From Camden Town to London Zoo there are posters of tigers on almost every lamppost. If you didn’t already know – the tigers have a new home.
“Where are the tigers then kids?” I say as we stand with ZSL London Zoo before us.
“Penguuuiiinnnnsssss!” they shout in unison.
Apparently, this was a necessary detour so the only thing to do is dive on in.
Penguin Beach is designed so kids (under about seven years old) can stand head high to the water and watch as the little water waiters dive and swim. They seemed to love flattening themselves up against the glass to make the kids screech with delight. As quickly as we ran in, we were out. J and D were bursting with excitement and seemed to only be able to hop, jump and screech. Five minutes on the bouncy castle with the Tiger Territories entrance in site and I have to admit; I was excited too.
The two Sumatran tigers are resident male Jae Jae and tigress Melati. Their new Tiger Territory is five times the size of their previous home at 2,500sqm, which is quite an upgrade – imagine your house suddenly (well, after closure and redevelopment) reopening with all that extra space. However, unlike how I would react to such an increased living space – running around and screaming – the tigers were the cool cats you’d expect.
The enclosure has been designed to replicate an Indonesian habitat with terrain they can climb – something these beauties love to do and are very good at – not unlike your resident moggy. These cats also break the mould with their love of water and as a result have a pool – the traditional Indonesian jungle style type – no sun loungers and diving boards.
As we entered the enclosure we came upon the under cover cave area which was separated from the gawping audience by floor to ceiling glass. I had no idea how seeing a tiger for the first time would make me feel and I can honestly say that I tingled all over.
Jae Jae was sat up on the rocks about eight paces away from us. “Wow.” I said. “Look, a real live tiger.” We all stood and watched him. He nonchalantly turned and looked at the faces staring at him and then stretched to reveal a dirty tummy and legs, which in retrospect revealed he was already using the new facilities – namely the pool.
I could have stood and watched him forever.
“This way!” yelled my three year old. He had seen a tiger statue; there were loads of them – all showing cats in different poses – all very climbable and perfectly positioned around the territory. “Lets find all the tigers!” and off he sped climbing on statues with his sister whilst I scanned the territory for the second Sumatran tiger Melati.
And there she was: rather majestic, lying close to the viewing platform. We circled round and up the ramp to the lodge-like structure looking over the ‘Indonesian’ landscape. She was closer here and her size more evident. It is amazing how long people can stare at such a creature for. Children on the other hand do get over the ‘Wow’-factor at an altogether different speed: really slowly, or, in this case, rather quickly.
“Go through those doors, Mummy!” D yelled over his shoulder as he spotted a ramp that led to a pair of double doors (the cuddly tiger souvenir shop was a mere blur). We were off. It looked like a staff entrance to me but he was already pulling one door when the other opened automatically. We found ourselves in front of another animal.
“What is it, Mummy?” whispered my little girl.
“A dragon” I replied quietly. “A komodo dragon.”
Tigers to dragons in one fell swoop summed up so much of the magic of our day at the zoo. It isn’t cheap but this is a full day out, which the whole family will remember forever. There are over 750 species of animals at ZSL London Zoo so the map really is useful to help plan the most important places to visit. Some, especially when you have children, are a surprise when your original path plan has long since been aborted.
My daughter’s moment of magic? The parrots.
“Mummy! They really exist!” she gasped pointing to the colourful birds. Amazement turned to disappointment when the magical birds did not answer her questions. Looking glum she turned to me and said, “but they don’t speak back!”
Lesson learnt from our Tiger Territory treat? Find a talking parrot.
For more details on costs and times take a look here.