We went to meet Patara and Pringles at the Wild Discovery Animal Experience
To the majority of people, Santa Claus is the most famous and recognisable Christmas character. But he is closely followed by his trusty, loyal reindeer, who are vital in helping him travel around the world on Christmas Eve, delivering presents before they return to their home in the North Pole.
Rudolph, Blitzen, Donner, Vixen and co are depicted on festive decorations, cartoons, toys and movies, but you don’t have to travel to the most northern point of the world to find real-life reindeer, with two living right here in Lancashire.
Patara and Pringles live at Wild Discovery Animal Experience at Ribble Hall Village in Kirkham, between Preston and Blackpool. The duo live at the animal zoo all year round with the public able to visit them, but in the run-up to Christmas, all the way to December 24, families can buy special food bags, and get up close to feed the reindeer.
Desperate to try the experience, I jumped online and purchased a bag of reindeer feed for a fiver and booked a timeslot for my morning date with Patara (Pat) and Pringles. Purchasing feed and selecting a timeslot prior to your visit is vital as they are only permitted to eat so many times a day as part of their general diet, and there is limited space at the feeding area.
The reindeer lodge has been transformed into a Santa-like grotto with fairy lights and tinsel, and sets the magical winter wonderland scene perfectly. It took a fair bit of shaking of the food bag for the instantly recognisable animals to be tempted inside the festive lodge from the paddock.
Eventually, they strolled nonchalantly in, looking glorious with their huge antlers and beautiful, glossy fur, which I later learnt is three layers thick and grows all over their body, including the hooves and antlers. I was told to hold my hand out flat with a good serving of food, which looks like a mixture of pellets and dry cat or dog food, and wait for the reindeer to come to me.
Pat approached and, after a few seconds, got stuck in. The soft fur around his mouth felt like I was brushing my hand on a cosy rug. I’d expected it to feel rough and sloppy but it was the opposite – it was silky smooth and warm.
I was warned not to touch the reindeer, however tempting their soft fur looked, and it is also advised to stay as quiet as possible, with loud noises at risk of spooking them. Pringles, who got his moniker because “everyone eats a tube of Pringles at Christmas” wasn’t interested in any of the food, but he lingered in the lodge, curiously looking over and occasionally munching on some hay.
I still got a good look of him, seeing just how small and slim he is compared to much stockier Pat, who is named after the town where Saint Nicholas is believed to have been born.
During your visit, you’ll likely meet dedicated keepers Ella and Neil, who are bursting with facts and anecdotes about the reindeer and – I have no doubt – are capable of answering any question you throw at them about these magnificent beasts. They truly added a sprinkle of magic to the experience, and knew everything from how old the reindeer are (Pringles is four and a half and Pat is three and a half) to where their breed originated, with Pringles from Northern Europe and Patara being a caribou from Canada.
I discovered that they shed their coat and how their antlers change depending on the time of year; why they move in herds and how they are not fond of hot weather, preferring to stay in the shade in the summer.
They actively throw their imagination and enthusiasm into each visit too, playing along with childrens’ innocent wonder and excited chatter about whether two reindeer living in Lancashire actually do go and help Santa on December 24.
“We tell the kids all about how we come in to see the reindeer on Christmas morning and they always look tired after a hard night working with Santa,” Ella told me. She added that playing along with children (and adults, no judgement here) who still believe in ol’ Saint Nick is important. It’s also harmless and I’m in my 30s and really got caught up in the whole thing.
Entry to the general miniature zoo area and enclosures is an additional cost to the reindeer food bag, and can be booked in advance or at the entrance. On the day of my visit, adult entry was £7.95.
Your ticket does allow you to stroll at your own pace to see the eclectic range of animals living at the small zoo, originating from all over the world, including Asia, Australia and Africa, such as exotic birds, monkeys, bugs, otters, reptiles and even Albert the armadillo.
There’s also regular animal talks and displays each day, including outdoor bird demonstrations, bug meet and greets, an Arctic Fox enclosure chat and a Scottish Wildcat talk. There is also an onsite cafe and gift shop.
The experience is located inside the Ribble Hall Village holiday and leisure complex, which is a short drive from the M55. The village, which has self-catering cottages, pine lodges and more to stay in, will transform into a winter wonderland in the run-up to December 25 and beyond, with themed parties, a Santa’s grotto, festive spa breaks and dining experiences.
Please note: There is no minimum age but children must attend reindeer feeding with an adult. One bag of food should be enough for a family of five or six, and food may contain traces of nuts. Also, there are a limited amount of food bags available each day, to make sure the animals are not over-fed.
- 17:06, 11 NOV 2022
- UPDATED17:08, 11 NOV 2022