I loved Edinburgh Zoo as a child. It’s where I went to roll eggs on Easter Sunday. I vividly remember the excitement of those childhood days out – it was such a thrill to see the exotic animals I recognised from the pages of my storybooks in the flesh. The penguins and monkeys were my favourites.
I remember visiting and pleading with my Mum for a pet chimpanzee. Tarzan had one, so why couldn’t I? She wouldn’t relent, but we reached a compromise with a wee black dug to call my own. Years later when I was a mum, I took my daughters on days out to the zoo too. They loved it as much as I had and our visits resulted in equally nonsensical pet requests.
BRICKLIVE Ocean, Edinburgh Zoo
Although I visited the zoo in December 2017 and December 2018 to see the fabulous Giant Lanterns of China (they’re roaring back into town again this December), it had been years since I’d been to see the animals. When I was invited to view BRICKLIVE Ocean (a world-exclusive Lego extravaganza), I finally had the perfect excuse for a long overdue visit to Edinburgh Zoo. Dotted around the park until 17th September are over 30 life-sized, Lego sculptures of sea creatures, meticulously pieced together using more than a million Lego bricks.
On the day of our visit we arrived at the zoo at midday and picked up BRICKLIVE Ocean trail and zoo maps. It was Mr G’s first ever visit to a zoo, so I was looking forward to introducing him to some of my old favourites.
We quickly spotted our first Lego sculpture – a huge manatee by the information desk. It looked round and smooth from a distance, but close up you could see it was made of lots of bumpy Lego bricks.
Inside the park we saw a giant squid – it was so intricate and the colour was stunning. It had taken 4 builders, 300 hours and a staggering 146,551 bricks to complete.
Meeting the animals
I was wearing a scarf adorned with flamingos, so decided we should say hello to the pretty pink birdies first. I’ve always been amazed by how perfectly still they can stand on one leg.
We stopped by the meerkat enclosure next. It was a hot, sunny day so the African beasties must have felt right at home.
The Wee White Dug HATES meerkats. There’s an ad on TV featuring meerkat puppets and it drives him bonkers. He never misses an opportunity to bark at them.
“Penguins next” I suggested, dragging Mr G off to see the comical birds that delighted me so much as a child.
We stopped en route to admire more Lego sculptures. including a hammerhead shark, which took 3 builders 250 hours to complete using 63,038 bricks.
There’s a serious message behind many of BRICKLIVE Ocean sculptures. Hammerhead sharks are hunted for their fins, which are used to add texture to shark fin soup. Even more sickening, is the fact that restaurants in the UK are still selling the soup.
Above the entrance to the zoo’s penguin enclosure is a sign that reads ‘Penguins Rock’ – I agree. Mr G loved his first penguin encounter – we’re compatible in so many ways.
Edinburgh Zoo has always cared about conservation. Even when elephant rides were deemed acceptable, they were leading the way when it came to ensuring that their animals were well looked after. Today, their enclosures are large, stimulating and designed to resemble the animals natural habitats as closely as possible.
The penguin enclosure has a huge pool (Europe’s largest outdoor penguin pool), plus a waterfall and sprinklers where the penguins can keep cool. It’s home to northern rockhopper, king and gentoo penguins.
The most famous Edinburgh penguin of them all is Sir Nils Olav, who’s a Brigadier in the Norwegian Army – I kid you not.
After watching the penguins waddling around poolside, I took Mr G to see something I knew he’d love. A viewing window were you can watch the penguins swimming underwater.
We stood, noses pressed against the glass for ages shouting “here’s one”.
We left the penguin enclosure laughing like children.
Jungle Cafe, Edinburgh Zoo
With so much to see and do at Edinburgh Zoo, it’s common for visitors to spent hours there. Luckily there are plenty of options for food and drink when you need to stop for lunch or a coffee break.
We ate at the Jungle Cafe – hotdog and chips for me and fish and chips for Mr G. Lunch hit the spot perfectly and we were soon ready to explore some more.
We located a few more Lego sculptures using our map, but I was keeping a close eye on the time. I didn’t want to miss the highlight of the day.
The penguin parade
The zoo’s penguin parade started in 1951 when a keeper accidentally left a gate in the penguin enclosure open. Naturally the curious penguins wandered outside. Rather than rounding them up the keepers decided to find out what the penguins would do with their freedom. They enjoyed a waddle to the zoo’s entrance, before they were escorted back to their enclosure.
The penguin parade is still enthralling visitors 68 years later. At 2:15 each day the penguins are given the opportunity to parade round a lawn outside their enclosure. Participation is voluntary, so if they don’t fancy taking part they don’t have to.
Three happy stroller paraded during our visit.
The Budongo Trail
It was time to introduce Mr G to some other old friend – the chimpanzees.
The chimpanzee enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo (known as the Budongo Trail) is huge. It can house up to 40 chimpanzees in an amazing indoor/outdoor living space. It has to be seen to be believed – there can’t be a finer home for chimps living in captivity anywhere else on this planet.
A portrait hanging inside the Budongo Trail brought a flood of memories rushing back. I remember Ricky from my childhood and was sad to learn he’d passed away.
We saw one elderly chimp indoors, but the rest were outside enjoying the sunshine.
It was fun watching them play. They’re so agile and they never fail to make me smile.
We left the Budongo Trail trying and failing miserably to mimic the call of the chimps.
Next stop Australia.
There are several walkthrough enclosures at Edinburgh Zoo that allow visitors to get close to the animals. Wallaby Outback is one of them.
The critters from the land down under didn’t pay us a blind bit of notice as we followed a path through their Edinburgh outback. Most were snoozing lazily in the sun. Two looked suspiciously like kangaroos, but I’m no expert.
It was hot outside, but inside the koala enclosure it was positively sweltering in order to recreate an authentic habitat for the most adorable Aussie of them all.
I defy anyone to look at a koala without saying “awwwwww” – it’s not possibly.
We were lucky to catch one awake – barely. It’s hard work trying to keep your eyes open for a handful of hours a day.
Not for a minute, did I think I’d leave Edinburgh Zoo that afternoon loving another beastie as much as the penguins and chimpanzees, but I did.
The rainbow lorikeets live inside the zoo’s Brilliant Birds enclosure – another walkthrough where you’re able to get up close to the animals.
Inside, you can buy a little pot of nectar for £1. The birds love it and will happily take it from your hand. If you’re really still, they may even land on your arm to feed.
I did laps of the enclosure feeding as many wee birdies as I could, while Mr G played the long game. If they wanted nectar they were going to have to perch on his arm to eat it.
His stubborn perseverance paid off and he eventually managed to coax a bird onto his arm. Boy, did he look pleased with himself.
What I saw was the face of a five-year-old boy loving his first ever visit to a zoo – simple pleasures.
I wasn’t about to be outdone on the bird whispering front, so I upped my game and soon had a wee bird on my arm too.
And then I ramped it up a notch and went all Long John Silver.
Sadly, the keeper wouldn’t let me take my new friend home.
We ended up spending five hours at the zoo and would have stayed longer if closing time hadn’t been approaching.
As well as the animals featured in this blog we saw sleeping tigers, gibbons swinging through trees, a pair of rhinos snuggling, a red panda sitting on a branch and loads of other fascinating creatures both living and Lego.
We (reluctantly) left the zoo shortly before closing time, like a couple of hyper five-year-olds. It’d been a brilliant afternoon. It’s amazing how happy spending time with animals can make you.
It’s our tenth wedding anniversary soon. We’ll be celebrating in NYC with afternoon tea at Tiffany & Co’s Blue Box Cafe. There’s been talk of a silver bauble for me, but if the truth be told I think I’d rather be a zoo keeper for a day.
Until next time ……