Perth Zoo is hands down one of Perth’s favourite destinations, especially when you have children. But when you have little legs, or are pushing a pram, the vastness of the zoo can be tiring.
Brave kids can handle a large python
This is the advantage of Peel Zoo – probably one of WA’s best kept secrets – a one hour drive south of Perth, or fifteen minutes from Mandurah. The entire zoo is very compact and perfect for families. There are no vast distances to walk between exhibits, and there are conveniently placed seats to rest and watch the animals.
It is never more than a few metres to the next enclosure, and most of the time, the animals come to you, with a range of birds including peacocks, ducks, chickens and the rather terrifying turkeys, running freely around the zoo.
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The Zoo runs in a vaguely circular shape, with the start and finish of the meandering route being a shaded seating area, with toilets (including a baby change and wheelchair facilities), a free BBQ and a café and shop. The food available at the café is rather limited: sandwiches, baguettes, pies, sausage rolls, drinks and icecream, although prices are reasonable (sandwiches are $6.90 and baguettes are $8.50).
Alternatively, you can bring a picnic or BBQ lunch and sit at the shaded tables, or take your lunch out to the picnic grounds on the banks of a billabong.
The majority of the animals are Australian natives, with a few domestic animals thrown in the mix. Unlike bigger Zoos however, the highlight of visiting the Peel Zoo is the very intimate and hands-on experiences kids can get from interacting with the animals. Visitors can do a range of things from hand feeding the kangaroos to holding a large snake.
During the day there are always a number of displays and presentations where visitors can see (and touch and hold) a number of animals up close. These are clearly shown on a chalkboard inside the entrance, and they also make announcements over the PA when a talk is about to begin.
As well as the numerous cages and enclosures where you can watch animals, there are three large pat and feed enclosures where visitors are welcome to get up close and personal with the animals.
The animals love to be fed (don't worry - there isn't a small child under there)
It is a given that you will have to buy some bags of feed (available at the entrance for $3) if you are visiting with young children, although if they are a bit timid it might be a wise idea to tip the pellets out of the white paper bags (which the animals can recognise a mile away) into a plastic container so that your animal-wary child isn’t rushed by an overzealous alpaca.
The kangaroos are quite small and easy to feed
The first enclosure has a range of Western Grey kangaroos who are all quite small and placid. Next is a semi-walk-in area with alpacas and emus, while the third (technically an extension of the second) is the largest and holds a range of animals including alpacas, sheep, emus and beautiful red deer. This is the enclosure you might need to watch small children or kids who are a bit fearful, as the animals can get very excited about being fed.
There is also a large walk-in aviary with a stunning array of birds just begging to be photographed. Buckets of fresh fruit and vegetables are provided to feed to the birds, and some will eat out of your hands (others, like the cockatoos can actually eat your hands).
Just some of the colourful inhabitants of the aviary
On arrival you are provided with a map explaining what animals can be found in each exhibit as well as their names. The emu babies are Larry, Curly and Moe, while the King Skinks are Optimus Prime, Houdini and Variable. Someone had a lot of fun giving all the animals names, and it makes the entire experience even more personable.
A charming wombat says hello
There are over 100 species of animals in this boutique zoo, many of which most city kids would never have seen up close. The Zoo is privately funded and has a number of breeding and conservation programs.
The most important of these is the Tasmanian Devil breeding program, and its success had made Peel Zoo an important part in increasing numbers of this iconic Aussie animal whose numbers in the wild have fallen dramatically due to an incurable face tumour disease.
Kids can also join the Zoo Keeper for a Day program, which at $165 opens doors that the general public never get to see. The full day program is available for kids aged 8 to 16, and includes all the behind-the-scenes experiences plus extras such as lunch, an exclusive uniform to keep and more.
Shaded tables for enjoying a break
The best time to visit is in the morning, when the animals are hungry (and more likely to want to eat your pellets) and the entire Zoo is shaded and cool.
It can get quite hot in the midday summer sun, although they often spray water on the animals and exhibits (and by default, visitors). Don’t let kids wear their fancy shoes or clothes as it is inevitable they may get dusty or muddy. But that’s the best bit about being a kid.