This thread will be where I post a selection of zoo reviews based on my visits across 2023. Whenever I visit a major zoo, I attempt to write an extensive walkthrough-like review on, as it is both fun to write and (I hope) useful to other members on this forum. However, for smaller collections, or larger ones that I wasn't able to persuade myself to write about, this thread is where I will review them. The exceptions to this are Zurich and London, both collections which I have reviewed in great length in separate threads. The collections which will be reviewed here will be: - Wildheart Animal Sanctuary - Horniman Museum and Gardens - Tierpark Hagenbeck - Zoo Magdeburg - Whipsnade Zoo - Exmoor Zoo - Noah's Ark Zoo Farm - Cotswold Wildlife Park - Shaldon Zoo - Voliere Zurich As well as any zoos which I will visit later in the year, but have not done as of yet. Not sure exactly which zoos these will be, but Hamerton, Battersea Park and either Tropiquaria or Wild Place are likely at the moment. On that note, enjoy the reviews! Wildheart Animal Sanctuary: Date of Visit: 16th February Location: Sandown, Isle of Wight, England Target Species: Mongoose Lemur Founded in 1955 as Sandown Zoo, this zoo has seen many changes of ownership, name, goal and state over the years. Throughout much of its history, it was known as Isle of Wight Zoo, after the charming island on which it is located, but in 2017, its owner retired and handed the zoo to a charitable trust (of which she is a member, showing her support of the zoo’s evolution), who sought to transform the zoo into a sanctuary for rescued animals. That is all very well, but the problem is that, along with this sanctuary-based approach, came a rather irritating anti-zoo stance. A family member had purchased an experience for one of us, which allowed me to go behind-the-scenes and talk to several keepers. It was very interesting to see food and enrichment preparation, and to hear about systems applied by all zoos, such as the categorisation of animals based on how dangerous they are deemed to be. But, it was quite worrying to hear how they simplified their transformation, by claiming “we used to be a zoo, but we have improved a lot since then.” Aside from the information above about the previous owner still being a trustee, that was about all I heard from them regarding the zoo’s history. It clearly implied two things; that they were no longer a zoo, and that zoos are inherently flawed, both of which I fundamentally disagreed with. The first thing one notices upon entering the zoo is its location. Within the former Sandown Fort (built in 1864 after fears of a French invasion arose), the granite walls of the structure block any views of the nearby sea from all except the cafe. In the Second World War, it was used for Operation Pluto, with sixteen underwater pipelines used to bring petrol and oil to Normandy in 1944. At the time, it must have been difficult to think that, just eleven years later, lions and tigers would be roaming the grounds of that very same fort. My visit to the zoo actually got off to an excellent start, when I saw my first Northern Raccoons. This species is very common in captivity, but for whatever reason, they are absent from the zoos that I regularly visit, and their nocturnal nature has led to them evading me at every collection I have been to which does house them. Seeing two very active raccoons at Wildheart was, as such, a rather nice surprise. They are held in a series of three buildings, all of which have surprisingly well-designed indoors, featuring abundant climbing and surprisingly extensive offshow portions, but the outdoors were a little small, to say the least. The other inhabitants of those buildings were South American Coatis, Meerkats and, my main target species of the day, the Mongoose Lemur. This is a lovely lemur species, decently rare in captivity, although the UK seems to have quite a few of them - even still, I missed them at Wild Place, and as such, they provided a wonderful lifetick. The zoo held a male beside the raccoons, who was locked indoors during my visit, while his outdoors was being redeveloped with the hope of eventually mixing him with White Tufted-eared Marmosets (I assume it has been finished by now), as well as a mother and daughter in the last of the older lemur enclosures, and a pair in the newer Lemur Domes, which I will cover shortly. After those two species, however, little stood out at Wildheart in terms of the collection. A wonderful (and very tall) enclosure for Black Spider Monkeys followed, and then some uninspiring enclosures for Vervets, Tanimbar Cockatoo, Cape Porcupine and Black-capped Capuchin. Tucked away behind the cockatoos was the recently expanded (at the time of my visit) indoor area for Transvaal Lions. Both the lions were indoors, and I was shocked by how large they were, appearing bigger than any I had seen, despite being lionesses. It turned out that they were neutered males, which tend to have growth issues resulting in them being far larger than regular males of females in lions. Later that day, as part of the experience, we got to go inside the lion enclosure. The indoors, a series of lovely stalls, of which just one is onshow, and all were heated, appeared to be among the bigger and better indoor big cat enclosures which I had seen, and the outdoors, although unremarkable, was still very good for a zoo of its size. Cleaning out the indoors while the lions were locked outdoors and vice versa, with the inhabitants constantly banging on the doors, may well have been the scariest moment of my life - certainly I had never before found myself so thankful for the strength of a lock! I then made my way towards the Education Centre, which despite its name, is more of a Reptile/Amphibian House. The only problem is, it really wasn’t a very good one. Most enclosures were small and box-like, the sort of thing that you would expect from a pet shop, and not a zoo - considering that they are a rescue centre, mainly for rescued pets, this was a strange disappointment. Highlights include a large gecko collection (ZTL claims that Dull Day Geckos, one of only two in Europe, are among them, although I have no memory of them, and regret not having paid more attention) and a lovely open-topped enclosure for Greek Spur-thighed Tortoise. A mediocre Serval enclosure followed, but it was made up for by the first of two excellent exhibits at Wildheart - the Eurasian Lynx enclosure. Probably the biggest lynx enclosure that I have ever seen, with plenty of cover, a towering, multi-level climbing structure, many hidden dens, a raised mound in the centre, taller bushes and much enrichment. There are no photos in the gallery, and I regret not having taken one, but there are a few on the zoo’s website, although they don’t quite do justice to how massive it is. A little open in places, but huge and well-designed, and easily one of the best lynx enclosures in the country in my opinion. Onshow indoors for both the lynx and serval was a rare treat. A nice Meerkat enclosure, with a daily, free experience in which visitors have food placed on them, encouraging the meerkats to climb all over you, was rather nice. It would have made me forgive the overuse of meerkats in zoos, if Wildheart wasn’t one of the worst offenders by having no less than three enclosures for them! The main one, with the experience, a smaller one between the lions and porcupines, and the all-indoor one near the raccoons. There are also Bennett’s Wallabies, sharing with Meller’s Ducks, who were moved from a more geographically accurate mix with lemurs when the new Lemur Domes opened. A really small Tawny Owl aviary was a little sad, although this is hardly the only zoo that seems to mistreat its owls. Two tiger enclosures, each housing two different pairs, are also present. One of them had its tigers arrive a day after my visit, which was frustrating, although the other pair made up for it by being extremely active. As frustrating as the subtle anti-zoo mindset (which, of course, I could be misinterpreting) is, reading the stories of how they rescued their big cats was heart-warming. The same can be said about the leucistic lion enclosure next door, which marked only my third time seeing white lions, and the male in particular looked stunning. Both the lion and tiger enclosures were of a fairly decent standard, but ultimately were quite forgettable. After a small area for domestics, we came to what I easily consider to be the highlight of the zoo - one walkthrough, one not, the two towering domes may well have been the best lemur enclosures which I had seen in a British zoo at the time. The domes were made out of wire, all of which the lemurs could climb to allow for extra height, as did a few genuine trees, which are far too rare in lemur walkthroughs, especially enclosed ones. The indoors, which I got a behind-the-scenes view of, was also lovely, connected to the outdoors through overhead tunnels, with plenty of plants, climbing and even a living floor, with woodlice and other insects breaking down the lemur’s waste. Feeding Red Ruffed and Black Lemurs through the fencing was nice, but being in the same room as several ruffed lemurs (both Red and Black-and-white) when they let off their notoriously loud call was memorable for a different reason. Both domes held Ring-tailed, but only Mongoose and Black-and-white Ruffed could be seen in the walkthrough space, with the Black and Red-ruffed being confined to the smaller dome. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Thank you to all readers, and I hope this was of interest to you. I will aim to post the next review on Thursday, and it will cover either the Horniman Museum and Gardens or Tierpark Hagenbeck.