Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
Published December 29th 2013
We're all going to the zoo tomorrow
It was back in the 1930s when Dudley Zoological Gardens first opened to the public, fascinating them with polar bears, lions and penguins in its art deco enclosures.
Dudley Zoo and castle is a fun-packed day out in the Midlands
Much has changed since then in terms of how both animal conservationists and the public think animals should be kept in captivity and you can see this in the changes taking place at Dudley Zoo.
An extensive period of investment to revitalise enclosures and attractions at DZG, as the zoo calls itself, is currently under way, which is due to finish in 2016.
But with its hundreds of animals and attractions, including a lemur wood - where you can walk around amid free roaming lemurs, the zoo and castle is an exciting day out for all ages.
There is an added bonus that at the centre of the 40-acre wooded site is Dudley's 11th century castle, while the zoo also includes the UK's only vintage chairlift taking visitors up to the top of the hill.
The vintage chairlift - the only one of its kind in the UK
And when it comes to animals, there is a vast array of species. Its most recent addition is a second rare Sumatran Tiger, Joao, as part of a breeding programme with the zoo's female tiger Daseep.
Flamingos greet you at the entrance but that is just the start as families can also get up close to lions, giraffes, lemurs, penguins, an Asiatic black bear, reptiles, snow leopards, meerkats, gorillas, chimpanzees.. the list is endless.
The pride of lions have an extensive space and during my visit, the lion's roar could be heard from one side of the zoo to the other as the lionesses tended to his needs. Children nearby were overwhelmed with excitement, screaming "the lion's roaring, the lion's roaring". It was their first experience of seeing a real-life version of the Lion King and they were lapping it up, which is one of the reasons that zoos are still an exciting way for children to learn about the world and its wildlife.
A lioness can be seen prowling
One of the highlights is walking through the Lemur Wood. This open wooded area lets various types of lemur roam around freely on ropes and treetops.
The wonderful Lemur Park at Dudley Zoo
The friendly animals potter around above heads and on walkways to mingle with visitors. It's a real treat. Children in particular will love being able to get so close to the lemurs. There are also friendly animal keepers at nearly every corner who enjoy chatting about their furry wards.
A lemur runs by at Dudley Zoo
The zoo also has a vast amount of monkeys, chimpanzees and gorillas in specially made enclosures.
One of the other surprises is that peacocks are left to roam around the zoo and you can suddenly turn a corner and find yourself facing one of the beautiful birds.
The penguins in particular attract quite a few crowds and can be found under the shadow of the castle, dipping into a pool or lazing around their huts.
Penguins at Dudley Zoo
For those interested in architecture and history, the zoo has 12 mainly art deco listed buildings that were created in 1937 by Berthold Lubetkin's Tecton Group under the guidance of structural engineer Ove Arup.
As they are listed, these buildings are not allowed to be removed or changed and some of these are starting to look a little outdated as most animals are no longer kept in these types of enclosures any more.
Ageing art deco buildings made in the 1930s by the Tecton Group
The current renovation work will see some of the art deco Tecton buildings revitalised including the main entrance and bear ravine. Paths and signs are also being updated, while a new medieval castle experience will also be created.
In the meantime, some newer additions in recent years include the farm area where you can stroke a pygmy goat, chickens and other farm animals.
Camels at Dudley Zoo
There's also a tropical house where meerkats, monkeys and lizards live. Filled with tropical plants, you wind your way among the foliage to visit the various inhabitants.
A meerkat suns itself under a lamp in the tropical house
It's best to allow at least three hours to explore the zoo as there are so many animals to see and the castle to explore.
Dudley Zoological Gardens and Castle
Castle Hill, Dudley.
Prices cost: adults - £13.50; OAPs - £11; children from age 3 - £9.50; Free for the under-3s.
Car parking costs £3.50 for the day.
Visit the Dudley Zoo website for more information.