Introduction Myself and my wife usually visit Scotland (Linthgow) every year (our previous visit was September 2016) and following a visit last week I thought I'd put my thoughts on places visited down for the record, scrutiny and comment. Calderglen Zoo (Southern Britain Equivalent -never visited but I suspect akin to some of the small London “free(ish?) zoos This was a new collection to me and, at £1.40, by far the lowest sum I've ever paid to enter a zoo. This is a reflection of the size of the place (about one acre) and the fact that it's council run and therefore most likely subsidised to some extent. It comprises of a conservatory with about half a dozen exhibits and an outside, square, walled-garden containing a further dozen or so exhibits. Enclosure-wise it's basic but adequate with a number of similar styled enclosures seemingly able to hold a variety of quite different species through clever fit-out and furnishing. Species-wise there's nothing too spectacular but it was nice to see Fennec Fox (seemingly on the wane in larger collections), Cusimanse (seemingly making a bridgehead in Scotland as also seen at Camperdown), Fischer's Lovebirds and a very vocal pair of White-crested Laughing Thrush. Whilst this place will never be a “must visit” collection it's a great, low-cost, facility for the local community and proved a nice stop-off on our long-drive up to Scotland. Five Sisters Zoo (Southern Britain Equivalent -Exmoor, but proportionately less birds and better exhibits/enclosures) I always enjoy my visits to Five Sisters and this occasion was no exception. The place has a fantastic, varied (and often unusual) collection housed in mostly very good enclosures and has a dynamism lacking at many other zoos, both large and small. I've had the pleasure of visiting pretty much annually over the last decade and it's been a delight to see it continually growing and improving. I've also witnessed it's popularity increase year-on-year mainly, I believe by ingraining and ingratiating itself with the local public (see also Hamerton) -this is easy to understand given the catchment area (has little competition) and the fact that the competition (Edinburgh and Blair Drummond), though offering different things, prove far more expensive family days out. The collections now boasts “over 180 animals” which I believe significantly exceeds Edinburgh's total at present. Since my previous (September 2016) visit Fishing Cats and De Brazza Monkeys have joined the collection. Highlights of this visit included my first ever sightings of American Mink and Bank Voles. As usual, myself and my wife paid extra to go in and feed the Ring-tailed Lemurs (which at £5 each has got to be one of the cheapest such “animal encounters” in the UK). If I had to critcise the place it would be the over-abundance of random tacky artifacts (statues, old amusement rides and some of the childrens' entertainments) and that the “Scottish Wild Cat” enclosure seems overly big for the species and wasted on them -in my opinion it could house medium sized cats such as Golden Cats or Clouded Leopards quite adequately. As always, I left the collection satisfied and looking forward to my next visit to see what happens next -ain't that enough (to want from any zoo visit)? Camperdown Wildlife Park (Southern Britain Equivalent -Birmingham Nature Centre a decade ago) Whilst I've always enjoyed visits to here in the past I'd always go away grumbling, “too many domestics, I wish they'd swap some with exotics”. I'm happy to say that this seems to have happened, to a small extent, in the two years since my last visit and there seems to be indications of more changes in this direction in the future. On a general level there's a feel of enthusiasm and momentum throughout. On entry there's Ring-tailed Lemurs in an enclosure big enough to house a medium macaque species and the biggest enclosure for Red-bellied Lemurs I've ever seen. One then continues in an elongated oval route with enclosures on both sides until you arrive back at the start. As I said, there seems to have been a movement away from generally European species in the past to a more worldly collection at present -more recent additions includes Hyancinth Macaws (in a fantastically spacious enclosure), Ocelot (in the previous bear enclosure), Cusimanse (the Scottish invasion continues), Visayan Warty Pigs (they've got to be getting near maximum ex-situ capacity now?) and, inevitably, Meerkats (I'll give em a pass as it's a long way from Dundee to the next ones). Amongst other things, there's three young Brown Bears (and an elderly adult), two species of otter, four species of callithrids, along with the (Scottish) regulation Wild Cats and a small number of, fairly choice, bird species. There seems to be a large mixed paddock under development in one of the far corners and new (much higher) posts being fixed along the boundary of the (single) Mouflon paddock suggests more changes along the exotic-axis. The signage and general educational materials are excellent and, at £5 for adults I think the place offers good value for money and a cheap (animal) day out for families in the surrounding area. There's also an excellent, if little pricey, cafe that's part of the entrance building that I'd recommend (just tell yourself you can afford the prices given the very cheap entry). Edinburgh Zoo (Southern Britain Equivalent -Twycross about 5 or 6 years ago) Unfortunately, in contrast to all the other places I visited on this holiday, Edinburgh Zoo (or should that be “Edinburgh Queue”?) was the only place that failed to enthuse me. Whilst I've always been fairly agnostic about it's recent changes (appreciating that sometimes a place has to take a step or two back to facilitate a future leap forward) I can't maintain this stance any more. The frustrations start at the entrance with a glacially slow moving queue to obtain entry. It took almost thirty minutes to get in at around 10.45am. The slowness of the queue's movement was a combination of only three (of four) entrance desks being open and (even worse) the time it took for ticket desk staff to process visitors. One staff member was continually taking five to six minutes letting each person or group of people in (I timed it, I had little else to do) and other staff seemed only fractionally better. I'm really not sure what they were discussing (but it involved some pointing at the map) but would suggest the staff may have been over-trained to be friendly/helpful, sadly at the expense of admitting people in on a timely basis. At ten admissions an hour per staff member (based on five to six minutes an admission) I fail to see how the place would cope in high season. Once inside, there's a growing sense of torpor that's reminiscent of Twycross in it's dark “Boardman Period”. Everything about it seems to frustrate and/or annoy and all the changes seem to be in the wrong direction. I could write a fair sized essay (and probably will end up doing so) but I'll try to summarise as best I can: Customer Service: Poor, as well as the prolonged delay in entering there's long queues/waits for everything. Ice cream? 15 minutes. Coffee/sandwich bar? 15 minutes (and very little left in the way of sandwiches at 12.45am). Other food areas (“Griller Bar” and “Jungle Cafe”)? Closed. Whilst the weather on my visit was good (the start of a long-telegraphed fine spell) and numbers were perhaps a little higher than usual that's no excuse, for a visitor facing enterprise, in my opinion (no more than it would be a busy restaurant being unable to cope.) It was midweek and term-time -heaven knows how the place would manage in peak summer holidays. Not forgetting the lack of any (mass) transport to the top of probably the biggest hill in a UK zoo -this is hardly conducive to visits by any groups with small children, older people or people of restricted fitness. Animal Collection: Seemingly forever shrinking. As well as the abandoning (rather than renovation/re-use) of the carnivore row and other enclosures in the recent past there's been a further denuding of the Monkey House and the “Magical Forest” which was once home to a nice variety of species (including those Cloud Rats) has pretty much reduced to two enclosures of Douroucouli (still a nice, if unshowy species) and three of Goeldi's (seemingly becoming the Meerkat of the primate world). Overall there's not really that much to look at for a “big zoo” in a capital city especially when Brilliant Birds and Budongo interior was closed and the Pandas, as (almost) ever, a no-show. Pandas: Now a reasonable time has passed (including admittedly a lower than average visitor drop-off for a while) it doesn't seem rash to conclude that the Pandas have unbalanced the whole zoo. With hindsight the situations starting to look like a down on their luck person spending 6 months wages on lottery tickets. Given that the zoo uses the Pandas so much for marketing purposes I can only imagine that a lot of people are going to be disappointed when they don't get to see them. My last two visits (September 2016 and May 2017) have found the indoor enclosures closed off and (surprise!) nothing to see in the outdoor area. What's the point in renting them for “£1m a year” and then not letting people see them? Additionally, if I remember correctly, the Pandas were supposed to herald a revitalisation (through popularity and monies) for the zoo. This strategy has clearly not worked (how many new exhibits/animals have we seen since their arrival?) and I'd suggest RZSS should be scrutinising their contract for a “break clause” -I'd imagine quite a few improvements could be made with the annual savings of the panda rent and bamboo costs. Other: They're now installing a merry-go-round and ferris wheel next to Brilliant Birds, between the Chimps and (lovely) Sun Bears. I understand the need for Children's play areas and secondary spend but despair at the idea of (presumed) fairground noises brutally intruding on the relatively tranquility of the zoo. Those who gnash their teeth at Dinosaurs should take note and remember, it could be much worse! Whilst there's still a scattering of good exhibits/species they increasingly seem to be a component of ever thinning gruel. At present I'm struggling to see how either zoo nerds or Joe Public would be enamored with this place at the moment. Like Twycross was a few years back it seems to be treading water (I must see if I can find their annual accounts) supported, I suspect, by the fact it's the only well-known “big zoo” for a considerable radius. Scottish Owl Centre (Southern Britain Equivalent -the owl centre coming to “Birmingham” soon, hopefully) Another vibrant collection which like most of the others has expanded/improved since my last visit. It would seem a number of extra enclosures have been built largely, if not exclusively, to house some of the exodus from Muncaster. There's a number of obscure and beautiful owls (personal favourites included Black-banded Owl, Vermiculated Fishing Owl and Furruginous Pygmy Owl) and a real bonus is their display of, non-owl, Common Crossbills (a new species for me). The signage and educational material is top notch, as are the flying displays. Conclusion There's a fair number of zoo attractions for anyone holidaying in the Edinburgh area. In addition to those visited this time there's also Blair Drummond (unspectacular but with very good bird displays), Deep Sea World (one of the UK's better aquariums) and a Sea Life centre at Loch Lomond (it's name says everything). The small places all seem well run with ambition and momentum. In contrast, it's a sad fact that Edinburgh Zoo seems to have lost it's way of late and currently a visit feels, overall, more of a chore than a pleasure -let's hope things improve by my next visit. Miscellaneous: We also visited the Surgeons' Hall Museum in Edinburgh which was excellent but probably not for everybody (I wouldn't recommend having lunch mid-visit, which we did).