My first visit to Scotland

May 30th, 2018 | By | Category: Ralph's reports

30.5.2018 by Ralph

On Friday 18 May I set off for London from Oxford in the evening using the one of the two excellent bus services.

I arrived in Victoria in London in plenty of time to have an evening meal. I soon found a little place to eat and settled on a filling treat to keep me fed until Saturday morning.

As it was a Friday night and I was visiting Polar Bears I decided on a fish dish. It went down very well.

You may be wondering why I chose to use the bus to go so far rather than plane or train. Although I like looking at planes and collecting models of them, the tight sits and hassle at airports annoys me. Moreover however early in the morning I flew to Inverness or Edinburgh, I would then have to change to a bus or train anyway. Being able to get in a bus in London and get off in the morning near the Highland Wildlife Park suited me fine.

National Express buses operate a service from London to Inverness and so I caught the 588 bus. We set off promptly at 1030. By 430 in the morning it was already dawn and we had reached the Lake District in England. Sitting near the front of the bus I was treated to some beautiful views and by the time we reached the Cairngorms the views were dramatic.

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There was snow on the mountains and the bright sun was coming up. I got off the bus in the resort town of Aviemore.

I soon caught a bus which would drop me off at the Highland Wildlife Park.

I was able to join the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland online

This offers a year’s visits to both the Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park, as well as supporting their work.

Highland Wildlife Park is an impressively large reserve for animals from the tundra and mountains.

You can see from the list above that it is home to a wide range of interesting animals.

I hope that the Park will not mind me turning their PDF visitors map into a simpler JPEG here.

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The purple route is the drive through area, and the white route is for visitors on foot. What the map does not show, is how hilly the HWP is. You will see two Polar Bear shapes on the map, one on the far left hand side and the other in the middle by a lake. The one on the left shows where Victoria and Hamish live. The other is the area originally created for Mercedes and now used by Walker and Arktos. The bears are sufficiently far apart for the males not to be too distracted by Victoria.

Although I did not use this service, as I was concentrating on the Polar Bears, HWP does offer a bus trip round the drive through area. I rather liked the little bus, perhaps you can see why?

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My plan for the weekend was to meet Molly Merrow, who was visiting the UK. Molly has a wonderful blog about Polar Bears

She would be taking her usual great photos, but it would also be an opportunity to exchange ideas and information about Polar Bears in Zoos and Parks around the world.

Molly was staying in the nearby town of Kingussie.

Although we were booked into different hotels we were able to meet up on the Saturday evening and arrange to visit HWP together on Sunday and Monday.

I had been able to spend Saturday getting to know the Park so Molly and I would be able to move around quicker. In the next part of my report I will show you how effective the HWP is at informing visitors about its animals. They also have lots of nice Polar Bear ornaments, which children and adults alike can sit on. This one is near Victoria’s enclosure and shows how wild the location is.

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Animal Profiles

One of my great complaints about Berlin Zoo was the complete absence of any information about the bears. The Zoo seemed unwilling to put up any signs at all. It has started to get better, but I am pleased to say that both Yorkshire and Highland Wildlife Parks make sure that the visitors know who they are going to meet.

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Unlike the tiny signs in Berlin this one leaves you in no doubt who lives here.

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This sign tells you some important information about Polar Bears.

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Victoria is introduced both at the entrance and by her enclosure.

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This sign was prepared before Hamish was named and is accompanied by a continuous film of Hamish emerging for the first time from his den.

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Arktos and Walker are also clearly described and introduced.

The Story of the current Polar Bears at Highland Wildlife Park

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The Polar Bear enclosure was originally created for the elderly female bear, Mercedes, who moved to HWP from Edinburgh Zoo. She passed away in 2010.

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Walker had joined Mercedes from Rhenen in October 2010. Arktos arrived in April 2012.

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Victoria became the UK’s only female Polar Bear in March 2015. Born in Rostock she moved from Aalborg to HWP.

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Arktos and Victoria first met in 2016.

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They were introduced again in 2017 and were very happy together.

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This last notice brings us up to March. It will soon be joined by another introducing Hamish.

Snow Leopards at HWP

HWP is home to a pair of beautiful Snow Leopards. This sign gives us a first glimpse of one of them and warns how difficult it is to spot them. Their enclosure covers the top and bottom of a cliff so they have plenty of scope to hide.

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On Friday afternoon I managed to snap one of them at the top of the edge of the cliff, showing its lovely long tail.

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Fortunately the upper enclosure allows us to meet the leopards and there is a keeper talk immediately after the one about Arktos and Walker nearby.

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The male is called Chan and comes from Krefeld in Germany. He is five years old.

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His partner, Animesh, which means bright or open-eyed in Hindi, comes from the Maxwell Wildlife Park in England and is a similar age to Chan.
Molly took some better photos but I managed to take a few to show off those wonderful tails. The keeper did explain how to tell the two apart, but the photos do not allow me to.

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That thick fur helps in the biting cold of an Afghan night.

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The Snow Leopards have plenty to keep them busy but sleep is a must.

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The tails are nearly as long as the cat!

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The pair together.

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Another excellent noticeboard showing how the HWP works to help Snow Leopards in the wild.

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  1. Dear Ralph,

    It’s easy to understand why Scotland is even called Highlands. The photos show magnificent sceneries with mountains. I think it was wise to take the bus – it gave you a chance to admire the beautiful landscape.

    Since the park has a large area and a challening terrain the small bus is an excellent alternative for those who can’t – or will not – walk long distances. This kind of service would be nice in every zoo/tierpark!

    A special extra bonus during your visit was, of course, meeting Molly in person. I bet you had a lot to talk about and if I’m not very much misstaken one of the favourite topics was polar bears ….. 🙂

    I like the signs informing of the polar bears in general and the bearsonal signs presenting the polars bears living in this park. For us bear lovers it’s very interesting to know even the ‘history’ of the white giants. I miss this kind of information in many zoos, too.

    You were lucky to see the snow leopards, too! I’ve never managed to see them in Orsa although I waited patiently. Their camouflage fur makes it difficult to see them but they are also very shy and keep hiding most of the time. – I’m sure our friends in Krefeld are glad to know Chan is doing fine in HWP.

    Thank you so much for this great presentation of the Highland Wildlife Park!

    Hugs from Mervi

  2. Dear Ralph!

    Your report is fantastic. Photos are super. Nanuiq, Arktos, Viktoria . our old friends. It was so nice to meet aal them.

    Thank You


  3. Dear Ralph!
    That must have been a very pleasant trip to the Highland Wildlife Park in Scotland and I really did enjoy your report about it!

    I would have taken the bus too because I hate to fly and the circumstanzes nowadays around.
    What a good decision: you had the most beautiful views on the magnificent landscape.

    I agree with regard to a lack of signs and informations in many zoos. They would be helpful and make sense since zoos are considered as educational institutions… HWP should be a shining example.
    In Berlin Zoo I really hate it when tourists and one-time visitors tell a lot of nonsense about the animals in the enclosures, even worse when they tell this bull…. to their children!

    Fortunately Molly accompanied you while you were exploring the HWP so you had another expert at your side and probably enjoyed a good exchange.

    Thanx for all your efforts! I look forward to the second part.


  4. What a brilliant idea to use all those LINKs. Such you give useful and interesting information without being forced to write reams and in the same time everybody has the chance to get more details in just clicking on your text-included links.

    BTW: I am convinced the park will not mind your showing their park map. Your report is kind of an ‘AD for free’ after all. . . . I had to look very carefully but finally I did discover the two polar bear shapes in the map mentioned by you (30 and 14!).

    Quote: “The bears are sufficiently far apart for the males not to be too distracted by Victoria.” oh, those women – they always do unsettle men! 😉

    It goes without saying that – again – I am pleased by your reporting-style, your presenting animals and facts – this time also by the chance to get to know a bit about Scotland – and last not least by the occsion to read proper English. However, at this occasion I get also again aware that my English knowldge and to use the poor knowledge I have is near to ‘Zero’ . . . 🙁

    The wonderful individual information boards for the variaous polar bears/animals will get more attention later by myself. Now, I first did just have a look on the photos.

    Thank you so much for your efforts to keep us always informed about and around your ‘polar bear actions’.

    Thanks also to MERVI for the editoriol part.

  5. Dear Ralph, I agree that you have taken the best manner to travel to Scotland, more relaxing than by plane and it offered you the opportunity to enjoy the landscape.
    The information signs are great and indeed very helpful for the visitors. They introduce the animals in a decent manner and help people to understand the background.
    The snow leopards are gorgeous, especially their tails.
    Looking forward to Part II.

  6. Dear Ralph

    Thank you for the interesting
    report and the photos. 🙂
    I´ll read it in the evening.

    Chris 🙂

  7. Dear Ralph,

    Wonderful report!

    The information signs are indeed

    Looking forward to more from you!

    Thanks for taking us along!

    xo k-j

  8. Lieber Ralph,

    dein Bericht ist großartig mit so vielen Details und Links für weitere Erklärungen.
    Wo immer es geht, nimmst du dir Zeit bei der Anreise und das steigert noch
    mehr die Vorfreude auf das eigentliche Ziel – nämlich die Eisbären.

    Die Beschriftung an den Gehegen lobst du zurecht in den höchsten Tönen,
    denn sie sind unerlässlich für einen ausgiebigen Besuch im Zoo und man erfährt
    dadurch auch mehr über den Lebenslauf der Tiere. Es zeigt meiner Meinung auch
    den Respekt, den man jedem Tier damit entgegenbringt und es nicht nur als
    “Schau-Objekt” behandelt wird.

    Mit diesem besonderen Bärenbus zu fahren ist für alle, die nicht ganz so gut zu Fuß
    sind, eine gute Idee! Solch ein Highlight zu fotografieren ist natürlich ein MUSS.

    Der Highland Wildlife Park in Scotland hat für die Eisbärenaufzucht ein recht gutes
    Platzangebot, damit Eisbärenmütter und Väter nicht allzu dicht beieinander wohnen,
    bzw. die Väter nicht in andere Zoos abgeschoben werden müssen.

    Ich freue mich auf dein Zusammentreffen mit Victoria und ihrem Baby
    in deinem nächsten Bericht!

    Die Schneeleoparden sind wunderschön und die Wuppertaler freuen
    sich bestimmt auch sehr, “ihren” Chan hier wiederzusehen!

    Vielen Dank und liebe Grüße

  9. We did have a wonderful time there in the Highlands. I am happy to follow along with your astute observations, with the added perspective of actually being there at your side! We did very well in seeing so many animals, including the snow leopards, and spent a great deal of time with Hamish. I could not ask for a more charming and interesting zoo companion. Thank you for meeting up with me.


  10. Dear Ralph!
    You had a wonderful journey to HWP. The park is big, the animals have enough place. The informations are interesting.

  11. Dear Ralph,

    Thank you for this fantastic report!
    It was interesting for me to read about Highland Wildlife Park..
    I didn’t know a lot of this place before.

    Greetings from Tallinn

  12. Molly Merrow has now written a detailed report of her visit to
    HWP which allows you to meet Hamish and Victoria


    QUOTE: “Es zeigt meiner Meinung auch den Respekt, den man jedem Tier damit entgegenbringt und dass man es nicht nur als “Schau-Objekt” behandelt.”

    Das finde ich eine sehr wichtige und schöne Bemerkung!

  14. Lieber Ralph!

    Danke für deinen tollen Bericht aus Schottland, das Auto ist cool. Die Eisbären haben dort wirklich viel Platz, schön auch wieder von “unserem” Arktos zu hören, ich hab ihn als Baby in Wien besucht.

    Liebe Grüße, Erika

  15. Dear Ralph!
    Thank you for the link to Molly´s gorgeous report with its fabulous pics!
    It is very much appreciated.
    I was kind of touched by this meeting of two polar bear addicted “bipeds” and got an idea how enriching it was for you both.


  16. Dear Molly and Dear Ralph, today, I had the time to visit Molly’s report and pics and the combination of both your reports is just great. The way of keeping these polar bears in Scotland is indeed very similar to their life in the wild. And the all get the best of both sides: living in a natural environment, but meanwhile being safe, having sufficient food and for Hamish toys. Thus no big surprise that these bears are looking very natural and very relaxed.

  17. dear Ralph,
    thank you so much for your interesting report and for all the pictures. It is wonderful that you colud meet Molly and have this nice time in the Highland Wildlife park together. It is always a big gift to meet dear friends.
    dear greetings and big paw waves

  18. Lieber Ralph,

    ich habe Deinen Bericht ja schon längst gesehen, aber bei der derzeitigen Hitze sitze ich nicht so gerne am PC, da meine Wohnung auch sehr aufgeheizt ist.

    Auch ich muss sagen, dass die Beschilderung an den Gehegen wirklich super sind.

    Es freut mich, dass Du Molly treffen konntest. Ihr hattet Euch sicher viel zu erzählen. Vor allem macht sie super Fotos.,

    Schön, dass Du eine wunderschöne Zeit im Highland Wildlife hattest.

    Wie Du weißt, habe ich ja auch ein süßes Bärchen am Auto kleben, aber der Bär am Auto vom Highland Park ist natürlich noch viel schöner. Ich wäre bestimmt mitgefahren.

    Liebe Grüße