SHARING a picnic with Patagonian cavies is very pleasant. Patagonian cavies are hefty rabbit-like animals with white bottoms, burly cousins of guinea pigs. Actually, ‘sharing’ is an exaggeration. I sat on the Downs munching cheese rolls while these old rodents hared around me snacking on the grass. The point is that there was no wire fence, no ditch and no glass between me and them.
Whipsnade Wild Animal Park doesn’t do that Disney thing of pretending to be Patagonia, or Africa, or any other country its animals come from. It’s not really a theme park, more like a well-managed country park that happens to have rhinos, giraffes and antelopes roaming around its 600 acres. Research shows that most first-time visitors aren’t here becaue they’re interested in animal conservation. They come because Whipsnade is on the leisure industry’s ever growing list of daytrip destinations and Whipsnade is the one without the white knuckle rides.
It’s the other half of London Zoo. A motorway hour from central London, it has 3,500 large animals on view in open fields, although only the cavies, peacocks, wallabies and Chinese water deer run amongst the homo sapiens. The bank holiday Sunday I went, we homines appeared, if not particularly sapientes, at least contented and well behaved.