With more animals than *that* infamous Ark, and a team of enthusiastic conservationists at its core, Chester Zoo is not only a fun family day out, it’s an education, too. Chester Zoo is one of the UK’s largest zoos and definitely one of the most important when it comes to extinction prevention. To find out more, we spoke to Charlotte Howle, our animal-mad contact, who’s lucky enough to work there and help with our Chester Zoo guide.
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Meet your insider
Hi Charlotte, thanks so much for being our star blog guest for a Chester Zoo Guide! Can you tell us a little more about your role at the zoo?
My role here is Travel Trade Officer. I work with partners from the travel industry to promote Chester Zoo as a destination and help third party sellers make bookings on behalf of their customers. I work really closely with coach tour operators as well as local hotels, accommodation providers and international brands to drive audiences to Chester Zoo.
It’s a really varied role that includes booking and welcoming guests, attending trade shows, organising fam trips (visits to introduce Chester Zoo to media and travel agents) and helping our partners build packages.
The thing I love most is working in such a wonderful environment with amazingly talented and creative people, who really care so much about the animals they look after, as well as providing people with a really fun day out.
An introduction to Chester Zoo
It’s definitely always a fun day out at Chester Zoo. What’s new and improved in 2021?
We’ve had lots of new arrivals at the zoo this year; from an endangered Rothschild giraffe, Albert, who was born in spring, to an endangered spider monkey who arrived in September.
We opened a brand new Latin America Wetland Aviary this year as well. This walk-through habitat enables you to walk side-by side with some of South and Central America’s most colourful, spectacular bird species, including Caribbean flamingos, scarlet ibises and roseate spoonbills, and view them in full flight – you really can’t miss them!
If you had to create a highlights reel for a Chester Zoo guide right now, what would you feature?
There is so much to choose from, but I’d have to start with our Butterfly House, then on to our brand new immersive Lions exhibit, followed by a quick stop off at the Latin American Wetland Aviary, before heading over to the Madagascar Lemur walk-through. To finish off, I’d include a visit to The Oakfield, where you can enjoy a drink or a luxury pub lunch looking out to our Oriental Garden.
It’s all about the animals at Chester Zoo
Let’s talk Chester Zoo animals: who are your favourites, and who do you feel a personal connection to?
It’s really hard to choose a favourite but I love the Bali starling. They’re such beautiful birds and their walk-through enclosure has a serene atmosphere, even on really busy days. I also really like our bush dogs, they’ve got such huge personalities for such little animals and they really make me smile whenever I see them. And of course, our elephants! My office is based really near to their habitat so I get to see them every day. They’re such a loving family group, it’s such a treat to watch them playing together and caring for each other. It’s always a wonderful occasion when we have a new baby elephant.
Can you tell us a little about your newest addition, the Chester Zoo orangutan baby?
In June we welcomed a new baby Sumatran orangutan. This precious youngster arrived to mum Emma, following an eight and a half month pregnancy. This new arrival gives a vital boost to the international conservation breeding programme for this critically endangered species. The birth was celebrated both here at the zoo and also by conservationists around the world, including in the species’ native South East Asia, where fewer than 14,000 of the great apes remain in the wild.
Do you have a favourite story from your time working at Chester Zoo? Something that’s made you laugh, cry, or swear to remember it forever?
For me it’s the way that people from all over the world supported us during the UK lockdowns. We launched the ‘Save our Zoo’ campaign after being forced to close in 2020 and people were just so eager to help and support us. Whether they donated, did fundraising activities, adopted an animal or simply sent us well wishes via social media or email while watching our Virtual Zoo days being live streamed, it really did mean the world to us as a zoo. From a personal point of view it was amazing to see how much people really care about us as a zoo and want to support us in our mission to prevent extinction.
My role here at Chester Zoo is very hands-off in regards to animal interaction, but I have had the opportunity to feed our red pandas, which was just such an amazing experience. They are one of the most amazing animals in the zoo and getting to see them so close was a day I won’t forget in a hurry.
What do you consider the hidden gems at Chester Zoo? Is there anything you wish people would stop and enjoy or appreciate more?
As a conservation charity, our focus is on preventing the extinction of all kinds of well-known species including Asian elephants, orangutans and Humboldt penguins. But our mission and collection also includes lesser-known species of animals and plants and it’s these I think are our hidden gems. From the aye-ayes (a small nocturnal lemur species), southern cassowary, golden mantilla frog, to our nepenthes national plant collection, we have such a huge range of different species spread out across the zoo. No matter where you are, you can always discover something you may not have come across before that could end up being your new favourite.
People might need a Chester Zoo guide, especially when there’s so much to see. What insider tips do you have for first-time visitors?
First of all I would recommend wearing some comfy shoes! Sunscreen and an umbrella are also always good to have on hand, as you know how unpredictable the British weather can be.
I’d then say: plan in advance. You can download our app and plan a route that will take you to all the animals you really want to see. It’s a great way to make sure you see as much as you possibly can while you’re here.
Having said that, my last tip is to be prepared to deviate from your plan! As a conservation zoo we allow each species free reign of their expansive enclosures, which encourages their natural behaviours. This means you might not immediately see an animal when you first approach their enclosure, however, you may find them by looking through a different viewing window or going to their indoor area instead which may very well take you down a different path to your pre-planned route.
The natural behaviour we encourage also means the animals are spontaneous. So you can also expect to be distracted from your route by something new or unexpected going on! Whether it’s our tree kangaroo, Sangria, moving through the branches in her enclosure, or our family of giant otters playing in their pool, along with lots of other wonderful things to discover while you’re here.
Charlotte’s Chester Zoo Guide: something for everyone
For the quick and ambitious visitor
Head straight to Islands. We opened the area in 2015 and it’s an absolute gem! It’s designed to be a completely immersive experience, and you really feel like you’ve been transported to south-east Asia as soon as you step foot over the bridge.
There is so much to see on Islands. You’ll find our tigers, cassowaries, sun bears, gibbons, orangutans, Bali starlings and sunda gharials, to name just a few. Islands is also where you’ll find Monsoon Forest, Europe’s largest indoor zoo exhibit, which re-opened this year after a devastating fire that broke out in 2019. You’ll also find Manado Street Kitchen for any refreshment needs, and our Lazy River Boat Ride.
Fun fact: Chester Zoo is also the only place in the UK where you can buy Dole Whip! Find it at District Office on Islands and the Arara Kiosk by Spirit of the Jaguar.
We are all about play here at Chester Zoo, and using that as a way to have fun and learn. You’ll find play areas and games across the zoo, giving children the chance to have fun while learning about animals and conservation as well as important life skills, like teamwork. We’ve really made it a fun family experience where everybody gets to enjoy themselves and learn something new.
There’s lots of lunch and snack options as well, from family-friendly restaurants to areas where you can eat your own picnic, as well as face painting, which is great for all generations. There’s also buggy hire for smaller children.
For eco-warriors/future conservationists
You’ll find so much information on-site about our conservation mission. We have information boards and interactive games all around the zoo, so definitely seek those out if you’re curious about conservation. You’ll also want to make sure you catch our Safari Rangers, who provide really fun and informative talks on our animals with plenty of time for questions at the end. The talks vary from day to day and you can see the times of each one when you first arrive at the zoo.
The Rangers also have stations around the zoo for you to chat to them on a 1-to-1 basis. They’re all so informed and happy to talk to people of all ages about anything to do with our animals and conservation mission; they’re happy to answer any of your questions and point you in the right direction if you’d like to get more involved.
In summer of 2021 we had our ‘Love it for Longer’ exhibition, where we turned the world of waste on its head, from plastic and technology to water and even poo! We’ve got lots of amazing interactive activities to help our visitors look at their consumer habits and discover how they can help prevent waste going to landfill.
Conservation, education and celebration
The Chester Zoo zookeepers/Safari Rangers have their work cut out on the conservation mission. What are you most proud of in your role?
I always feel proud that the work I do is contributing to Chester Zoo achieving our mission of preventing extinction all over the world. I also love providing a great day out for our visitors and hearing stories from people who visited the zoo and had a wonderful time. Knowing that we have been able to entertain those people at the same time as getting our message about conservation over to a wide audience is really rewarding. You never know what actions we might inspire in our visitors when they get home and think about what they can do to make a positive impact themselves.
What should we look forward to this year, or next year at Chester Zoo?
We’re gearing up for our annual festive celebration that starts in November: ‘The Lanterns’. I love this event, which is now in its tenth year, as we give visitors a unique opportunity to experience the zoo after hours on a set trail in the dark – taking them through spectacular illuminations and colourful lanterns, encountering enchanting costumed characters along the way.
This year we’re going to have lots of new illuminated characters, including orangutans, butterflies, caterpillars and wolves. We’re also going to have a very special 90th birthday light show, taking visitors on a journey through time as they explore the zoo’s history, which is going to be wonderful!
Thanks so much Charlotte for this amazing Chester Zoo Guide, which will hopefully inspire lots more visitors to get out the door, and get involved!
Can’t wait to visit Chester Zoo?
Book your tickets online now!
Chester Zoo Facts
How big is Chester Zoo?
Chester Zoo is one of the UK’s largest zoos and spans 51 hectares (130 acres). Plan a whole day to see it all!
How long does it take to walk around Chester Zoo?
Most people can make it around in 2.5-3 hours, but if you have little kids in tow, you’ll want to stop, explore and go awww a lot more. You could easily spend 6-7 hours inside, including a break for lunch.
When is the best time to visit Chester Zoo?
The mornings and afternoons are the best times to visit the animals at Chester Zoo. Whatever the time of day, you’ll probably find many animals are visible and active.
How to get to Chester Zoo
Chester Zoo is not far from the M56 or Chester city centre. You’ll see it signposted on the main roads around Chester; just follow the motorway signs towards Chester and look for the brown zoo signs as you approach the city. For more information, see their website.
When does Chester Zoo open?
The Zoo is open daily from 10am with free on-site parking. The Diamond Jubilee Quarter at the main entrance opens at 9.30am.