Published: 06:00, 06 April 2021
| Updated: 16:00, 06 April 2021
Nesting stork and adventurous red squirrels - lockdown has done strange things for the animals of Wildwood.
An absence of visitors at the park has meant usually secretive creatures have become more confident while those which are more inquisitive have been seen less by the keepers that still patrol the deserted site.
"Behavioural changes", says head of living collections Mark Habben have seen red squirrels venture to new parts of the Canterbury reserve, while storks have nested near the visitor entrance.
Bears, on the other hand, have been frequenting their pool near the pathway less since the shutters came down.
All of the animals will need to be monitored when the gates reopen on April 12 to see how they reacquaint themselves with crowds.
He said: "We've certainly seen some behavioural changes from animals, particularly those that are of an inquisitive nature.
"But those who are more secretive – the red squirrels for example – are changing their movements and are going into areas that would normally be occupied by the public.
"Some things have happened that we haven't had before, including nesting storks - they've built a large nest fairly near where visitors will walk past.
"We will be monitoring that very closely once visitors return to the park, to make sure that we're seeing the right behaviours in terms of their nesting and maintaining their bond with each other.
"In situations like that if we feel that we need to move people away then we barrier off areas, we make sure that the animal's welfare comes first."
The trust will be reopening on April 12 alongside other outdoor trusts across Kent and the UK, with visitors returning at a managed rate to cater for the animals as well as Covid safety.
Mr Habben said the change back will be beneficial to many of the animals.
"It will be a change," he said, "but the animals are exposed to keepers in the park even through lockdown, and we're obviously constantly monitoring the animals in their behaviour to make sure their wellbeing is catered for.
"They also have very large enclosures, so they will have space to get away from visitors if that is what they want.
"Many animals actively seek out the different smells and noises of the visitors, so that will of course change back for them.
"Our bears, for example, have a pool close to the visitor pathway and they have been going there less without people, so we expect that could change."