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If you're looking for an unusual gift for an animal lover, how about treating them to an animal experience?
There are a wide variety of animal experiences, ranging from the chance to simply meet animals, to being Keeper for a Day, or having the opportunity to feed animals.
Get close up and personal Animal experiences are a great way to get close up and personal with the animals, and to meet the people who care for them. This gives you a great opportunity to ask lots of questions, both about the animals and their personalities, and about their daily care and the work of the people who look after them. It's also a good time to find out about the conservation efforts going into the species of animal you meet.
What animals can you meet? There are experiences for reptiles, big cats, horses, meerkats, red pandas, wolves, sea life, monkeys, birds of prey, dogs, pet photoshoots, bees, rhino, llamas, lemurs, penguins, giraffes, tapirs - there's even wildlife photography experiences!
Where can you meet the animals? From Devon to Scotland, and Kent to Merseyside, there are wildlife parks and attractions throughout the UK. You can buy experiences from a wildlife park or zoo or attraction directly; or through a gift experience company such as Red Letter Days, Buy a Gift, Virgin Experience Days, or Into the Blue.
Here are some venues offering animal experiences - you can buy directly from them:
There are animal experiences for children, and the minimum age limits vary - some experiences are intended for families and young children. In some cases, an adult may need to accomapny the child and may need to buy an experience as well.
Animal experiences make for very different gifts. We gave my Dad a Meet the Meerkat experience at Paradise Wildlife Park and it was one of the best gifts we've ever given him. I will never forget the happiness on my father's face as he fed the meerkats and had one poke his nose inside Dad's jacket! It was also a wonderful memory for my mother and I. They are also a great way to support the various zoos and their conservation work.
Something for most budgets Prices vary - the keeper for the day experiences tend to be more expensive. But you could also adopt an animal. And watch the gift experience companies for special offers - there are often some great deals, although the length of the validity of the voucher may be affected.
Finally... Many vouchers last for up to a year, but this does vary, so check with the company you are buying from and tell the recipient. Early booking is always advised. Some experiences will also have restrictions on age, weight and medical conditions - in some cases, they may not be right for pregnant women, for instance. Some may be quite gory - such as feeding big cats - as you may well be preparing the animals' food as part of the experience. Always check the fine print or need to know or key info sections actually relating to the experience. And make sure you are up to date with your tetanus injections before you go, just in case.
The animals available depend on the experience and a flexible approach is needed. The animals' health and welfare must come first, and if there are times when certain areas of a park need to be closed to the public, so be it. Always check with the experience to see if you need to buy an entry ticket to the park as well the experience, or whether it is included in the price.