Ian Waller and his family enjoy a day out including bears, wolves and even a pair of stunning cheetahs…

As our first post-lockdown family day, our visit to the Wild Place Project just on the edge of Bristol was a cracker. Having booked ahead and received our allotted time slot for arrival, we were soon following the clearly signposted one way system around the open air park, full of expectation of seeing an amazing array of wild animals.

Gelado Baboons – simply the best!

And we weren’t disappointed. First up were the extraordinary Gelada Baboons, complete with bright pink chests, built in fur coats and haircuts reminiscent of 1980s era Tina Turner. With myriad facial expressions – all deciphered thanks to easily accessible pictorial guides – the baboons were an ideal opening act for the upcoming show.

Next up and the trail led us to Bear Wood which tells the story of our British woodland from 8,000BC to the present day. The first of the four incredible ‘extinct’ British species on show was the impossibly gorgeous Eurasion Lynx, appearing  like very large domestic cats, albeit with super furry feet and pointed ears. Then as the story unwinds, we’re introduced to European brown bears, grey wolves and wolverines. 

European Brown Bear – they used to roam Britain’s woodlands!

OK, to be honest, I think we did see a wolverine leg behind a log, while the group in front certainly watched the wolves feeding, even if we completely missed them. Still, we did get to see the four bears, close up at first and then roaming out to find their food. This really was seriously wow… what a great experience to be so close to such wonderful wild animals.

And this really is the appeal of Wild Place Project – it is amazing just how close you can get to most of the wild animals. As we made our way out of Bear Wood, within no time we were just a few feet – and a suitably high fence – from a pair of stunning cheetahs (two of three at the project), while just a little further still, the regal giraffes, impressive eland and incredible red river hogs (think Pumbaa from Lion King) in the Benoue National Park seemed as intrigued in their human visitors as we were in them.

What a great chance to get up-close to magnificent giraffes…

As the visit progressed, we met the lemurs of Madagascar, the okapi of the Congo, the super-cute Kirk’s Dik Diks of southern Africa and everybody’s favourites, the meerkats…

Along the way, volunteer navigators help visitors find their way and answer those thousand and one questions with a friendliness and patience that makes you want to throw in your nine to five desk job and join them as soon as possible…

Of course, with the Covid restrictions still in place during our visit, there were certain areas out of bounds, including several play areas, viewing posts and enclosed attractions. However, to absolutely honest, this didn’t take away from the experience – in fact, it just provides an extra reason to visit again once the restrictions have been relaxed.

If you’re lucky you’ll meet the wonderful wolves too…

Within about two hours, we’d pretty much enjoyed the full tour, compared notes about which were our favourite animals (the Lynx won…) and distracted the children from a visit to the still-open gift shop. By 2024, we were told, the plan is that Bristol Zoo will have closed and most of the animals will move across town to find their new home here at Wild Place Project. Now this will be worth seeing and I’m certain we’ll be back again – although for that visit, we’ll need a lot more than a couple of hours.

Wildplace.org.uk