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Five Sisters Zoo: For the Love of the Animals

If you are looking for a heartwarming story, then you’ve come to the right place because this week I have a wonderful story to tell. For those who have not been acquainted, I am delighted to introduce Five Sisters Zoo. It is a mix of a sanctuary, zoo, and community centre. Most importantly, it’s a place that deserves more recognition than it receives. Therefore, in this week’s article, I am pleased to highlight the incredible work that this local zoo has done and does on a daily basis. So, put on your khakis because we are heading on an exciting safari to the seemingly unlikely location of West Calder- about thirty minutes southwest of Edinburgh.

The Wee Walking Tours family have been strong proponents of animal conservation for a long time. We’ve tried to teach our children from the time they were little about the importance of taking care of our planet and the animals that coexist with us. I have fond memories from their childhood of watching Animal Planet and learning together. In fact, one of the very first movies that we brought them to see was The Crocodile Hunter movie (it might not have been a blockbuster, but it will always have sentimental meaning to us). Of course, our love for animals extends to our canine family members- including Sawyer, our Golden Retriever tour guide, who joins us on walking tours of Edinburgh.

Visiting zoos have been a natural extension to our keen interest in the animal kingdom. We’ve previously done an article on Edinburgh Zoo and I felt it was only appropriate to highlight the ‘other’ zoo in the Edinburgh area. Five Sisters Zoo has overwhelming heart, and you get a fantastic sense of community when reading about the history of how it started and the incredible growth it has undergone since its inception.

Sanctuary and Forever Home

Five Sisters Zoo is owned and run by Shirley and Brian Curran who originally had a garden centre in the area that is now the zoo. However, in 2005, when they decided to start showing animals to the public, they were required to get a license to operate a zoo. Some of the earliest inhabitants were a fun array of animals including meerkats, lemurs, and reptiles (animals that are still a part of the zoo family). It’s crucial to point out that many of the animals who have come to live at Five Sisters over the years have been rescued from unfortunate circumstances (e.g. circuses that had mistreated the animals and private collectors who should not have had wild animals) or other zoos that have closed down. Helping animals in need has been the priority of the Currans and for that they deserve our wholehearted respect, admiration, and support.

There are some wonderful rescue success stories that highlight what a great sanctuary Five Sisters has come to be. Some of the rescued animals that now call the Zoo their home includes, two of three female bears- Suzy and Carmen- saved from a circus (unfortunately the third bear, Peggy, passed away in 2017 due to an irreversible degenerative bone disorder). The three, old gals were in horribly traumatised conditions when they arrived in 2012 after being forced to perform in circuses all over Europe for over 20 years and being housed in a cramped trailer. Thanks to generous local individuals and companies, the Zoo was able to build a wonderful 2-acre woodland sanctuary and home for the bears. It’s truly heartbreaking to read how they had never felt sand under their paws before or had a nice bath until they arrived at Five Sisters. At the same time, it’s reassuring to see how much they were able to be successfully rehabilitated after months of hard work by the zoo staff who helped them to thrive and develop natural bear behaviours.

To add to this success story, Five Sisters Zoo was fortunate to be asked to help in the rescue of two brown bears from a roadside restaurant in Albania. The bears were in deplorable conditions and literally starving to death as the owner of the restaurant wasn't able to feed the bears. Thankfully, Shirley and Brian Curran were able to step up in the time of need and the bears Eso (a female) and Henke (a male) were brought to the Zoo in 2018. Carmen and Suzy share their woodland habitat with their new family members. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the bears on our recent visit (the closest we came to them was the statue pictured above), but we hope to see them in the future.

There’s something almost wonderfully primeval about running next to a wolf or hearing a lion roar. These are two things we were fortunate to experience on our recent trip to the Zoo. The two arctic wolves- Luna and Aria- were re-homed from a zoo in Hungary. According to Five Sisters, they had been ‘bullied out of their pack’ and housed in a ‘concrete hut’ in Hungary. They arrived in May 2014, and, although very timid at first, now thoroughly enjoy their wooded habitat. The Wee Walking Tours family has a soft spot for wolves. I’m sure that extends from our deep and unconditional love of our current canine family members, Sawyer and Finn, as well as, Rasmus- a black Labrador who has since passed onto greener pastures but will forever be our beloved ‘papa bear’. We spent quite a bit of time observing the beautiful, white wolves as they roamed around. We even jogged ‘alongside’ them as they seemed to be on a patrol mission of the perimeter of their habitat.

As we were visiting with Luna and Aria, we started to hear some incredible chuffing and eventually the sweet roar of the lions. The wolves seemed to take this in stride, but we were feeling the need to heed the call of the wild and quickly made our way up to finally meet the lions. The lions back story is quite an amazing one. They were saved from a Belgian circus, but before they could move to their new home, Five Sisters Zoo had to fundraise a great deal of money so that they could build a proper enclosure. But that is a reoccurring theme that I was pleased to see time and time again in reading the Zoo’s history; when needed, the community steps up, pulls through for the Zoo and ultimately the animals. This was certainly the case for the lions as the Zoo was able to finally secure the needed funds and the lions moved in in 2014.

It is apparent that the lions were treated horribly during their time in the circus. Their front claws were taken out and they were castrated which (as you can see from the pictures below) is the reason why they don’t have manes, look like lionesses, and are so large. Regardless, these four gentle giants were just as majestic and handsome to us as any other. They seem to be doing quite well as one fella was roaming around the large enclosure while the others relaxed in the sand.

There are so many other animals at Five Sisters- so please enjoy a few more through the photographs below.

Community & Special Events

Over the years, Five Sisters Zoo has come up with ways to enhance the zoo to help with creating diverse streams of income as well as making it better for the local community and visitors alike. For example, they have an outside play area for children as well as a soft play area and restaurant that is popular with local families. Also, since 2017, the Zoo has had a spectacular Christmas light show, Five Sisters Zoo Illuminations. You can book online for the event, so please check the Zoo’s website for more information. The show includes admission to the zoo which is lit up with brilliant Christmas lights throughout. Additionally, you can see the lions, wolves, and snow leopards being fed as well as enjoy a variety of stalls with festive food and drink. We haven’t been able to go before, but we plan on attending this year. It’s sure to be an exciting evening out, and I’ll do a blog post to let you know all about it.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ve simply highlighted some of our favourite parts of Five Sisters Zoo. Looking at the incredible 14 year history of the Zoo, it is obvious to see that Shirley and Brian Curran have overcome incredible adversity- whether it be fundraising to save abused animals or figuring out ways to keep the Zoo afloat- they have taken the adversity and turned it into success. As I’ve said throughout this article, Five Sisters Zoo is a sanctuary and wonderful place to celebrate animals. I hope you have been inspired by their story as much as the Wee Walking Tours family. So, head over to their website for important information on planning your visit. If can’t visit in-person, why not check out how you can support Five Sisters in other ways. When it comes down to it, we all need to figure out how to coexist on this planet and continue to celebrate our love for the animals.

Until next time- Explore & Discover!

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