Crocodiles in the Cotwolds

If I asked someone to describe the Cotswolds, they might talk about thatched cottages and buildings constructed from the eponymous honey-coloured stone. Adjectives like “charming” and “quaint” would likely be used to refer to the villages and hamlets that dot the region, which is itself an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They would perhaps mention that the Cotswolds has an air of luxury about it, or that it’s like a storybook illustration of ye olde England. All of this—and more—is accurate.

Yet the Cotswolds is also home to the weird and wonderful. I’ve written previously about the marvellous Cotswolds Sculpture Park, which a friend recently described as magical, enchanting, and quirky. However, there is one word that never comes to mind when talking about the Cotswolds.


After all, why should it? These large reptiles with strong jaws and pointy teeth are more commonly associated with warmer climes. American alligators are a common sight in my home state of Florida. Nile crocodiles lunging at African wildebeests are a staple are wildlife documentaries. Saltwater crocodiles are the biggest of the myriad of deadly animals that can be found in Australia.

Yet tucked away off a small B-road just west of the dreaming spires of Oxford is Crocodiles of the World (CotW), a venue that bills itself as the UK’s only crocodile zoo. Which isn’t exactly a surprise because they are a rather niche animal to build a zoo around. And yet they’ve done it and done it well.

After spending several days in London as part of our birthdaversary celebrations, MrElaineous and I were looking for something to do on the day itself. A few of our initial thoughts—the wonderful wetlands of Slimbridge and the incredible Cotswold Wildlife Park—felt too big to tackle in a single day. We had been meaning to check out CotW for a few years, so we took advantage of the beautiful but frosty weather to venture in that direction. What better place to hang out on a cold day than in a well-heated reptile house?

Beyond the toasty temperatures, there is something awe-inspiring in coming face to face with creatures who are the pinnacle of evolution. The body plan of crocodilians has remained more or less unchanged for over 200 million years. Being an opportunistic eater with an energy-saving hunting strategy that involves mimicking a log is an incredibly successful strategy: these are animals that would have been acquainted with dinosaurs and which have managed to survive several mass extinctions. In addition to their broad eating habits, another secret to their longevity is the ability to adapt to different surroundings—various members of crocodilia are equally at home in freshwater, saltwater, or estuarine environments—all of which has earned them the title of living fossil.

As fascinating as this is, you may be wondering why there is a crocodile zoo on the outskirts of the Cotswolds. Fair question. Crocodiles of the World was founded in 2011 by Shaun Foggett with an aim to help with conservation and education. While crocodiles (and related alligators, caimans, and gharials) may have hung out with dinosaurs and developed excellent adaptation strategies, they are no match for humans. It’s the usual story: habitat loss, pollution, and illegal hunting have left several species categorised as vulnerable or endangered.

At present, CotW has over 150 crocodiles representing 19 of the 24 different species, and a successful breeding programme has led to the hatching of some absolutely adorable babies. Beyond the titular critters, CotW is also home to a variety of other animals: meerkats, a binturong (colloquially known as a bearcat, although it is neither bear nor cat), a few small primates, and even a clouded leopard. During our visit, the clouded leopards were behaving like typical housecats and stayed firmly curled up inside their nest box. Other reptiles on show include snakes, monitor lizards, Galapagos tortoises, and a Komodo dragon. The reptiles were likewise sensibly hanging out under heat lamps. However, regardless of the weather, it is well worth a trip if you want to bask in the glow of some incredible wildlife.

On the way back we stopped for a bite to eat in a more stereotypical Cotswold attraction, the lovely village of Lechlade-on-Thames, a place that certainly deserves the moniker of quaint and charming. The River Thames itself is born in the Cotswolds, near the town of Kemble, and it flows east towards Oxford, Reading, London, and the sea. In Lechlade, it serves as the perfect backdrop for waterfront dining and watersports … in warmer weather at least.

The 185-mile Thames Path, one of the 16 National Trails that criss-cross the UK, runs directly alongside the river here, and MrElaineous and I enjoyed spotting the acorn trail signs that we grew to know while walking along Hadrian’s Wall last summer. We interpreted this as a sign that we should return in 2024 to further explore and discover what else may be lurking in the Cotswolds.

Off the Beaten Track Wiltshire

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MissElaineous Travel Blog: Escape, Explore, Discover, Enjoy