Review Wild Arena Workshop - Knowsley Safari Park

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Knowsley Safari Park Workshop – Wild Arena

£125 per person

Here is my review on our trip out today – I hope it proves to be impartial and pass across my thoughts and feelings on the day. The pictures that accompany this thread are ones that I have taken today and spent a couple of minutes prepping – they are by no means my best shots and they might pop up with further processing on my blog in due course.

We booked this trip late last year, Moomike had been on the same workshop a couple of years ago and after a couple of Chester Zoo meets we decided that we would go out there as a threesome (oo-er). The cost is £125 per person, which is very steep when compared to the £10 per person entry fee you would usually pay to get into the safari park. Is this price justified, I believe it is, but I’ll explain how the day was organised and I’ll leave you to make your own choices.

There were two members of staff from Wild Arena – David and Janet. David is the one who I’ve been in touch with since booking last year and he was a really nice bloke, Janet was the one who drove us around in the Land Rover and was great – she was really funny and accomodated us when we wanted to stop and take shots and things.

We were also accompanied by Knowsley’s resident photographer – Penny Boyd. She was fantastic and was on hand to tell us where to get the best shots from and was there as our liason to the park, she would also tell us to step away from a fence if the animals were to do something that could harm us or themselves, thankfully everyone was very well behaved and she didn’t have to shout at any of us once

We were told in the itinerary to arrive at Knowsley for 9am, we got there a little before and drove through the gates without being stopped and asked for payment – there was nobody about with the gates wide open, which I thought was a little odd. We found a wildarena branded land rover, parked up and met up with everyone else.

After a coffee and an explanation of how the day was going to be set up we set out on foot to the first enclosure – the elephants.

We went through a staff only gate and around the back of a building, we then had to climb over a fence and were taken into the large elephant paddock. The paddock had been prepared with branches of food that were ready for the elephants and we were told that they would be released as soon as we were all prepped and that this was a part of the day where things were nice and relaxed and we could take our time and think about our shots. Basically, we were in the same field as the elephants, all that stood between us and them was a high voltage electric border – it wasn’t a fence because it was only about 8 inches from the floor.

We were told to keep 8 feet away from the border and we’d be fine. The elephants were released and they wandered down, they were fantastic and I’ve never been so close to these magnificent creatures – it was surreal. They started to wander off and I thought that’d be it for our elephant session. David then brings out a box of fruit and begins to call the elephants over, he throws bananas and nectarines and other fruits towards the gentle giants and they were right at the fence – 100mm was TOO long, I really missed out on some shots because the things were that close. It was fab :D I knew if the rest of the day was as good as that, we’d be in for a good one.



Taken at 120mm – the things were THAT close

We then went to see the giraffes. It looked like we’d just be standing at the normal fence the visitors stood behind, but no, David opened a gate and sent us through, out came the box of bananas and we were hand feeding the Giraffes!!!!. Sue got to feed them a banana and was most chuffed. Again, 100mm was far too long, this time I whipped out the 28-105 and used that for most of my shots. There was no electric fence this time, just two wires that ran around to stop them from getting out. The giraffes were directly above us!



This picture shows you just how close we were to the giraffes – Here is Janet from Wild Arena, David is holding a banana above her head which the giraffe promptly got, he was almost licking her hair!

From the giraffes, we had a quick look at the red river hogs where if we wished we could jump over the normal fence if we so wished – I couldn’t get the exposure right for these at all so didn’t bother with many pictures or the fence jumping

Then we got up close and personal with the meercats. Through the back door, into the meercat house where the keepers would prepare the food and out into their enclosure, there was an electric wire we had to step over but we were assured that this was turned off. We had about 3ft between the visitors fence and this electric fence and basically anything went – we could put our cameras on the floor inside the electric fence (that was turned off) and shoot away – this was brilliant and although I didn’t get the best shots I saw some of the other people’s and they were fab. David had a box of mealworms that the meercats were wolfing down.

The fence that was turned off got me about four times, it got Mike a couple of times and a few other people too, I don’t think they switched it off. It wasn’t a big shock but you bloody felt it. I’m still here though so all is well



I probably got an electric shock not long after I took this one.
From the meercats we went to the otters who weren’t playing out – David went into their enclosure and removed the dead rabbit and a few minutes later they did come out. They were thrown some fish this time and they did a bit of swimming and we took some more pictures.

From the otters we went for lunch – this was included in the price as was morning and afternoon coffee. Lunch wasn’t fantastic – just a couple of triangle sandwiches each and plenty of chips. I got myself a raspberry slush (its an addiction that I have). Mike and I had also noticed a mini doughnut vending machine outside – we just had to try this. Fresh doughnuts in less than 45 seconds. It was ACE!.

That was only the tip of the iceberg, there was a Ben and Jerrys vending machine in the doorway and this is by far the best vending machine I have ever seen. Its basically a chest freezer with one of those claw grabbers that you get in the amusement arcades with the teddys. You select an ice cream, the chest freezer opens and the claw moves it’s position above your choice, the claw reaches down and all of a sudden a vaccuum switches on and it sucks the icecream pot up and drops it in the chute. Absolutely fantastic (So great, it got its own paragraph ;) )

Anyway, thats enough of that. You don’t want to hear about how good the ice cream was anyway (it was yummy).

After lunch, we were put into groups – there are usually three landrovers but only two were available today, so two people went in penny’s car with her. Moomike, Sue and I went in the Wild Arena land rover discovery and the rest were in the other land rover which belonged to the park. Everyone had a window seat which was fantastic.

We went into the safari drive and stopped along the way to take photos of various things,



we went through the lion enclosure with the windows up obviously. We got to the baboon enclosure and we pulled over and were told to all get out. The electric fence had been turned off (we checked this time and it definately was) and the fence was the type with the pliable horizontal cabling – lenses just went straight through without a problem. A couple of minutes later, a keeper arrived on the other side of the fence with some food – once again the animals were brought over to us especially with the food – which was brilliant and just shows how closely linked the event organisers are with the park.



After the baboons we went for coffee and then straight back out again, this time to the carnivores – hunting dogs and the tigers. Again these were fed for us with big pieces of meat being lobbed over the fence and us being out of the cars and right up against the fence.



These things were vicious little sods, very alert and clever - I think I'd be more scared of being in an enclosure with them than the lions!



The only problem with us being out of the cars was that other people thought they could do the same – they saw people with huge cameras and lenses and decided they could do the same with their camera phones. David therefore had to spend quite a lot of time telling people to get into their cars and was challenged on quite a few occasions as to why – erm because these guys paid quite a bit more than you did to get in today ;) (thats what I would have said anyway).

We finished up at about 5:40ish, and said goodbye and off we went.

So it was a great day out – quite a long and tiring day but was very rewarding and gave us the oppertunity to get closer to the animals than we ever would otherwise. It was great getting the special treatment, getting to see behind the scenes and getting a better deal than the regular punters. The problems with other people getting out of the cars could have been avoided if we’d all had tabards or sashes to say we were photographers or something – that could be something they’d bear in mind in the future.

My only critiscms then – lunch was a bit pants, the canteen/restaurant was reasonably priced and it might have been better if the trip had been a fiver cheaper and we could have sorted our own lunches out from the canteen. We also wasted quite a bit of time at the hunting dogs, I took some pictures but we were with them for around an hour because the park was short staffed and they couldn’t feed them as quickly as they would have liked – I would have liked to have been able to walk down to the tigers and spend more time with them. But most of the other people seemed happy and so you can’t please everyone.

We were meant to have gotten exclusive access to the lions after the placed closed but they have recently had cubs and so to give them a bit of privacy this was dropped from the itinerary, obviously this was beyond their control and we got to see the tigers being fed instead so all wasn’t lost, was just a disappointment after it was built up so much for us before the day – it was probably the one thing that we were looking forward to the most – we’ll just have to get it the next time.

So, it was a great day and we’re looking at going for some more of their workshops – we’d probably do knowsley again and probably woburn safari park down south. We’d also look at the big cat days that they do.
So a big thumbs up from me, and I think Sue liked it too I’m sure Mike will be along in due course to add his comments. Thanks to the Wild Arena staff if they read this, it was excellent to meet you.

I can heartily recommend this as a day out to anyone that has an interest in seeing animals in a bit more space than they have in the zoo and a bit closer up. Yeah its a little bit pricier than the £10 per person it normally costs to get into Knowsley but its not just a case of someone driving you around the park in a land rover so that you're free to take photos, its the exclusive access you get to the animals and the special treatments with them being brought over specifically for the 10 of you or however many are there. Superb.

There are probably things I've missed out, things that I know Sue might like to add to the review and I'll probably add something more once I re-read this and remember more from the day.

Matt
 

Marcel

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#2
Cracking review (y) I will have a proper read of this later :)
 
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Excelent report Matt sounds like you had a good day today i am very jealous lol put my name down for the next one i will deffo be there,

100mm was to long eh should of got a Bigma lol :)

Alan
 
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Nice write-up Matt. Sounds like a good day out. Particularly liked the Meerkats and dog (African hunting dog / Hyena - I dunno :shrug: ), plus the tiger shot is great too. Looks like you had good access for photos.
Thanks for sharing (y)
 
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#6
Sounds like you had a great time Matt. Great write up, and some good shots.(y)
 
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#7
Thanks matt for doing this, very good review. I agree with everything, and I am sure you will all be seeing various shots over the next few days.
I enjoyed feeding bananas to the Giraffe unique experience, and at one point they were licking my lens, both them and the meerkats.
Would love to do this again one day. The staff were great.
 

moomike

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#8
Good, thorough review mate - think things were a bit hectic there this time, unfortunate but I think they did everything they could to make sure we got good photo opportunities - the price of the trip was worth it for the elephants alone.
I would not hesitate to recommend this trip to anyone, the wild arena staff & Penny are friendly & helpful & I will definately be going on the next trip too (y)

Great shots by the way, looking forward to the rest (y)
 
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#9
Fantastic review! It makes me even more excited to do this! I did the Woburn Safari experience recently, and was similarly impressed with the access and the organisation of everything.

I would love to see your photos, but they are not showing up :( Do you have them uploaded anywhere else?
 

big soft moose

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#11
Fantastic review! It makes me even more excited to do this! I did the Woburn Safari experience recently, and was similarly impressed with the access and the organisation of everything.

I would love to see your photos, but they are not showing up :( Do you have them uploaded anywhere else?
as hypnotic said this is a very old thread

however I was on the same workshop ( I think the exact same one, hows that for a coincidence) and this is one from it



apologies for the small size, its my profile pic off another forum

i'll upload some more, bigger ones when i get home

btw ive done nearly all the wild areana workshops and highly recomend them - marwell is top banana (though quite similar to knowsley) and the uk wolf trust is superb - in fact ive never been on one that wasnt - I also went to skokholm off the welsh coast for a week with them in 0 and i'm currently saving up to go to finland

IMO the only other workshop to touch them are Andy Rouse - but hes dramatically more expensive
 
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big soft moose

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Its taken me a little while to get some photos together as promised (because my files are all filed by species so it took a while to sort out knowsley from other venues) - but anyway yer tis



another shot of the hefalump above enjoying a mud bath



david southward from wild arena staff retying his shoe laces for about the 4th time after an encounter with the meercats (you get to go in the enclosure, and they think shoelaces are snakes and try to kill them - one of the little blighters also had a good go at my camera strap - yes i know its soft , but its the only one ive got that shows how close you get)



A baby baboon , with an impressive errection which i didnt notice til afterwards - i think he got bored while his mother was displaying at us (I'm about 10m away behind one fence rather than the usual two) and passed the time by sucking himself - charming.
 
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Thank you for taking the time to post these photos. Love the shot of the elephant taking a mud bath! Looks like a wonderful experience!
 
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