Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens, at the heart of rural Norfolk, is home to all manner of exotic species. Lucy and The Chap head out to find out what’s in store
We love animals. In fact, animals are the main reason we went to Costa Rica last year – and some of our holiday highlights in recent years have featured the likes of monkeys, turtles and manta rays.
With no far-flung trips immediately on our horizon, however, we decided to get close to nature at Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens instead.
Located just outside Acle, it took around half-an-hour to reach Thrigby Hall from central Norwich. There was lots of parking when we arrived – and I imagine it’s ample if you’re planning to visit over a weekend in summer.
Upon buying our tickets – which are available from the Gift Shop during winter – we were presented with a map of the gardens and set out to explore.
Thrigby Hall: Where the wild things are
One of the things you’ll first notice is how close you are to the animals.
Our first stop was at the Amur leopard enclosure and it was incredible. There were at least five cats playing outside and they were mere feet from us.
Three of them were clearly young, bounding around and playing rough and tumble; we were close enough to hear them purring.
Having stood and watched them frolic and play for a while, we ambled over to see the snow leopards next door. There’s a delightfully skittish little cub in residence and he is thoroughly adorable. With huge paws, dense fur and a long tail, I defy you to not fall in love with him.
If you’re struggling to spot him, take a walk up the ramp around the outside of the enclosure, to see if it’s near the shelter with its mother.
Red panda alert
Now, I know I shouldn’t have favourites. But I do. The red panda is my spirit animal.
At this time of year, Thrigby Hall’s red panda is very active. Housed just a few metres from the leopards, he could be seen trotting around his enclosure, up and down the trees, all day long.
There were times that he came so near to the boundary that I could actually hear him panting. The cuteness was unbearable!
The Chap was most keen to see the primates when we arrived and there are both siamangs and white-faced gibbons at Thrigby Hall.
We spent a lot of time watching and listening to them. It’s fascinating to see their social interactions and marvel at how familiar some of their behaviours seem.
Not long after we arrived, the two species started heckling each other, with the white-faced gibbons singing away and the siamangs whooping, their bulbous throats filling with air and letting out an almighty shriek. It was deafening – you must be able to hear it for miles around.
If you’re of a nervous disposition, I have a warning: be wary of the Sulawesi macaques. They made me jump out of my skin!
Well, I might have been laughing at the young monkey after it fell off a
I don’t know if they’re normally so aggressive, but one of the females was nursing a few-week-old baby. It seemed like he was being protective, so it was fascinating to watch them interact when I calmed down!
It was fascinating to watch them interact when I calmed down!
I’ll be honest, I was more taken with the langur monkeys, who sat munching away on bits of fruit, looking contemplative. They’re my kind of monkeys!
Walking with dinosaurs
The Swamp area was fascinating because it allowed us to get up close to some huge reptiles. While I’m not rushing to pet an alligator, it’s awesome to see one up close.
Crossing the wooden walkways above their heads, you can see how big they really are. We were also lucky to see two crocodiles up close, at which point we could see how dinosaur-like they are. At that point, I was very glad there was a pane of glass between us!
The Pool Garden
Next up was The Pool Garden, where we saw lots of brightly coloured birds.
One bird, which looked like a delicate pigeon, caught my attention. With a red smudge in the centre of its chest, I worried it was injured. I was just about to go find a
It led to a long conversation where we pondered the evolutionary benefits of that might be. If you know, please leave a comment below!
Get close to big cats
I’m a cat lover through and through and loved the Sumatran tiger enclosure at Thrigby Hall. There are several viewing platforms around the space, and one of them allows you to get very close to the cats.
Upon climbing the ramp, we discovered that the female was laying up there – just inches away from us. Two chain-link fences were all that stood between me and Dua, the female.
To be honest, it was as exhilarating as it was terrifying, especially when the male, Kubu, came for a visit. Not wanting anything to do with him, she growled and snarled at him in warning, as he thudded along the walkway, making the whole platform shake. It was almost as if we had our own, private wildlife documentary!
After spending around half-an-hour just watching them, we made our way to The Cats Cloisters. Home to tiny ocelot-like Asian leopard cats (the size of a domesticated moggy) and the stocky golden cat I was in my element! Is it wrong that I wanted to give them catnip?
Your day out at Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens
I have by no means covered every animal we saw at Thrigby. There was so much to see, I could blather on for ages. For instance, I’ve not even mentioned the meerkats, parrots, porcupines, otters, Mandarin ducks, turtles or snakes. There’s easily enough to fill a whole day.
In short, it’s excellent value. Tickets cost £14.50 for adults and £10.50 for children 4-14. However, be sure to take a picnic with you in winter. The dining options are limited and the Cockatoo Cafe is only open for a few hours a day. If you’re in any way fussy or get caught up staring at tigers, you might miss out on lunch!