The Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig, near Kingussie opened in 1972 as an offshoot of Edinburgh Zoo. Both facilities are operated by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
The original remit of the park was to showcase native Highland species such as Polecats, Wildcats, Red Fox and Badgers. The decision to move away from this to include species found in world wide tundra and mountainous habitats caused some public discord. The RZSS state that this move brings the park in line with the goals of Edinburgh Zoo. Indeed, many of the ‘new’ animals are endangered or will benefit from the breeding programmes operated by the park.
The park is 7 miles from Aviemore, 50 minutes drive from Inverness and 75 minutes drive from Fort William and it is well worth the effort.
The park is perfect for a full day out for all ages although you would be advised to bring sturdy shoes and waterproof clothes. The vast majority of the park is in the open and the higher reaches are exposed to the elements. The park consists of two main areas, the park and the reserve. The park allows visitors to view animals such as Amur Tigers, Red Pandas and Lynxes in conventional enclosures. The reserve is a safari style drive around area. Visitors can drive around the reserve as often as they wish.
The park has won awards for it’s Polar Bear and wolf enclosures. The park has also been successful in rearing wolves, tigers, owl and wildcats in the past two years
A small selection of the current residents are as follows:
Amur tigers (and cubs Viktor & Murray), Wolverines, European Wolves (and cubs), Wildcats (and two kittens), Polar Bears (Walker & Arktos), Japanese Macaques (aka Snow Monkeys), Red Panda (and cub) and European Beavers. The park also houses a range of owls in aviaries and hooved animals (Bactrian Camels, Vicuna Bison, Yak and Elk amongst others in the safari section.
Edinburgh Zoo’s resident Polar bear Mercedes was relocated to the park in 2009. Mercedes was at the time the only captive Polar bear in the United Kingdom. Mercedes was captured by the RZSS in Canada where she was going to be shot for continually straying in town. From 1984 Mercedes lived with her partner Barney and they produced two cubs To-Nuik & Ohoto. After Barney’s death it was felt that new pastures would suit Mercedes and the Highland Wildlife Park offered the space required.
Mercedes was joined by 2 year old Walker in 2010 in her 4 acre enclosure. This move was coordinated under the European Endangered Species Programme, the HWP was chosen due to the high quality of the enclosure. The pair lived ‘amicably’ until Mercedes death in 2011
Today the park’s current polar bears are Walker and Arktos. The ‘boys’ share their enclosure and plans are being formed to find a female with which to establish a breeding programme. The bears can see seen very easily from the park and the ‘safari’ reserve (where they can be seen in their swimming pool). They are fed daily at 13:15 with an accompanying keeper talk. Watching the bears eat less than 6 feet away through the wire fence is an experience not to be missed.
Another big draw at the park is the family of Amur Tigers. Amur tigers are the world’s largest breed of tiger and the walkways around the enclosure allow you to see these magnificent creatures in all of their glory. These year two cubs were born at the park and myself and my kids had the good fortune to see Viktor and Murray splashing in a pool and playing with their food. The tigers dine at 14:30 daily. We would recommend arriving at the enclosures a few minutes before feeding to ensure a good view.
Our most memorable experience at the park occurred in 2012 when we visited the newly installed Red Pandas. These beautiful creatures are far more active than their famous (unrelated) cousins at Edinburgh zoo as we were to find out.
The male approached us along the wall of it’s enclosure and was within touching distance when it decided it would prefer to climb a nearby birch tree. We left after a few minutes of watching it settle in the tree, marvelling all the while at how close the park allowed visitors to get to the animals. It was only later that we found out the panda had actually escaped from its enclosure!
Given that a Red Panda is the size of a small dog all was well and the enclosure has been subsequently modified to prevent further escapades (much to the Red Panda’s dismay no doubt).
Weather permitting the park is open from 10 am 365 days a year.
Posted by Tim
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