What makes us different
Our wild animal parks are very different from conventional zoos and whilst we work hard to provide a great day out, at our parks, the animals come first.
We see our parks as breeding sanctuaries for rare and endangered species and wherever possible, we aim to return animals born at Howletts and Port Lympne, to protected areas of their natural habitat.
We make sure that the animals’ habitats are filled with natural foliage, to provide shelter and camouflage and we make sure that we provide plenty of space for animals to seek privacy, whenever they want. We never lock an animal into a viewing area, so that they can easily be seen and this does mean that sometimes you have to take a little longer to spot some of the residents.
Our philosophy and techniques over the last 40 years, across both Howletts and sister park Port Lympne, mean that we have enjoyed 138 gorilla births, 36 black rhino, 123 clouded leopards, 33 Javan gibbons, 104 Javan langur and 20 African elephants.
We do our best to provide a fantastic visitor experience and we are constantly striving for new ways to ensure that we are one of Kent’s best days out, whilst not forgetting the primary reason we are here – to ensure the survival of endangered animals.
Our Back To The Wild initiative has already seen an impressive number of animals born at Howletts and sister park Port Lympne, returned to their natural habitats. Western lowland gorillas, black rhino, Javan langurs and gibbons, European bison and clouded leopards are now, not only thriving in the wild, but are also successfully breeding.
As the name suggests, enrichment is a way of making animals’ lives richer and more varied and we incorporate animal enrichment every day.
The enrichments that we offer include Kongs for the painted dogs, bubble machines for our gorillas (a huge hit with the group at Howletts!) exercise balls – ideal for the hoofstock including our giraffe, to kick around and head butt. Feeder balls, puzzle feeders and cat toys, which our small cats adore! It’s not just toys though, our expert keepers are also master creators of rope swings, zip wires, platforms and climbing frames and their skills don’t end there. They also encourage scent enrichment for various animals with perfumes, plants and herbs!
You can get involved and help us continue to offer our animals interesting enrichments here, on our Amazon Wish List:Port Lympne Wishlist
Specialist diets for our animals
The food we feed to our animals is very important, not only the quantity but also the variety and quality. Each animal has a diet tailored to its own individual needs.
Gorillas and primates
Elephants and Hoof Stock
Gorillas and primates
Our gorillas / primates receive somewhere in the region of 50 different varieties of fruits and vegetables, many organically grown. These include apples, beans, carrots, cauliflower, leeks, melon, oranges, pears, peppers, spinach and sweet potatoes.
We also work with the seasons, so while there are basics and staples available throughout the year, we can also offer a variety of treats including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, plums and damsons.
A large variety of woodland browse is offered throughout the year from our own managed woodlands and we have an increasing number of in-house plantations on site, growing various species of bamboo and willow. We also grow our own herbs, which the gorillas especially love. Parsley, thyme, rosemary and coriander are all great favourites.
Additionally the primates/gorillas receive concentrated vitamin pellets, cheese, eggs, honey, peanut butter, yoghurt, mealworms, crickets and an ever increasing array of (appropriate) food items in order to maintain interest and stimulation. Winter treats for the gorillas include warming baked potatoes – not only a tasty treat, but also a perfect hand warmer! Some of the small primates eat rose petals and leaves that have been picked during the summer months and frozen for use throughout the winter.
Our gorilla groups are particularly fond of hummus, dhall, mushy peas and marmite (mixed together!) Our team put the mix into honey pots around the enclosures and our gorillas use sticks to scoop out the savoury dip.
Scatter feeds are offered up to 6 times daily, which stimulates natural foraging behavior and helps promote and encourage general activity and interest in the animal’s environment. Various environmental enrichment devices add to this, ensuring that there is something for our animals to do at all times of the day.
Elephants and Hoof Stock
The elephants, hoof stock and our herd of black rhino enjoy a wide variety of vegetables, pellets and browse; along with small amounts of fruit as occasional treats. Our keepers use a variety of techniques at feeding times to keep things interesting, including scatter feeds, hanging branches, silage,that we collect in the summer and store. Linseed cakes and balls are particularly popular with our elephants and rhino and help to promote healthy skin and nails!
Hay, lucerne, wheat and barley straw are the principal bulk feeds. Complex grains such as flaked maize, oats and wheat are offered in small quantities, mainly during the winter time, to provide additional energy and our plantations provide a wide range of woodland browse - Our black rhinos particularly like field maple, willow, oak, hawthorn, apple, wild cherry and blackthorn.
The carnivores receive a hugely varied diet ranging from beef, mutton and horse to goat, rabbits, rats, fish, crayfish (not European crayfish), chicken, chicks, duck, quail, pheasant, mice, squirrels and pigeons are also regular snacks.
Meat is fed both on and off the bone and our expert keepers design a variety of ways to make feed times interesting, including zip wires encouraging the cats to jump and pull their prey, or the dogs to work as a team to eat their meal.
To replicate how the carnivores feed in the wild, we don’t feed huge portions of meat every day, this aids digestion and ensures that they are in tip top condition.
Our ongoing aim is to improve our education facilities so that we can appeal to a large and inclusive audience.
In 2013 We were honoured to be an ICAP chosen charity. Funds raised from ICAP enabled us to provide a dedicated education facility at Port Lympne and in 2016 SouthernWater have offered a grant to make improvements to the existing Howletts Education Centre.
This means that we can continue to spread the word about the importance of conservation to local schools and groups across a broad section of the community.
Helping us to feed the freshest food to our animals
We grow our own vegetables, herbs and fruits for our animals at Walmestone Growers, near Canterbury. The nursery produces over 30 different crops and 20 different herbs each year and produces over 500 boxes of vegetables per week in the summer period!
Deliveries are made twice a week to the wild animal parks, ensuring that our animals are getting the freshest produce available – often picked and delivered on the same day!
Walmestone keeps everything as natural as possible and nothing goes to waste. Pest control is kept as biological as possible by bringing in natural predators such as lacewings and ladybirds, which are then released into the poly tunnels. Hives of bumblebees are used in the glasshouses to pollinate the tomatoes and strawberries and they love the wide array of herbs grown such as thyme, marjoram and lemon balm as they pollinate throughout the farm.
The farm now supplies, not only our animal sections at the wild animal parks, but also our restaurants, independent local farm shops, Box Schemes and other local restaurants and cafes.