Location: Oxfordshire, UK
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Cotswold Wildlife Park (CWP) is a beautiful zoo and a lovely place to go with a picnic to relax and watch the world (and the animals) go by. It does not have the typical collection of large animals that you may ‘expect’ to see at a zoo but what it does have it does well, and has a huge range of small species including birds, mammals and reptiles. Easy access for guests to bother the animals and poor education displays let the zoo down in my opinion, but it’s still a lovely place to go with some unique species that you’ll not see in other UK zoos.
Why not five stars?
CWP lost half a star for the ‘how well treated the captive animals are’ category and lost a full star for the ‘quality of the information on the animals given to the public’ category, giving it 3.5/5 stars. Read on to the ‘Worst part?’ bit of this review for why I deducted these and go here for the star category criteria.
Photographing the animals here is either ridiculously easy or fiendishly hard due to the presence of either no boundaries between you and beasties or old school close grid metal mesh fences. But keep on your toes and use the good old ‘narrow aperture’ trick on manual or aperture priority mode and you can get some lovely shots, especially as you can get so close to the fences and animals.
Most Recent Trip: October 2016
Total Number of Times Visited:
Six times across the last eight years, about once every 1 – 1 ½ years since 2008.
CWP is a country zoo and it shows in the amount of open green space around the park. When you arrive you park in the free car park and the zoo sprawls out around this location. The zoo is roughly separated into two parts, the walled garden (containing lots of the smaller animal enclosures and the lemur walk through) and the rest of the zoo (which contains larger enclosures and paddocks). There is one medium sized restaurant which is fairly central in the layout of the grounds, and smaller kiosks scattered throughout the zoo. CWP put great time and effort into maintaining beautiful gardens throughout the facility, lawns, flower beds and tree groves are everywhere so wherever you look, you see lovely plants. There is a manor house within the grounds and the white rhino enclosure is designed such that it often looks like the manor house has rhino’s on the lawn (which is the title of the book that details the history of how CWP came to be). There is a fair amount of play equipment for children to use in the middle of the park, and there is a farmyard section to the zoo so kids (and enthusiastic adults) can feed and interact with the inhabitants. There is also a small train ride that goes around the park, which is very popular. Unusually for a zoo, dogs are permitted as long as they are on leads. Peacocks range freely throughout the zoo, and will come right up to you if you stay still. It’s a zoo that is best for a sunny day; there is little cover for visitors around the zoo aside from the restaurant and the reptile house.
Value for Money:
At £15 for a full priced adult (discounts are available for children 3-16 and people over 65, kids under 3 go free) this is at the more reasonable side of the zoo admission price scale. Within the park, food is on the slightly more expensive side. A burger and chips comes in just under £10 making it more comparable to pub food prices than fast food prices; and the quality does not really justify the price in my opinion!
For me, the clouded leopards steal the show every time at this zoo. Very few UK zoos have them, and those that do are frequently very shy and impossible to see. The Cotswold cloudies, while not bold, are frequently visible if you are patient and you can often see them climbing around the top to their enclosure.
The CWP’s group of white rhinos is also a must see, they have a successful breeding group and the young calves are a joy to watch.
The pair of lions at CWP has just produced a litter of three cubs, and while I haven’t seen them well yet I’m sure in the coming years they will become favourites.
What else can you see?
Cotswold has a huge variety of small mammals and primates, over 130 bird species and a very good reptile house. The lemur walkthrough is one of the best I’ve been to as they have a great variety of lemur species along with the ring tailed lemurs that often dominate these kinds of enclosures. Other large animals at the zoo include giraffe, zebra, camels and tapirs.
Pretty standard, one restuarant with multiple small kiosks throughout the zoo, plenty of loos and one large (very good) gift shop.
The zoo is just a joy to walk around, the gardens and plants are so well tended and the place is so spacious I’ve never felt crowded there; the whole place just seems to have a different pace to all the other zoos I’ve been to.
I have to give a special shout out to the clouded leopards too, they are so beautiful and fun to watch that it makes up for their glary glass enclosure being a nightmare to photograph…
I have two major problems with CWP, and that’s why it only scored 3.5 stars despite my seemingly glowing review of the place thus far.
Firstly, many of the enclosures are designed so that guests can (and frequently do) harass, prod or bother the animals inside. I don’t like this at all, and it could easily be solved with some changes in the viewing area design at the zoo or placement of volunteer keepers like within the lemur walk through. I have witnessed the most visitor harassment of animals at CWP, and its just such a shame as it really ruins my enjoyment of the place (plus it’s not something that is easily stopped as another guest, people that are rude/inconsiderate enough to physically disturb animals rarely listen to even politely worded requests to stop, and are frequently hostile if challenged in this way). In my most recent visit alone, I watched in alarm as the father in a family took his child’s bright red coat, leaned over the fence of the wolf enclosure from the elevated viewing platform and dangled it into the pen, with the wolves prancing underneath obviously interested in this new thing intruding into their enclosure. I’m pretty sure if the wolves had started jumping they could have grabbed the coat and pulled it in, and who knows if the man would have toppled in with it. This kind of behaviour is how people end up in carnivore enclosures and how animals end up getting shot because of visitor stupidity. I also saw a guest poking a monkey with a stick through the mesh wire of an enclosure, as you can get so close to the mesh it’s easy to touch or prod the animals through it. Most disturbingly of all, a keeper walked right alongside this guest and did nothing to stop them. Again, not OK in my books. Animals in zoos frequently are already forced to live within a restricted space compared to their natural range due to the limits of their enclosure. Bad guest behaviour that means animals cannot utilise the boundaries of their enclosure is just poor. There are so many enclosures at CWP that have low or minimal barriers which guests can easily lean over or get through, and this could and (I feel) should be addressed by the zoo. In a perfect world, guests would behave in an appropriate manner around the animals and there wouldn’t be a problem but unfortunately this is not the case, and animal welfare is potentially being compromised for the sake of re-designing some exhibits or placing volunteers at key problem areas (like the raised wolf viewing platform) like they have in the lemur walk through to ensure good guest behaviour.
Secondly, and a minor gripe really compared to the above problem, the education materials are minimal and outdated at the park. There are minimal keeper talks (there are only talks with the penguin and lemur feeding) and no educational animal displays so guest outreach and interaction while they are in the park is close to non-existent. I understand if the zoo does not want to put on animal displays, qualified trainers are expensive and training animals takes time and effort. However, having good signs or displays around enclosures to educate guests about what they are looking at is one of the basic requirements of a zoo, and compared to other facilities around the country, the ones at CWP don’t measure up well. Another thing that I feel with a little effort could be fixed.
How to get there:
You essentially have to drive to this zoo in a car, on their website CWP freely admit that getting there by public transport is nigh impossible. The zoo is well signposted on the roads in the surrounding area so once you are west of Oxford, on the A40, you should hit signs for the place and be able to find it easily.
Nope, this is a lovely zoo and I do recommend it to people, it’s also the favourite of my husband as it is so relaxing. It represents such a different approach to designing a zoo to the other facilities that I’ve been to in the UK, and if they fixed the education and guest-animal interaction problems I feel the zoo has I’d gladly sing its praises as one of the best zoos in the UK.
Images taken at Cotswold Wildlife Park: