Since August this year London Zoo have been doing audio described tours on the first Wednesday of each month. So once I was fit and ready to get out and about again, and heard about the tour via a friend who had done it, I signed up for the November tour – as did a few ladies from the visually impaired charity Look, so it was lovely to meet them too! And we had a great time together.
The tours last a couple of hours and are free of charge, and you sign up by email. But you still have to purchase a ticket to get into the zoo in the first place, which is fair enough and I was able to pay the concessionary rate. You can then continue to explore the zoo at your leisure after the tour is over if you wish, and they have a lot of accessibility information on their website. At the time of writing, they don’t yet have any tours listed for 2022, but they do hope to continue them. So if you get in touch with them to ask about it and express an interest, that should inspire them to keep them running.
So I thought I’d tell you a little bit about the tour I went on and share a few photos in this post. And be sure to check out my compilation of video footage from the tour as well. I hope you enjoy!
We were led around by Sonia and Benjamin, who were very friendly, chatty and informative, describing things nicely and giving us all sorts of fascinating facts, and were very happy and keen to answer questions too. Their understandable love and enthusiasm for their work came across really well.
The highlight was the Bactrian camels, who have two humps, unlike Dromedary camels who have just one. We were told an easy way to remember the difference – if you rotate the letters B & D to the left so they’re resting on their straight edges, then the B for Bactrian has 2 humps while the D for Dromedary has one hump.
In particular, we were given the opportunity to stroke and feed 7-foot-tall Genghis. It was lovely to feel his thick fur, and it was an amusing sensation to feel his lips scooping the food out of my hand, as he has a split lip that he uses like cutlery!
His keeper Mick Tiley explained that it was also good for us to meet him because he has an abscess in his jaw, which means he’s been seen a lot by the vet lately. So it was important for him to meet new people in a positive way, to help him feel comfortable and safe having direct contact with strangers. And he was very calm and well-behaved, he didn’t have a problem with us at all.
We also got to stroke some adorable pygmy goats who, like Genghis, were very tame and enjoyed the attention. But whereas Genghis forced some people to get up on their toes to feel his humps, we had to get down on our knees to get face to face with these little beauties!
We were also able to toss lots of walnuts into the enclosure for the red river hogs, who squealed contentedly in response.
Plus we saw the wonderfully-named alpacas Cuenca, Cookie & Alpacaccino…
…Galápagos tortoises Polly & Priscilla, in their lovely new warm and humid building…
…a komodo dragon…
…a kune kune pig…
…lots of butterflies, which zip around freely in their enclosure, and a couple of them briefly landed on my head…
…very loud blue throated macaws…
…and a large pool of Humboldt penguins swimming and leaping around.
And after all that I joined the ladies from Look for lunch in the Zoo’s restaurant, where I had a very tasty pepperoni pizza. We ended up having a lovely long chat together, so we didn’t get around to visiting any more of the animals that day.
But as there is so much more to see, and as this is the third time I’ve been to the zoo since moving to the city (after a London Vision tour in 2017 and a Christmas lights trail in 2018), I’ve upgraded my ticket to an annual Silver membership, which they allow you to do by paying the difference within 14 days of your visit. That means I can go back and explore for free whenever I like. I didn’t go for the Gold membership as I don’t need most of the perks that come with it, but for some people it would be very worth it I’m sure.
So all in all we had a lovely time seeing and learning about such a variety of beautiful animals. Some of them can blend in with their sandy or leafy environments a bit, and thus be difficult to spot if you don’t know where to look. And you are also at the mercy of whether the animals happen to be in public view or have decided to hide away. But we were pretty lucky, we saw virtually everything that our guides wanted to show us, and there were always alternatives if any animals didn’t want to show themselves. And I was able to look at all the animals we visited using my monocular or phone as and when necessary.
It was wonderful that we got to stroke a few animals too, that was fun. There were also a couple of tactile models we were able to feel when looking at the komodo dragon and tortoises, but they could do with more of that kind of thing across the zoo as a whole, as tactile models or toys to feel are very useful and important for the visually impaired. My understanding is that some of their tactile models had been put into storage, in part due to the pandemic, but also because they had to be moved out of the way while some building work was going on. So hopefully they can bring them out again in the future, if they haven’t done so already. We did mention it among the feedback we were invited to give at the end, which we hope was useful to them.
So thank you to London Zoo for a lovely day out, and I hope you all enjoyed hearing about it. I can definitely recommend an audio described tour or just a regular visit, as it’s a wonderful place, and I’m looking forward to going back.