Call of the wild at Banham Zoo
Set out for a safari in Norfolk at one of the region's best-loved attractions. STACIA BRIGGS enjoys looking at the monkeys at Banham Zoo – and the primates seemed quite interested in her children, too.
You can discover a whole wild world at Banham Zoo, which is home to almost 1,000 animals from across the globe.
Set amongst 35 acres of beautiful parkland and gardens with innovative and exciting enclosures, Banham provides sanctuary for enough animals to fill an ark, from big cats to birds of prey and siamangs to shire horses.
Voted Best Large Norfolk Attraction 2010 by Tourism in Norfolk Awards, it's easy to see why Banham is so popular – in addition to the animals, there are live displays, an indoor soft play centre, Tarzan Towers adventure play area and an interactive activities and education centre.
But, of course, the animals at Banham are the real stars: that and the conservation work which is going on to safeguard their future.
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My Mum, daughter, son and myself visited the zoo earlier in the summer – we generally visit several times a year and nearly always try and attend one of the night openings at the zoo, which are truly magical.
Of all the animals, the primates are my children's favourite: presumably because both children and monkeys have questionable habits and a deep-rooted desire to mess around all day.
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The screeching Siamangs are impressively acrobatic and are fascinating to watch as they swing into action around their enclosure, while some of the smaller monkeys in the primate house are so incredibly cute that it's hard to tear your eyes away.
At some points, it was difficult to discern whether the children were watching the monkeys, or the monkeys were watching them. I think, on balance, the monkeys are tidier eaters.
Other favourites around the zoo include the penguins, the otters, the flamingos (they fascinate me, perching on their stick-thin legs), the owls, the reptiles and giant snails, the maned wolves and the camels.
I think everyone could benefit from watching otters or penguins – or both – for at least an hour a day; it's like sunshine for the soul.
If the weather isn't with you, there are plenty of places to shelter during a downpour – the farm barn, where you can see farmyard animals (and feed a few), is a great place to get really close to some familiar creatures, I love the rats, although it's evident that not everyone shares my sentiment.
Then there's the under-five's soft play area, the Safari Roadtrain which takes you on a tour of the whole site and gives you an insight into the animals' lives, the primate house, the tamarin and marmoset house and the heavy horse enclosure.
My mum is the heavy horses' biggest fan and is particularly fond of the Suffolk Punch, which is Britain's oldest breed of horse and also the rarest, with less than 400 pure-breds presently registered.
These gentle giants weigh around a tonne each and are a living testament to the region's agricultural past, a gentler time when the horse, rather than the tractor, ruled the fields.
Look out for Bazoo Xavier, the colt foal born at the zoo in February. Adorable.
On the day we visited, the weather was cool but clear, so the kids spent around an hour at Tarzan Towers, a brilliant outdoor playground with all manner of jungle gym equipment to assist small people in the important business of letting off steam.
New at Banham this year is Zarafa Heights Sky Trek. For an extra charge, you can take to the air on the sky trek which sits next door to the zoo's Giraffe House and Zafara Heights Walkway and encourages visitors to embrace their inner-Tarzan by tackling a series of lofty rope bridges and tightrope walks before ending with a speedy zip wire back down to earth.
We're saving Sky Trek for our next visit. Although whether or not the children will persuade me to harness my inner Tarzan has yet to be seen…
n Banham Zoo is signposted off the A11 near Diss. The park is open daily, other than Christmas and Boxing Day. For more information, call 01953 887445 or visit www.banhamzoo.co.uk.