Sitting atop the Corstorphine Hill overlooking the city, Edinburgh Zoo is Scotland’s second most visited paying tourist attraction after Edinburgh Castle, drawing more than 600,000 visitors a year. The zoo, which was built in 1913, is a not-for-profit organisation and is involved in various international conservation programmes, as well as breeding endangered species and researching animal behaviour. It has been granted four stars by the Scottish Tourism Board.
Edinburgh Zoo was the first zoo in the world to house and breed penguins, and its Penguins Rock area has Europe's largest outdoor penguin pool – it’s 65 metres long and up to 3.5 metres deep - as well as mock sandy beaches and rocky areas (the different textures are good for the penguins’ feet), a waterfall and a diving board.
It is also the only zoo in Britain to house koalas and giant pandas – there are two pandas, a male and a female, on loan from China, as well as four koalas, one of which became the first koala to be born in the UK. You can visit them in their eucalyptus garden, adorned with indigenous artwork, and learn about how a koala's body works, what the threats to koalas are in the wild, and how a joey develops.
In the Budongo Trail, an enclosure big enough for 40 chimps, you can learn about the links between humans and their closest relatives; the Brilliant Birds aviary is home to exotic species from around the world, including the stunning lilac breasted roller, the Nicobar pigeon and the Bali myna, which is teetering perilously close to extinction. The aviary also houses a collection of fish and reptiles and a colony of leaf-cutter ants.
The vast range of other animals at the zoo encompasses everything from African hunting dogs and Asiatic golden cats to Malayan sun bears and meerkats, and there are daily opportunities to listen to talks about the animals and see them being fed.
No wonder the place is so popular. Fortunately we offer a wide range of hotels near Edinburgh Zoo.
Before it was a zoo, the site was a nursery, and the 82-acre gardens have one of the most diverse tree collections in the Lothians, with around 120 species - each of the 1,000 trees is tagged and catalogued. Many of the plant species in the zoo’s collection are listed as threatened or vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Bananas can be grown outside on the south-facing land, although they have to be wrapped up in winter, and many of the plants in the animals’ enclosures are grown in greenhouses on site. There’s something to see all year round, from pelargoniums in summer to alpine plants in winter.
More than a million pupils have benefited from the zoo’s education programme over the past four decades, and it offers classes for students, schoolchildren and adults, as well as work placements and summer schools. The zoo is also home to the Living Links human evolution research centre, run in partnership with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and the University of St Andrews, where two species of monkey - the brown capuchin and the common squirrel monkey – are studied.
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