Did you know Chipping Norton had a zoo? The Heythrop Zoological Gardens is probably one of the area’s best kept secrets.
Heythrop Park, Oxfordshire is well known in the area for doing a great afternoon tea and for being a wedding venue of choice. Surprisingly, not many locals realise it also has a fully-fledged, working private zoo. It is a zoo with a difference and the public can’t just pitch up whenever they feel like it. Yet, you’ve probably seen one of their residents on TV or in a film, as the animals are fully-media trained. If you’ve been watching the BBC’s ‘The Zoo’ recently, about the origins of Chester Zoo, you’ve probably seen Heythrop’s penguins starring alongside Lee Ingleby and Anne Read, whilst their geese found fame alongside Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Hot Fuzz.
There are just a few days of the year when the ‘Amazing Animals’ team based at Heythrop Zoological Gardens opens their gates to the public, organising displays to show off the talents of their animals – which any kid (and big kid) will easily enjoy. But the team take the welfare of their animals seriously and are the largest workforce of qualified, experienced animal experts for the media industry in the UK. (Who knew we had that on our doorstep?)
Their expertise have also been utilised by government as key consultants on the Animal Welfare Act in 2006 and as a founding member of the Animals Consultants and Trainers Association, the oldest and largest trade association for animal trainers in the audio-visual industry. Having said that, owner, Jim Clubb, came under fire by the Daily Mail in 2012 after four white lion cubs, trained at the Zoo, then appeared in/sold to a Japanese circus.
The private zoo was established in 1977 and much of the filming actually takes place on the grounds or in the Zoo’s own blue screen studio. The team opens up the Zoo for ONE open weekend at the end of the summer and in 2014 had a box office year, with more visitors than any other open weekend. I visited for the first time this year and would certainly rate it as good hidden Cotswold gem.
Get the knack
- Open days are usually scheduled for the second or third weekend in September, tickets don’t go on sale until first week in August. To be kept updated email – firstname.lastname@example.org
- On the day there are limited tickets to their studio shows, so turn up early as they go on a first come fist served basis.
- The Zoo has its own entrance, and can’t be accessed from the hotel.
- And take plenty of cash, the team won’t be able to process credit cards.