A-Z of Animals
Much of the learning that we do is interest led, i.e. based around something which our boy is already showing an interest in. Last year we started an ‘A-Z of Animals’ study unit based on an old Sooty video with the same title, which has been a recurring favourite for years. We started with A for Ant, then B for Beaver and so on, and when Penguin’s motivation around this unit started to dwindle I was happy to take a break from it for a while. At that point we’d got to E for Elephant, and we recently returned and completed our study of elephants, and went onto F for Flamingoes. This led us to search out where in our region we could go to see some of those flamboyant pink birds in real life, and we found that the best (and closest) place for us would be Wingham Wildlife Park – so there we went!
Wingham is situated east of Canterbury (in Kent), and it took us about an hour to get there, so after entering the park we headed straight to the toilets to get that out the way. And I was surprised and delighted to see that they have a ‘Changing Places’ toilet! In case you’re not familiar with what this is, it’s an accessible toilet which has a ceiling hoist an an adult sized changing bench in it. We don’t need one of these ourselves, but there are many youngsters and adults who are autistic just like our Penguin, who do need these facilities. And of course many others with physical disabilities too, both young and old. Many parents have to put there child (who’s too big for a baby changing table) down on the floor of public bathrooms to change them, and that is just not right. Our boy was in nappies much longer than the average kid, so I too have that experience of changing him on a floor, or in the car boot, with people walking past wondering what’s going on… So Changing Places toilets are an issue close to my heart, and there needs to be more of them! A big happy shout out to Wingham Wildlife Park for having one of these!
From Flamingoes to… Flamingoes!
There are loads of different animals to see at Wingham. We decided to start with the flamingoes first of all, as they were our main reason for this visit. We were very happy to find that they were in an enclosure which visitors could walk into, so we could get a proper close up look at them.
Often when we visit a new place, Penguin will pretty much run through it, to acquaint himself with the unfamiliar surroundings. But he was surprisingly happy to stop and look at the flamingoes for quite a long time, and seemed captivated by them.
I think the signs about the animals were great at Wingham, with a good amount of informative and interesting facts. They’ve also got a few educational resources on their website, such as tasks you can give your kids to complete during your visit.
After leaving the flamingoes, we checked out the pelicans, as well as some other birds (some of which Penguin were quite cautious of, as he finds chicken and some other smallish birds really frightening). We went on past enclosures with goats, wallabies, donkeys, porcupine and a reindeer (not together!), and then got to a lake, which unsurprisingly was a big hit with our water-loving Penguin. There were storks and different types of ducks, and lots of big carp (we’ll get back to those later!), as well as windows looking into the neighboring racoons.
From one waterbased area to another: The penguin enclosure!
The penguins were lovely to watch, and our own Penguin seemed to like them too. But I found myself wondering about how fulfilled these birds are with their life in captivity. I guess it’s the same for all animals in these kind of parks (as for a lot of pets), but some of them make me think of it more than others, I guess… In my head, I see images of penguins diving into the ocean and swimming fast, like flying arrows through the deep and almost endless water. So, while I’m happy to be able to see them in real life like this, I also feel a bit of sadness about what they might be missing.
I had similarly mixed feelings about seeing the different kinds of big cats in their enclosures. There were lions, a puma, and a stunningly beautiful jaguar (I’m afraid my photo doesn’t do it justice). The tigers had a very large and in my eyes attractive area to themselves, and it would have been fantastic if the other cats could have had as much space, too.
By the time we’d got this far, Penguin was starting to seem a bit uncomfortable, and we decided it was time to have a little snack break and eat some of the scones we’d brought with us. However, just as we were sitting down to eat, Penguin spotted the large outdoor play area and wanted to head there straight away.
It was a really good playground, in my opinion, and Penguin enjoyed it there. As he’s non-verbal and also doesn’t have great awareness of social cues and norms, personal space etc, I’m always a little bit apprahensive about how he’ll manage when interacting with other kids (and how they’ll react to him). I was happy to see that this time it all went really well. He waited (suprisingly patiently!) for his turn to go across a wobbly bridge, and he stepped to one side when he sensed that a couple of kids were keen to get past him.
I should probably add that one of us parents always stay close so that we can help/intervene if needed, while at the same time standing back as much as possible to avoid causing learned helplessness.
Next to the playground, there was a ’Dinosaur Zoo’, with lots of different dinosaurs, many of which had mechanical movements and were accompanied by dino sounds. Penguin was moderately impressed, but very much enjoyed the sandpit for ’excavating bones’, which was a great sensory pleasure for him.
Speaking of sensory pleasures, he also loved these spiky plants which were mainly found in the ’rainforest’ themed section of the park:
In that same area, there were some cheeky little monkeys called Black Crested Mangabeys which Penguin seemed to strike up a special connection with.
We also saw several other types of monkeys and apes, as well as bears, otters, ponies and more… And when we’d gone around pretty much the whole area once, we decided to pop back to a few of our favourites (following Penguin’s lead), starting with the carp fishes in the lake. This time we bought some fish food from the dispenser there (for a 50p coin if I remember correctly) and it was great to watch the water bubble with life as all the carp and quite a few of the ducks gathered to chase some of those tasty pellets.
We then payed a second visit to the penguins, and I got our Penguin (who at that point was a bit hyper and unfocused) to stop and focus by asking him to help me take a couple of pictures. It can be quite a useful strategy, and here’s one of the resulting photos:
To round our visit off, we made our way back to the fancy flamingoes. I would say that not only were they the main reason for our visit this time, but also one of the main highlights for us. Fascinating birds indeed, and so enjoyable to watch them pottering about peacefully in the water, occasionally interrupted by a bit of squabbling.
Time to go!
We stopped by the meerkats before making our way to the exit, via the toilets and a very busy souvenir shop (which we just worked our way through without stopping, as it was all getting a bit much for Penguin at this point, and to be fair us parents were knackered too). We went home exhausted but happy.
I’m not writing this as a review as such, but if I were to compare Wingham to other wildlife parks we’ve visited, I’d say that it’s a very good one though quite compact. They’ve certainly fitted a lot into the space they’ve got, and they appear to be expanding and adding bits on as well (with the dinosaurs and the ‘Rainforest SOS’ areas being recent additions). In comparison to the nearby Howletts and Port Lympne (both run by the Aspinall foundation), Wingham is more of a traditional zoo while the Aspinall parks have a clear conservation profile. At Howletts and Port Lympne, most of the animals are roaming around in very large enclosures, which I think is great for them, though you might find it slightly annoying sometimes as a visitor as the animals can be staying in the distance or hiding completely.
All in all, we’re likely to revisit (as and when our ‘A-Z of animals’ requires it), and if you’re planning a trip there too, I strongly recommend you have a good look around their very informative website before your visit. Please note that if you’re disabled or a carer you need to show proof (see website for details!) or you’ll have to pay the full standard entrance fee. I hope that if you do go, you’ll enjoy it too!
Finally, here’s a short video of some of the animals we saw on our visit!