Africa In Norfolk

Updated: Nov 10

Imagine having an African reserve in a quaint little village in Norfolk. Well, the time

has come and you can visit this huge reserve, learning all about the animals that live

there as well as the work they do to preserve our natural world. Annie Fowler,

environment expert, finds out all about it.


Picture, a day out in Norfolk, surrounded by fields with the sun shining and the smell of

summer filling the air, with the expectation of seeing the brown hares run across the fields

and the birds swooping. What you don’t expect is 170 acres of unused quarry and

disregarded wetland to be inhabited by some of the world's most endangered species. Most

of which come from Africa.


Instead of diggers, trucks, and lorries in the quarry, it is filled with open fields covered in

wildflowers and different species of grasses, roamed by deer, antelope, and buffalo. Ed Pope

is the creator of this safe haven for the animals which has been a dream long coming and he

is a true conservationist at heart.


Jonathan Usher Smith, Reserve Manager gave some insight into the background of Edward

Pope and the reserve: “The idea of Watatunga Wildlife Reserve came about through Edward

Popes' (Owners) passion for wildlife and conservation. At a young age, he was always very

interested in a lot of our native wildlife and his trips to Africa only fueled his interest in

wildlife, particularly Zebra and Antelope. Originally he grew up and worked in London, but

after his father passed away he returned to run his family farm on Watlington Estate.


“One of the many land uses on the farm was gravel extraction, and one of the byproducts left

behind from this, are these great hollows where they’ve extracted all the material they

needed, so the options were to return the area to arable fields once more or flood them to

form wonderful lakes which attract an abundance of wildlife, needless to say, the lakes were

chosen.”


“It was about this time Edward met another fellow enthusiast Julian Stoyel, who’s one the

leading experts in deer genetics and husbandry in the country. At the time Julian was in

contact with a number of zoos and wildlife parks that were crying out for space for surplus

deer and antelope, Edward was only too happy to help hold a number of different exciting

deer and some antelope species.”


The reserve has 20 species of ungulate (animals with hooves) and rare bird species which

have been given a new home to flourish and breed, contributing to their species' future.

Although the reserve's mission is to conserve and breed these animals it is open to the

public for tours and holiday stays which is a big contribution to the upkeep, as well as a fun

day out.


A four-strong team runs the reserve, manages breeding programs, and works with other

conservation groups and specialists to organise guided tours and manages the

accommodation.


Watatunga offers guided tours in golf buggies, like a true African adventure! Jonathan

explained: “The golf buggies are firstly better for the environment as they are electric, they

have little impact on the tracks and pathways. Lastly and most importantly they are silent so

you can observe the wildlife without disturbing them with the sound of an engine, so you can

enjoy the sights and sounds of Watatunga with little or no disturbance, letting the animals act

more naturally and are not bothered by the buggies.”


Initially, before Covid, the tours would have a guide pulling a trailer around with the guests on

the trailer, then Covid came so they had to rethink the idea of how to do the tours. The next

plan was to have golf buggies, so people can stay in their group bubbles, this worked so

well, as people loved driving themselves around on the tour. So now we do three guided

tours a day.


The aim of Watatunga Wildlife Reserve is to promote the need for “Conservation today for

wildlife tomorrow”. So through educating guests via the tours we can tell guests about the

plight of many of the rare and endangered species within Watatunga and the need to protect

them and animals from this country.


“With the main aim of conservation and education, we look to help with many captive

breeding programs looking at long-term help to release animals back to the wild. Within the

reserve, we actively improve the habitat not only benefiting the exotic species but bringing in

vast numbers of native wildlife too.


“The species we have are very different from a lot of other collections as we focus more on

the deer and antelope, these are animals people often overlook or don’t think about their

importance. There are species of deer which are far more endangered than Amur Leopard

or White Rhino but people have never heard about them, often glancing at them in another

collection before moving on to the sexier species."


“Here at Watatunga, we are trying to tell the story of the plight of many rare and endangered

deer and antelope, the Mountain Bongo for example is down to less than a hundred left in the

wild or the success story of the Pere David Deer which was brought back from the brink of

extinction. We also tell people about the evolution of some of these species, take deer for

instance, they were once tiny fanged hoofstock that looked nothing like a lot of the

modern-day antlered species, some of which evolved into giants like the Megaloceros with

antlers over two metres each."


Watatunga is all about conservation and working together to preserve nature's animals. “We

work alongside many zoos, wildlife parks, deer parks and reserves, looking to help rare and

endangered species but also help with their husbandry and welfare of these species, looking

at ways we can improve all the time.”


Visitors are a huge part of the running for Watatunga so the team makes sure there's enough

activities and opportunities for all. “The guests have lots of options to visit, we run guided

buggy tours three times a day Tuesday-Sunday, with the option of cyclists, walkers or a

single guest having the chance to go on the trailer, with the addition also of a wheelchair

trailer as well for wheelchair users.


“We’re looking to be running special photography days on Monday in which photographers

after a tutorial on how to drive the buggies can then spend a whole day out photographing in

the reserve."


As the menagerie grew the idea took seed for fencing off these wonderful lakes and

woodlands to form a truly unique reserve, holding lots of different weird and wonderful deer

and antelope from all over the world, Watatunga Wildlife Reserve was born.

Watatunga is a funny word to say but has a big meaning. “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.”




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