My route took me west along the A47 and around the outskirts of Norwich to the A11 where I headed south west in the direction of Thetford, turning off at Attleborough and following a series of B roads to Banham and the zoo itself. As I drove in through the entrance I was immediately impressed with the large and well set out parking areas - the first was very open but the one beyond was divided by grassy areas shaded by trees and I had no trouble finding a good place to park in the shade. Letting the dogs out of the van I gave them a drink and took them for a walk up along the edge of the car park before settling them back in the van with their fan on and the back windows open, then set off in search of some animals. Paying my entrance fee I was given a leaflet with a map of the zoo so I spent a couple of minutes studying it before deciding which direction I would go in first - there were some parts of the zoo which wouldn't really interest me so I opted to miss those out in favour of spending longer in the sections which did interest me.
First on the list, mainly because they weren't far from the entrance, were the marmosets and tamarins - I must confess to not being particularly interested in chimps and larger monkeys but I do like the smaller fluffy ones and I spent several minutes watching a family of black marmosets chasing each other round and hanging upside down from their ropes. I found it very difficult to get any decent photos though as the little devils wouldn't stay still! Next were the African Black Footed Penguins, sometimes known as Jackass Penguins because of the donkey-like braying noise they make - and having been surrounded by these creatures more than once while on a beach in South Africa several years ago I know that they really do sound like donkeys. Their enclosure was large with a lovely big pool and a rocky beach with plenty of hidey holes among the boulders - it looked as near to their natural habitat as it could possibly be and I was well impressed. A visit to the seal enclosure followed then I had another quick look at my map to decide where to go next.
Following the path I was on would take me to the woodland walk which I wasn't really bothered about, so I headed left in the direction of the otters, meerkats and red pandas. Of the three it was the meerkats which grabbed my attention the most - they were smaller than I expected them to be and the babies were so cute I just wanted to bring them home. My leaflet gave details of two fifteen minute 'feeding experiences' which could be booked on the day; one was giraffes and the other was the meerkats, and after spending a good ten minutes watching these little creatures playing I decided I just had to get in that enclosure with them! It was time to go and check on the dogs by then so on my way back to the entrance I went to enquire about the feeding experience and I was lucky enough to be able to book a fifteen minute slot for an hour later.
Back at the van I released the dogs and gave them a drink then took them for a walk right round the perimiter of the car park before settling them back on their beds and returning to the zoo. I still had over half an hour before going to see the meerkats so I took the path on the left of the entrance and headed for the kangaroos and the zebras. The Australia Paddock had a mixture of both red and grey kangaroos, most of them lying down and looking very docile, and there were only a couple of zebras in evidence in their enclosure. My friends in South Africa refer to zebras as 'donkeys in pyjamas' and that always amuses me. Set back in a corner between the kangaroo paddock and the pyjama-clad donkeys was the maned wolf enclosure and I could see two animals in there - they were a rusty red colour and looked more like overgrown and very skinny foxes rather than wolves.
After photographing the wolves it was almost time for my meerkat experience so I made my way back to their enclosure and arrived a few minutes before my booked time. The keeper arrived soon afterwards and after explaining the do's and don'ts she unlocked the outer door to the enclosure. There was a small entrance area and an inner door and the keeper explained that the outer door had to be closed before the inner door could be opened as the meerkats ran so fast they could easily escape otherwise. Then she produced a small plastic tub containing - horror of horrors! - a wriggling mass of brown mealworms. Urgh!! I absolutely hate anything which wriggles and squirms and I could feel my skin crawling just at the sight of these things - and I was supposed to feed them to the meerkats! No way was I putting my hand in that box, so the keeper said that if I sat on the tree trunk in the enclosure she would drop the mealworms onto my lap and the meerkats could take them from there. I wasn't too keen on that idea either but she said the meerkats moved so fast that the mealworms would be gone in seconds. Oh well, in for a penny in for a pound - I was just glad I wasn't wearing shorts! So I sat on the tree trunk and keeping my camera out of the way waited for the onslaught - and true enough, as soon as the mealworms landed on my lap the meerkats dived in and they were gone before I knew it. I started to enjoy myself after that - the meerkats were fascinating, comical, and very cute little creatures, it was brilliant having them swarming all over me and some of them even allowed me to stroke them. And for a souvenir of my experience the keeper took several photos which she said would be available from reception about half an hour later.
With my meerkat feeding over I made my way to the giraffe paddock and was really impressed with what I saw. The paddock was huge, separated from the path by a deep ditch with wooden sides, and with a large giraffe house in one corner. Along one side of the paddock was a wooden walkway which started at ground level and rose up gradually until it was at the same level as the upper floor in the giraffe house, where there was a viewing and feeding platform which was at giraffe's head height. Several giraffes were in residence including three young ones of varying sizes, and I managed to get over a dozen good photos.
When I had got as many photos as I could I made my way back to the entrance, stopping off at reception to look at the photos of my meerkat experience. The keeper had taken several shots and there were three really good ones, but unable to make my mind up which one I wanted I went for all three and they were printed out in a matter of minutes and put into souvenir folders. Where would we be these days without computer technology??
Back at the van I released the dogs from the back, gave them a drink and took them for another walk round the car park before setting off back to California. As it was my last day I thought I may as well round it off by having another meal out, so on my way up the road to the camp site I turned into the California Sands site and went to the Poolside Cafe for ham, egg and chips and a mug of coffee. Back on my pitch I connected the awning to the van and settled in for an evening with the laptop, and other than taking Sophie and Sugar for their last walk round the site before bed I didn't go out again. All in all it had been a good and very interesting day - the zoo was a nice place, I'd got some good photos and the meerkat experience had been brilliant, so altogether a great end to a great holiday.