Have you ever been this close to a meerkat? I snapped this picture over the half term holidays at Paradise Wildlife Park in Broxbourne, and I wasn’t using my zoom lens. I was actually sitting on the stump right next to these two guys as they got up close and personal after their feed. Aren’t they adorable?
The Bug has long been a fan of meerkats. My self-professed ‘next David Atteborough’ boy loves anything about animals and nature, and whilst he might struggle to remember what 7 x 6 is, the space in his brain reserved for creature trivia is vast. Lemurs, red pandas, and wolves all occupy a special place in his heart, but meerkats are his favourite. So when the people at Paradise got in touch to ask if we’d like to experience one of their special packages, it was a slam dunk.
Meet the Meerkats
On the day of your visit you report to the visitor centre, where you will be met by your zookeeper for the session. He will take you into the kitchens to collect feed bowls – the way to an animal’s attention span is definitely through its tummy, so before you can get down to the business of stroking cute animals, you have to feed them. You have the option to decline the kitchen, and if you are of a squeamish nature, it might be best to swerve it (otters eat dead chicks, and the kitchen is a smorgasbord for all the zoo creatures). Our bowls contained a nice healthy mix of vegetables, but our keeper told us that as omnivores, they also eat insects, birds and small rodents.
We took the safety briefing, rinsed our shoes on the way in, and entered the feeding frenzy. Paradise only allow two people per experience with the meerkats, so you get a really good chance to interact with them. We each sat with a bowl in our laps, as the animals jumped up and down, helping themselves to lunch. You really do have to hold on tight to your bowl – at one point, I had four meerkats skirmishing in my bowl for the best delicacies – table manners is not their strong point!
While they ate, our keeper explained their habits, and the different personalities of his charges. Pierre is a lookout meerkat and has the role of keeping watch for threats. Sure enough, once he’d finished eating, he adopted that bolt-upright pose you most often see them in, at the highest point of the enclosure. Mrs Tibbs is in charge, and no-one gets to eat before her.
Once the food was all gone, the animals were inquisitive to find out more about their feeders. We’d been told they liked to be scratched, and sure enough, they were very willing to be handled. They weren’t about to sit still though; these guys were curious to discover everything, and there was plenty of rummaging inside my coat pockets! One meerkat explored the Bug’s gilet, poking his head inside, and popping out through is arm hole; another took a very close interest in Maddie’s pony tail, rummaging at the back of her neck with the dedication of a hairdresser. And as the tallest member of our party, I got the honour of being a meerkat sun lounger – I was the closest point to the heat lamps!
The whole experience lasted about half an hour, so we really got to know these fabulous creatures, and quiz our zookeeper about their habits.
Once we’d finished, we were free to roam the rest of the park, and they do have some really impressive animals, from snow leopards to white lions, which we’d never seen before. The zoo has less space than some wildlife parks, but the animals all seem to be in really good condition, and their enclosures look clean, and high quality. For a small space, Paradise really does seem to do a good job for its residents, and is Hertfordshire’s top tourist attraction, with a Trip Advisor certificate of excellence. They have also funded over £5m of conservation and wildlife projects in the UK and worldwide.
We visited at half term, and the park was busy, but not so much that we couldn’t get close to all the features we wanted to see. In fact, I’d say it’s the most mellow zoo trip we’ve ever experienced. We were lucky enough to be passing the gibbons at feeding time, which was a hilariously entertaining treat, but even as the crowds gathered, we still had a front row vantage point to watch their antics.
Paradise also run special events aimed at families during the school holidays: we followed the trail for Howloween, which was a fun activity for younger children, and this Saturday 26 November Santa will be arriving to open the Christmas craft fair and take up residence in his grotto at weekends until 17 December. Tickets priced at £4.50 per child must be pre-booked and are on sale now. Check out the Paradise Wildlife park website for more information.
Animal Experiences at Paradise
There is a whole series of animal experiences you can sign up for, in addition to Meet the Meerkats. You can feed wolves and big cats, meet tapirs and lemurs, shadow a monkey keeper, and even be a zookeeper for a day. Adults can have a champagne breakfast with the snow leopards, and families can even stay the night, with their Snooze at the Zoo package. And if you’re a keen photographer, you can take a masterclass in wildlife photography during your visit. Click the links for more information on each experience.
Good to know
- Each experience has individual age restrictions. For meet the meerkats, the youngest person must be at least 10 years of age. The Junior Zookeeper experience starts at 6 years
- Meet the meerkats costs £99 for the first participant, and £49 for a second person in the same session, and must be booked in advance in specific timeslots
- Each experience price includes access to the park for the whole day, and VIP wristbands which give you a free bag of small animal feed, a train ride, and crazy golf
- Paradise Wildlife Park is in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. It is open 9.30am to 5pm. Tickets cost £16 per adult and £14 per child over 2, with reductions for online bookings.
With thanks to Paradise Wildlife Park for our tickets. All opinion and imagery is our own.