And so to Marwell. This is probably the zoo in the UK I have been to most apart from the venerable London and despite having been since I started the Musings, it’s yet to have a write up. Fortunately this time I’ve got more interesting photos of animals than perhaps any other previous trip so I’m going to be able to get the most out of it. Moreover, this was a trip with Darren Naish, Heinrich Mallison and Sebastian Marpmann which gave great opportunity to discuss what we were seeing. It also meant Darren and i tried to explain what the place was like to the others on the drive down and in doing so gave me a new appreciation of the collections.
I’d always thought of Marwell as being ‘ungulate heavy’ – if you like your bovids and equids etc. it was the place to go, but on reflection, it really is dominated by these and is quite unlike any safari park or zoo I can think of – even other big and open parks like Chester and Longleat. Set in the South Downs, the zoo (and it is huge) is in the gentle rolling hills and grasslands which are a great setting. Pockets of woodland provide areas of cover for things like anoa and peccary while the open spaces are ideal for zebra and antelope. And these animals are massively in the majority. While there is for example a good cat collection (ocelot, serval, leopard, cheetah, tiger and snow leopard, and theoretically at least, sandcats) and a few primates, there’s tons of ungulates. Giraffe, all three zebras, roan antelope, waterbuck, scimitar horned oryx, Przewlaski’s horse, okiapi, bongo, pygmy hippo, Brazilian tapir, white rhino, nyala, sititunga, Somali wild ass, warthog, addax, Dama and dorcas gazelle, peccary, anoa, kudu, Congo buffalo and best of all, a pair of white tailed gnu.
What’s more these aren’t just present, but they are there in big numbers. There were 9 giraffe, and at least a dozen each of the waterbuck and oryx. Others were in big numbers too with a dozen ostrich and more than 20 capybara.The enclosures are typically huge since they have the space (and my one complaint would be they are too big in places, or at least accessible only from limited places so you can be a *very* long away from the animals). That space does mean they have a lot of room and several mixed exhibits – the largest of which is a new African space that must be 20 acres as a single field with giraffe, Grevy’s, waterbuck and ostrich 30 or 40 animals all sharing the space. This gives the animals a bit more scope that some other places and we saw trotting zebras, galloping giraffe and sprinting ostrich which was great.
We were also lucky enough to see lots of less common behaviours. Giraffe grazing, Congo buffalow calling, a pair of zebras really fighting, roan antelope engaged in ritual sparring, and a tiger eating grass.
Marwell doesn’t really go in for the ‘traditional’ collections. Big cats and giraffe aside, there’s few classics – no elephants, only the white rhino, no lions, no sealions, no great apes, no jaguar, no aquarium, the reptile house such as it is, is tiny with only a few species, there’s some owls but no other birds of prey and there are few birds in general. Though there are still a few ‘inevitables’ (Asian short-clawed otters, Sulawesi macaques, meerkats) there are some great things tucked away too – fossa, the stunningly rare Alotran lemur, giant anteater, weaver birds, bat-eared foxes and the like.
Collectively then this is an unusual zoo. No real reptile collection, no fish bar some cichlids, few birds, few ‘classic’ species. But what it has in spades and with both jokers is a superb layout, innovative use of space and the existing environment, some real rarities, and lots and lots of animals clearly enjoying where they are. It is, i short, a great zoo. You might not get what you expect if you’re a regular zoo go-er, but you will have a very good day.