Earning their stripes
When Wingham Wildlife Park was taken over by Tony Binskin
and his wife Jackie, the attraction was on its knees. As they reach
their fifth year of tenure, Chris Price looks at how they have
turned the park’s fortunes around.
Walking past the newly-built enclosure for the five European
wolves which arrived at Wingham Wildlife Park earlier this year, it
is hard to think that the attraction had fallen on hard times not
so long ago.
“When we took over, the park was very run down and really had a
bad name,” said chief executive Tony Binskin, whose job title gives
a false impression of his appearance. Tony is not the suited and
booted boss but is instead a hands-on, sleeves-rolled-up,
hiking-boots-wearing kind of guy.
“There was a lack of care and the enclosures were falling down.
A lot of customers are happy with what we are doing now. Most
people come and find us to say what a wonderful day they have had.
It makes you want to do it more.”
Video: Chris Price visits
Wingham Wildlife Park
Opening originally in 1986, many people remember Wingham as a
bird park, before it expanded to include other animals.
Back then it was run by profit-driven bosses but what co-owners
Tony and his wife Jackie have done in such a short time is
When they mark their fifth anniversary since taking over the
park on Valentine’s Day, they will have renewed three quarters of
the enclosures, as well as rewiring and plumbing the whole site.
They have also built a winter play area for children but, most
importantly, they introduced several new animals, which have become
a big hit.
When they took over the park, 20 people had memberships for
year-round admission. Today, the figure stands at 7,000.
“It has been about putting the right animals in and having the
right keepers educating families,” said Tony, 51, who lives on-site
and ran a pet shop in his native Ramsgate for 16 years.
Among the most notable attractions is Wingham’s collection of
Humboldt penguins from Chile, making it the only place in Kent
where penguins can be seen.
“Over the past few weeks, when we have had snow, a lot of people
have said ‘I bet your penguins are loving it’ but they are not very
keen, considering they come from South America,” said animal
registrar and reptile keeper Markus Wilder. “We have had them for
two years and they are just starting to show signs of preparing to
breed, so hopefully in the near future we will have baby penguins
here as well.”
Among Wingham’s other unique selling points are that it has the
only walk-in flamingo enclosure in Europe, where the birds walk up
to visitors. Various bird species wander freely around the park,
including peacocks, and the attraction’s reptile house is home to
the only pair of Gray’s monitor lizards in European zoos.
“They are actually more endangered than Komodo dragons but a lot
of zoos aren’t interested in them because they are not as large and
have quite a specialised diet,” said Markus, 28, who also lives at
The meerkats are one of the most popular attractions.
Markus said: “Certainly over the past few years, with the
adverts, they have become one of the nation’s favourite animals and
you won’t find many zoos that do not have them in their collection.
They are great fun to watch and feed.”
One of Tony’s passions is rescuing animals, which he showed to
great effect when the park acquired two former circus lions –
Brutus and Clarence – from France last year.
“As soon as I saw them in their enclosure for the first time, I
knew it had been worthwhile,” said Tony.
“They are different animals now. People comment on how relaxed
they are but they would duck when a bird flew overhead at first
because they had been mistreated.
“All zoos should be required to have a few rescue animals. It
helps bring down the number of unwanted animals and a lot of our
members like that we do it.”
Tony also acquired two tiger cubs from a private collection
in Belgium, which he reared himself from two weeks old.
Now aged two, Troy and Blade are given top billing, especially
when they are fed, which happens every other day. Tony goes up
close to the cage and holds his arms up high to feed them through
the wires. It is a magnificent sight to see the animals stretch up
to reach the food, also serving as a handy way for vets to check
that their bodies are in good order.
“We try to make sure everyone gets a really good feeling when
they come here,” said Tony.
“Most people feel like they have been able to get really close
to the animals and that they are not hidden away.”
Wingham Wildlife Park is open daily, from 10am to 4pm in winter
and until 6pm for the rest of the year. Admission £11, seniors £10,
children £9, families £35, under twos free. Call 01227 720836 or
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