With around 200 animals in its collection, the Highland Wildlife Park provides a chance to see Scottish wildlife and endangered animals from mountainous and tundra environments around the World.
I’ve visited the Park, located in Kincraig (just outside Aviemore) and run by Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, several times over the past few years, most recently in June 2011. Opened in 1972, the Park has grown somewhat in size and appears to be going through a process of upgrading and adding to its facilities for both animals and visitors alike.
It’d been getting a lot of publicity having become home to Mercedes the Polar Bear; who sadly passed away in April this year. Mercedes had originally been brought to Edinburgh Zoo in 1984 from Canada after straying into town once too often. In 2009 she was moved to the more spacious Highland Wildlife Park and in 2010 was joined by a younger bear called Walker. You can read more about Mercedes here!
The £14 adult admission to the Park includes a 10% donation that supports its conservation, education and research work. It’s a touch steep, though if I lived a bit closer and was likely to go back a couple of times a year, I’d swoop at the chance of a season ticket at £25 (adult)!
The Park is split into several different sections. On driving on from the ticket booth at the entrance you pass through the Entrance Reserve which is home to European Forest Reindeer; Kiang; Yak; Bactrian Camel; Mishmi Takin; European Wolf (apparently – I didn’t see any this time!); and Himalayan Tahir.
Continuing to stay in the car, you drive into the sprawling Main Reserve. Too be honest, it felt a little too sprawling and didn’t seem to be home to many animals at the moment. However, there were a few European Bison; Przewalski’s Horse; Red Deer; European Elk and Bukhara Deer. There were also quite a few Canadian Geese (?) rearing young in the open of the reserve!
It was mid-week and fairly quiet when I was there so lot’s of opportunity to stop and take pictures, though I was advised not to have my windows opened as I passed the horses (presumably they are man-eaters!?). After passing through the reserves, you are able to park-up and there’s a sizeable area to walk around on foot.
First stop for me was a trek uphill to see the Polar Bear – the Pallas Cat and the Lynx both seemed to be hiding in the long grass in their respective enclosures. Walker (the Polar Bear) was also lying in the long grass; despite this (and his tiny size!) I was able to capture him on camera!
Turning further uphill, in fact looking up a cliff face, I spotted Markhor with their impressive twisted horns. (Almost!) blending in with the rocks around the corner was a Goral.
The male Snowy Owl was being rather protective of the female who was nesting at the time of my visit, so the Arctic Fox who normally shares the same enclosure had been moved away for its own safety.
It was a pleasure to see the Amur Tiger tucking into a slab of meat. The Snow Monkeys and Japanese Serow were cool. I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t see the European Beaver – every time I’ve been its been staring a pile of sticks in muddy water.
I then wondered around amongst some of the Scottish wildlife, which tended to be quite elusive – no sign of any Red Squirrels or Pine Martins; and the Capercaillie took a bit of finding too! I did however see that the Scottish Wildcats seemed to be thriving with two new kittens in the pack and the Eagle Owls were as impressively big as always.
Also in hiding were the Markhor and Red Panda, but the European Cranes were out and about.
The animals are the big draw here for me – I’m not too taken in by the Café, Polar Express Kiosk or even the Wildthings Giftshop though they will no doubt be great places to spend your hard earned cash. I spent about 3 hours altogether in the Park which allowed me to see everything with plenty of time to move around. Yeah, I’m reasonably happy with that for an afternoon passing through the area.