Having never been on safari myself, staying overnight at Whipsnade Zoo surrounded by some of the world’s most impressive beasts was the next best thing.
Last week I was treated to a twilight tour of the zoo before spending the night between rhinos and lions in a special Lookout Lodge.
I have been to Whipsnade many times before – I’ve even taken part in their fantastic ‘Zookeeper for a Day’ experience – but nothing compares to the candid involvement that living among the animals allows.
After a hearty meal in the cafe, we picked up our torches and went to see what the animals get up to once the regular customers have gone home.
From the mating toads I had to sidestep on the footpath, to the lions’ I-run-this-town roars erupting through the skies, I was not disappointed.
Separated by a mere pane of perspex, we watched the lions late-night party of fun and frolics.
Instead of snatching a brief glimpse of a big cat sleeping a hundred yards away, I was able to watch a midnight playfight a couple of feet in front of my face.
As well as exciting, my stay-over at Whipsnade was also educational. We learned about the hunting habits of wolves, and the reason flamingoes are pink (pigment from feeding on shrimp, apparently).
Clutching a hot chocolate on the lodge’s porch, I took in the moon-lit views before settling down for the night in my cosy, heated cabin.
The lodges themselves don’t leave anything to be desired: beds, storage, a radiator – there are even tea and coffee-making facilities.
They are also perfectly-situated so that one can drift off to sleep serenaded by the collective call of the wild.
After a 7am wake-up call I just had time for a black coffee and a quick shower before heading to the cafe for a cooked breakfast.
After I’d been fed, it was the animals’ turn.
We chucked fruit at the chimps – who can catch better than I can, by the way – and watched them ape around their enclosure.
Next up for breakfast were wolverines. They may look cute and cuddly, but their jaws and claws would make short work of a human, so the mice they were fed never stood a chance.
After feeding the penguins, we were allowed free roam of the zoo for the rest of the day.
Unfortunately I left because I had to get back to work but, given the chance, I would have stayed at Whipsnade all day, all week, all month. Overnight stays are the best way to visit the zoo.
The lodges are open at Whipsnade Zoo until October. To book your Bedfordshire safari, visit www.zsl.org.