But questions about the ethics of keeping animals in captivity tend to evaporate in the face of our enduring fascination with looking at them and seeing what they do. And the Cotswold Wildlife Park seems to be nicer than many places. The staff, as observed and overheard, seem caring and knowledgable - the commentary which went with penguin feeding was detailed and affectionate – and the responses to questions on their facebook page indicate that animals way past their photogenic prime are well cared for.
And it seems that some animals have more freedom than you might imagine. As we trundled round on the narrow gauge train (£1 adults, not quite worth it, 50p children, perfect), getting an initial idea of the place, the man who took the money settled down with a family just behind us and gave them an agreeable commentary about various animal misdemeanors. “They get out!” was a common theme. Meerkats sounded like the main culprits, but there were others, albeit none too huge.
Meerkats and their ilk, in fact, are one of CWP’s greatest draws. Two colonies of the “kats” themselves, plus a couple of groups of mongeese, all standing up, looking cute and doing their happy community thing, were popular with all ages. Likewise otters and wallabies, the latter being surprisingly good value with youths playfighting, heads and sometimes legs sticking out of pouches, and a willingness to linger very close to a delighted audience.
Pigs, peccaries and tapirs snuffled around happily, lions and leopards slept, wolves looked a bit bored, but obliged with some strutting. Another favourite was the enclosure containing agoutis (whose Greek name, explained the notice happily, literally means “hairy rectum”) and the exuberant squirrel monkeys.
Overall the park has more than enough to keep even adults diverted for a full day: we were there 11am – 6pm, with breaks for food and catching up with the cricket score, and just about managed to see everything. Add decent facilities, pleasant and not too expensive food, spacious play areas and a children's farmyard, and you can see why families buy season tickets and come back regularly. £10.50 the day, £8 children. Just don’t look at the owls.