Animal Encounters at the Hunter Valley Zoo
Spent the most amazing day at the Hunter Valley Zoo, feeding animals, learning about their habits and meeting the brilliant keepers of the zoo.
Two weeks ago, I didn’t even know there was a zoo at the Hunter Valley. And it was only by chance whilst researching zoos who do animal encounters for my sister-in-law, I came across this incredible place online.
My sister-in-law is disabled and has wanted to do an animal encounter for a while now, with a particular interest in big cats. The problem is, due to her disability, most zoos won’t allow the encounter; even for some elderly, as it’s a high risk taking someone in to encounter with an animal like a cheetah or a lion.
This is because, should the animals attitude change, or something scares the big cat, the keepers need to have confidence that the person having the encounter has the ability to run and get out QUICK should it call for it.
After spending a few or more hours online searching for zoos around the area; which was mostly Sydney, I came across a few more zoos where there was a slight possibility Vicky (my sister-in-law) would be able to engage with some animals. Though they wouldn’t be big cats. We now had our sites set on Meerkats, Marmosets or Imperial Tamarins.
I sent multiple emails out to a variety of different zoos and only one got back to me, the Hunter Valley Zoo. They certainly accommodate taking people with disabilities and take the elderly too.
You see, most zoos explained the noise of any equipment used by elderly or people who are disabled scares the animals; apart from the unpredictability of the animal also, the keepers don’t want to create unnecessary stress for the animals and of course don’t want to put anyone in danger also. Which I totally respect.
At the Hunter Valley Zoo, they have a different approach to their animal encounters. Their animals have all been bred in captivity. And yes, I know how that sounds, as all animals are best kept wild in their natural habitat.
However, in Australia the conservation effort of breeding animals is so successful in our zoos, I have no problem with the animals being kept in this manner, especially when you see how happy they are. And believe me, they are super happy. Especially at this zoo.
The animals here are all accustomed to human interaction from the moment they are born. But this is never forced on the animal. Their homes at the Hunter Valley Zoo are set up where the animal can make their own choice, whether they want to interact, or they would rather take shelter and stay away. This allows the animal to take full control of what they prefer to do. No keeper forces an animal to engage with humans.
Which when you think about it, is far nicer than the idea that you sit in a designated area and then the animal is led out to you and forced to engage. Though I doubt this happens here in Australia. I have only heard horror stories from animal encounters in Thailand.
We all had the best day, myself, my partner Greg. His mother (who also did the animal encounters) and my sister-in-law Vicky.
The Meerkats were incredible and I had no idea they were that friendly. They were all cuddles up on the lap of my family, sun-baking whilst being fed and love a good pat for comfort. They are super engaging and love human engagement. There favourite thing to do, is to stand on your head as the perfect scouting location, to watch for any hostile enemies approaching.
The animal encounters start from a price of $80pp for the Marmosets, $90pp for the Emperor Tamarins and $100pp for the Meerkats – but you are allowed approx twenty minutes for each engagement and family can sit outside and watch too.
Entry to the park is around $29 per person for a standard adult entry and around $25 with a concession card. $15 for kids aged 2 to 15 years and free for under 2 years.
And if you don’t want to do the animal encounter, you can feed the kangaroos, goats, deers sheep. The feed is around $2 a bag or $5 for 3 bags.
Oh you can feed some camels too, but be careful, as they will rip the whole back from your hands and maybe take one of two of your fingers along with it. Which is what nearly happened to me. Whoops!