What this means is that the enclosures have been set up for the comfort and well-being of the animals, and not the viewing public. Shy species have their areas set well back from the pathways and protected by a fence. The African elephants (the largest herd in the UK) are given a huge space to roam in, and they may or may not choose to go to the most public areas. All the animals are able to go to their indoor sleeping quarters at any time. In short, you see the animals when they want to be seen, and you can't necessarily get close. During our visit yesterday, I didn't once have to grit my teeth at the sight of an undisciplined child banging on the glass, or of tourists trying to whistle an animal over for a photo.
Fortunately, although some of the animals were keeping to themselves when we visited, many more of them were happy to be in plain view.
Howletts breeds a number of species that don't get much attention elsewhere, such as European bison and capybaras (I wrote a report about the latter in fifth grade, but am not sure I'd ever seen them in life before).
Much more recently I'd written about the Fishing Cat for an animal behaviour class, but I'd definitely never seen one. They're secretive creatures, but I just caught a glimpse. Can you spot it?
Several of the monkey species were new to me, such as Heck's Macaque and the Lion-Tailed Macaque (which looked remarkably like Raymond Smullyan).
My favourites, though, were the Javan Langurs. There were about half a dozen of them, and they were all very absorbed in grooming each other, but a couple did take a moment to check us out.
Seeing such natural behaviour was part of the joy of our visit. The animals all seemed relaxed and happy. In the gorilla enclosure (where, unfortunately, I was unable to get a good picture), some youngsters were chasing each other around, beating their chests in a play fight. And a curious baby was keeping the Black and White Colobus Monkeys busy.
If you have to keep animals in captivity for conservation purposes -- and I believe it's a necessary evil -- then this is the way to do it.
The local wildlife was fun to watch too. An extremely noisy rookery spreads over much of the park, and as we walked along we startled a family of young rabbits. And of course there were blackbirds.