The weatherman said it would be sunny and dry on Sunday so despite the cold, John and I wrapped ourselves up in woolly scarves and hats and headed outdoors. As we cruised along the M25 that morning, there was not a glimpse of sun in sight. But we were past the point of no return and had already paid £2 at the Dartford Tunnel, so we decided to press on, in true British fashion! We found a nice spot in the car park and dashed out of the car with full bladders in need of relief before standing in the short queue to get our tickets. A large grey fluffy sausage on a stick caught my eye and it turned out to be a boom pole with a microphone attached to the end. It was being carried by a small camera crew who were with a group of people that included a very minor celebrity, David Van Day from Dollar, taking the private tour experience.
We wandered in through the gates to an enclosure close by and I felt the spirit of the wilderness as we came face to face with the grey wolves. There are apparently almost 40 subspecies of wild dogs including Arctic and Arabian wolves and the dingo, and they occupy a range of habitats including Arctic tundra, prairies and forests. Young grey wolves are born blind and deaf in dens and rely on their mothers as well as support from the pack for warmth and food. Grey wolves once had the largest natural distribution of any mammal except humans but unfortunately they can no longer claim this record as they have been lost from much of their former lands.
Opposite the wolves was one of my most handsome and dignified big cat cousins, the white tiger. Despite the grey skies and drizzle, I felt all warm and fuzzy inside as I gazed in appreciation at this beautiful beast. The white tiger’s history is sad and thorny because they have been in-bred by unscrupulous breeders out to make money from exhibiting them and they have sadly suffered physical abnormalities as a result. They are rare in the wild and I don’t know about this particular tiger’s past, but its cream tones and chocolate brown stripes made it unusual and stunning to look at. We watched him sitting calmly in his enclosure when one of the camels across the way started snorting and honking and it caught the tiger’s attention, so he trotted off to the other side of his paddock to investigate.
The camels were amusing, with their long knobbly legs, goofy teeth and gangly stance, and I heard a passer-by crack a joke about one of them getting the ‘ump! Oh dear. These camels had two humps which store fat for use as energy when food is scarce. A camel can go a week or more without water and can last several months without food. But you’d think the meerkats wouldn’t last five minutes without food the way they tucked into their grub when the keeper was feeding them. These happy little creatures were a pleasure to watch and clearly enjoyed living in groups, chirping and grumbling at each other, playing together and cuddling. Here’s a picture of one of them warming his belly under the heat lamp.
John and I needed to warm up too so we sat in the Tiger Tree Café for a while to shelter from the rain and dry off a bit. Don’t worry, John didn’t get his belly out! The café overlooked the tiger enclosure which contained 3 handsome tigers who were quite frisky, hopping across their wooden climbing frame and teasing each other. I could hear these little low-pitched rumbles as they constantly chatted with each other, playfully growling and huffing.
The highlight had to be the white lion pride which consisted of a noble majestic male with full mane, 2 females and a lovely young cub who was born earlier this year. The pride sat together in their enclosure looking relaxed and contented whilst the male prowled back and forth, letting the onlookers know that he was in charge. He looked at me as he ambled towards the front of the enclosure where I was standing and I puffed my little chest out as much as could, so he climbed up the rock hill and thundered this almighty roar that reverberated in my ears. I imagined how that booming noise must rumble across the safari plains of his native environment of South Africa, letting all predators know that he is the king of the jungle. He looked just like Simba from the Lion King.
- Shad talks about Snow Leopards (shadthecat.wordpress.com)