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New West Norfolk wildlife park with dozens of endangered species set to open soon

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A new wildlife reserve which provides a “unique environment” for dozens of endangered species in West Norfolk is set to open to the public soon, officials have said.

Watatunga, located in Watlington, was due to open in April for guided tours and on-site stays but these plans were pushed back because of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the safari park’s website, Watatunga is “pioneering a new approach to protecting the planet’s last populations of endangered deer and antelope”.

A sign for the Watatunga nature reserve in Watlington. Picture: AW PR
A sign for the Watatunga nature reserve in Watlington. Picture: AW PR

The deer and antelope species, which can roam at their will across the site, mix with rare pheasants, ducks and the Great Bustard – which became extinct in the UK in 1832.

The reserve, beside the A10 and on land off of Watlington Road, “strives to inspire a new generation with the challenges of conservation in the 21st century by showcasing the majesty of these creatures while telling the story of their struggle to survive”.

On the site’s FAQs, the team explain the story behind the reserve’s name Watatunga.

They say it is a portmanteau of “one of our more exotic African antelope, the Sitatunga, and the wonderful village of Watlington, where the reserve is based”.

It adds: “The literal meaning in Swahili is ‘we compose’ – we think it’s a great word to roll around as it’s hard to say ‘Watatunga’ with a frown.”

Planning permission for the park, on 170 acres of unused wetland – the site of a former quarry – was granted by West Norfolk Council back in December 2018.

At that point, site owner and Watatunga founder Edward Pope said: “It’s going to be a very special place.”

He added: “It’s about getting close to and admiring animals in a habitat as natural as we can make it.

“I have been a conservationist all my life from when I knew how to say the word duck. It’s been a passion and a love and it’s a real opportunity to give everyone a special place to come and be inspired by nature.”

Although an official opening date is yet to be announced, Andrew Waddison of Norfolk-based PR and social media marketing specialists, AW PR, posted photos of the Watatunga sign on Twitter on Saturday and said: “Coming soon... Another Norfolk conservation story, born in Africa.”

When Watatunga opens to the public, access to the attraction will be via guided tour only and this will need to be pre-booked online.

The reserve also offers self-catering luxury accommodation with views of the animals, and there will be an option to organise private tours.

Meanwhile, Watatunga’s education programme will aim to “inspire young people to pursue further education in life-sciences and conservation by introducing them to the beauty and complexity of systems in the natural world”.

To find out more, visit watatunga.co.uk or follow Watatunga on its social media platforms.

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