Hamerton Zoo Park Review

Hamerton Zoo Park may only qualify as a small to medium-sized zoo, with over a hundred species spread across 20 acres, but the fact that it is packed to the brim with rarities is why it has topped my zoo bucket list for so many years. 

With it being my 30th birthday, and having recently earned my driver's license, I booked some tickets and made the two-and-a-half hour road trip to visit it. Accompanying me was my girlfriend who isn't as enamoured with zoos as I am but who enjoyed it nonetheless. 

We approached the zoo via a winding country lane and left our car in the car park. The entrance was a modest gate with a single window through which to buy a ticket. The friendly staff member asked if we wanted to buy a zoo booklet, which included a map of the park, for around £3. As it was my birthday, I decided to treat myself and bought it. This later turned out to be a very fulfilling purchase as the book was high quality and packed with interesting information on the zoo's history, management and inhabitants. It's a few years out of date but a recommended purchase nonetheless. The map is also indispensable as the zoo has a very scattered layout, making it easy to miss things — and given how many rarities there are here, you really don't want to miss a thing!

Park map
It was a mild but sunny Thursday afternoon and there were very few people at the zoo. It seemed we chose the perfect time to visit, something which rarely happens!

The first port of call after our two hour drive was the restroom and the cafe. The restroom was immaculate (something you come to appreciate when you have a phobia of dirty public restrooms) and the cafe had a wide selection of food on offer for a reasonable price. The cafe also had an Australian themed aquarium within it, with three large tanks beside three tables. Within these tanks were gouramis, Australian water dragons and Australian lungfish. Whilst I enjoyed the novelty of eating besides these animals, I also disliked the fact I couldn't see into all the tanks as there were families eating in front of them.

Australian exhibits in the cafe

The first enclosure we saw on entering the park was a large one for Bennett's wallabies. Around it, a path ran its perimeter with various other animal enclosures adjoined. The first assortment of these belonged to lemurs (ring tailed, black-and-white ruffed and collared), as well as Tasmanian golden possum (Trichosurus vulpecula fuliginosus) and white-bearded masked palm civet (Paguma larvata leucomystax); Hamerton is the only zoo in the UK with the latter two species.

Ring-tailed lemur enclosure

The majority of the zoo's enclosures were of the basic "wood and wire" variety that you can find in most zoos. None of them were particularly remarkable and most of them were near-identical. I assume the zoo made them alike so that they were compatible for a wide range of species. All of the enclosures were all adequately sized for their occupants, with a few standout larger ones. The only two enclosures I didn't like were for the echidnas and southern cassowaries but my disliking of them was purely from a visitor viewpoint. The echidnas lived in a large, blacked out box which you could only see into via small portholes covered by liftable panels. Even with the red lighting, it was very difficult to see into the enclosure, nevermind spot an animal or photograph it. The cassowaries were just as hard to see, as their enclosure was completely disconnected from a visitor path and only viewable from across the greater flamingo enclosure. Poor viewing aside, from what I could see, the cassowary enclosure was otherwise fantastic: large and heavily vegetated. The nearby enclosure for Europe's only Johnstone's cassowaries was a lot easier to view.

The southern cassowary enclosure... or what could be seen of it.
The zoo had an extensive collection of birds, with everything from the prehistoric-looking marabou stork to the red-legged seriema which I stumbled upon whilst it was eating a chick.

The zoo is keen to point out that it never forces its animals to be inside or out, a practice still common in many zoos around the world, so there's a high chance you may not see every animal at the zoo. To remedy this, the zoo has added viewing windows into many of their indoor enclosures. As it happened, luck was on my side and I managed to see most things, including the first giant anteater I've ever managed to see out and about.

Giant anteater

The jewel in Hamerton's crown is undoubtedly its Australian collection which it claims is the largest in Europe. This collection includes Australian brush-turkeys, echidna, cassowaries, potoroos, dingos and of course, wombats. Many of these animals were received directly from Australia and are the only ones of their kind in the UK and/or Europe.

Honestly, the list of rarities in this collection is just endless and it's why this zoo is so auspicious to zoo nerds. My personal highlight was the wombats which were kept alongside a large Australian walkthrough aviary (which was also stunning). Their indoor area was pitch black and if it wasn't for the grace of the iPhone 14's ultra low light capabilities, I wouldn't have been able to see them.

Common wombat

Another highlight of mine was seeing the Linnaeus' two-toed sloth which was very active and a joy to watch. If only we got this species in the Tropical Pack and not the rarely captive brown-throated one!

As you may know by now, cats are some of my favourite animals and Hamerton has a great offering of big, medium and small cats including jaguarundi, Sri Lankan rusty spotted cats and Canadian lynx (sadly, they proved as elusive as ever and I saw none of them). It is also one of only two zoos in Europe to have oncillas and the only zoo in the UK with Malayan tigers. The zoo had an impressive collection of carnivores in general, with dingos, tayra, southern black-backed jackal, greater grison, Corsac fox and Syrian brown bears being particular rarities. The unmistakable stench of burnt popcorn also alluded to the presence of binturongs (both non-subspecific and Malayan) but neither were out. Sadly, the zoos aardwolves both died in recent years and the zoo's newly-arrived brown hyenas were still off-show. 

I got my first taste of some hot wire when viewing the binturongs as part of their fence was unexpectedly electrified. Luckily it was only a minor shock!

The zoo has a small reptile house but sadly I only managed to view two animals (black-headed python and Egyptian tortoise) before it was closed for cleaning. My girlfriend did manage to see more but skinks and the Utah banded gila monster is all that she remembers. 

One of the main reasons I visit zoos is to inspire my Planet Zoo creations and this visit to Hamerton Zoo Park did that in abundance. Two notable takeaways I got from it were: One, rare species aren't always a luxury afforded to larger, mainstream zoos; smaller ones have their fair share too. And two, zoos sometimes showcase the same species multiple times in different areas. I saw this at Hamerton with the palm civets, possums and gibbons.

Overall, this was one of my most enjoyable zoo visits to date due to a mixture of birthday hype, constant excitement seeing rare species, it being a quiet, sunny day and the fact that the zoo was just so well managed. 

Scores out of 10 seem to be all the rage these days, so I'll give it an 8/10.