A Roundup of the 2023 Season at Watatunga Wildlife Reserve!

by | Nov 26, 2023 | Watatunga Blog

As the year draws to a close, Watatunga Wildlife Reserve reflects on a season filled with both remarkable achievements and unexpected challenges, a testament to the resilience and unwavering dedication of our team. 

The 2023 season kicked off with a bang when we were awarded the prestigious Best Small Visitor Attraction of the Year for East Anglia, a recognition that affirmed our commitment to providing an exceptional wildlife experience for our visitors.

East of England Tourism Award - EPD announcement

In April, we welcomed the esteemed Head of the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, Dr Robert Aruho, and other key members of the Bongo Future initiative, further strengthening our ties with conservation efforts in Africa. This was followed by the arrival of our new Reserve Operations Manager, Molly Ruder, who brings a wealth of experience and enthusiasm to our team.

Dr Robert Aruho with gifted Mountain bongo painting by Annabel Pope
Molly Ruder, Reserve Operations Manager

May brought a sudden and challenging turn of events when heavy rainfall triggered severe floods, inundating the reserve with over 115mm of rain in just two hours. Despite the disruption, our team rallied together to ensure the safety of our animals and visitors. Despite the challenges, the return of the beloved bongo to the reserve added a silver lining to the stormy clouds; one of the world’s rarest antelope species, who had been temporarily relocated.

June marked a triumphant moment as we were awarded Gold at the Visit England Awards for Excellence; the pinnacle accolade for small visitor attractions in England.  We are so proud to have brought this calibre of recognition to the East of England and to highlight our commitment to excellence and dedication to creating a memorable experience for our visitors.

Flooding at Watatunga underpass
Mountain bongo, Mtoto, by Helen Black

July saw us return from the annual Royal Norfolk Show, the largest agricultural show in the UK, where we exhibited the unique biodiversity of our reserve to a wide audience of over 80,000 visitors. Amidst the festivities, the long-awaited Visit England accolade arrived, having undergone a tumultuous journey of its own, surviving a previous tumble after an excited victory dance from Anna, adding a touch of comic relief to an otherwise momentous occasion.

Anna Hamilton and Visit England award

August brought a wave of exciting additions to our wildlife family, but first we welcomed British Deer Society’s Graham Downing for a thrilling visit. His full-page spread in the summer edition of Digital Deer highlighted Watatunga’s significance in the conservation landscape. Later on, we also welcomed Hattie, a beautiful Eurasian crane from our partners at Pensthorpe, and a trio of roan antelope, further enhancing the diversity of our species.

September marked a pivotal moment as Julian journeyed to Scotland to welcome two female white-lipped deer to the reserve, kicking off a new month of further expansion and innovation. Our latest Forest School program Mini Wild Things commenced, providing young children with the opportunity to connect with nature in a fun and theatrical setting every Wednesday from 10.00-12.00. We also launched our first art experience, offering visitors the chance to express their creativity inspired by the beauty of our reserve. To celebrate our most successful summer to date, we hosted a Harvest Celebration for our entire team, fostering a sense of camaraderie and appreciation for their hard work.

BDS Article spotlight page - Père David's Deer, by Phil Stone
Watatunga Harvest Celebration

October saw our first external conservation event as our stretch tent was used to host the Saola Foundation, supporting a critically endangered ungulate found only in the Annamite Mountains of Laos and Vietnam. We also welcomed renowned conservationist Nick Acheson to the reserve, further strengthening our commitment to wildlife preservation.

Lorraine Scotson, SAOLA Foundation event, by Helen Black
Conservationist, Nick Acheson

However, the month ended on a sombre note as one of the UK’s largest storms of the year brought yet more widespread flooding, disrupting our activities, if only for a short while. Despite these setbacks, we remain optimistic and determined to continue our mission to conserve and educate about the world’s endangered wildlife.

Aftermath of Storm Babet at WWR

As we look back on the 2023 season, we are filled with gratitude for the unwavering support of our visitors, staff and supporters. Your belief in our vision has enabled us to achieve remarkable milestones and continue to make a positive impact.  Next year, our focus will be on communicating our conservation work regularly and we’re excited to have some groundbreaking projects afoot.  Please do sign up to our newsletter for monthly updates and please consider giving a Watatunga tour voucher as a Christmas gift that will be enjoyed by multiple generations next year.  

Team Watatunga

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