid attention and was interested in what I had to say. I cannot fault ZSL London Zoo for their accessibility, they do have some areas which aren’t wheelchair accessible, but those areas are ‘listed’ buildings so there is nothing they can do about it. They have just made sure the other areas are accessible for wheelchair users.
After my meeting with Joy to discuss how I found the overnight experience, we had the rest of the second day to explore the zoo some more. I visited the donkeys (that were on a walk around the zoo), the gift shop and made myself a journal so I can scrapbook my experience, the hunting dogs, the giraffes, the warthogs (like Pumbaa from Lion King) and the zebras. All of the areas I visited were wheelchair accessible and I was able to see the majority of the animals inside their enclosures.
My favourite part of the experience –
Feeding the penguins the morning after our stay. They came really close up to the glass so I could see them clearly. They splashed a lot and swam really fast and jumped out the water .
My least favourite part of the experience –
Trying to see animals when there was posts in the way, the area called ‘Into Africa’ was the worst for it.
My final opinions –
The Lodge – Overall it was really good. My favourite part of the lodge was the mural of a leopard painted on the wall. The least favourite bit of the lodge was the bathroom door that kept coming open. (I spoke to Joy about this and she would look into it)
Gir Lodges and Land of the Lions – It was pretty amazing, they had a platform on stilts where you could look down on the lions so I had a clear view. There was lots of different places to see them from, on ground level, up high or through little peep holes in the walls. I really liked the decorations in the land of the lions, they tried to make it as authentic as possible.
I liked the ‘Animal Adventures’ area too. It was a clear open space with animals on the outside like parrots behind glass and cages.
Bathroom / changing facilities – That room was amazing, it was new to the zoo and it had nearly everything you need to be able to access the room fully. My favourite things in there was the hand drier, the height adjusting sink and the mural of a porcupine. The Painting on the wall made it feel more relaxed and child friendly rather than plain white walls that feel hospital-like and it had a sky-light to let lots of natural light in.
Overall, I really enjoyed the overnight experience and I think it would be good for other wheelchair users and people with complex health needs. I really appreciated the opportunity to trial the stay and meet with Joy to see if theres anything the zoo can improve on. I felt that they really listened to me and took on my suggestions and advise on how to make the experiences more sensory or specific.
I would like to say a huge thank you to Joy and the amazing keepers that looked after us, shared their knowledge and made the experience so memorable.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions and I’ll try my best to answer as much as I can.