Shad does the franco-english Marwell tour

Have you seen a ‘hippopotame pygmée’ or a ‘singe’ recently?  You would have, if you’d been with John and I at Marwell Wildlife Park this weekend.  Two of John’s friends were visiting from across the Channel and we decided to give them a guided tour of the wonders of the natural world at Marwell.  They came from Marseille which is the second largest city in France after Paris.  Marseille is an urban area with a large population and a rugged rocky coastal landscape, a far cry from the wooded hills and rolling countryside of Winchester where Marwell is situated.  There were 5 of us altogether, including 2 people who spoke both English and French and were able to translate, and one person who spoke French only.  John speaks a little German but that didn’t really help, and I speak cat which I consider a universal language, but that didn’t help much either!!

Have you worked out those French words yet?  The first one is pygmy hippopotamus, and we were lucky enough to get a clear view of a mother with her little female calf who was born on 13th December 2013.  The baby is part of the European Endangered Breeding Programme and is called Gloria, a name chosen by patrons of the zoo and members of the public following an online vote.  ‘Singe’ (pronounced ‘sairnge’) is French for monkey, and there was plenty of monkeying around as we watched the Colobus monkeys strike a pose for the camera and swing across the branches with their long arms and tails.

There was much guffawing at the giraffe area because these tall elegant creatures with big beautiful eyes looked so demure, but when they munched on their dinners, the prolonged chewing action combined with large elf-like ears made an amusing sight.  I held my tail high as a friendly greeting and made chirrup noises to communicate my appreciation of their awesomeness, but I’m small compared to them and I don’t think they saw me.

Unlike the big cats, which spotted me instantly, may be because they smelt me coming.  Not that I have some sort of body odour problem I hasten to add, but more due to the feline ability to convey identity and mood through scent.  Marwell has taken in a new male Amur tiger called Bagai who is 17 months old and is settling into his new environment before being introduced to Milla, a female Amur tiger.  It is hoped that they will produce offspring to help save this highly endangered species which is on the brink of extinction.  Shockingly, the evil poachers continue to trap and kill these magnificent beasts along with many other animals who now struggle to survive in their native environments.  My thanks go to the conservationists across the world and animal welfare groups such as PETA, IFAW and the WSPCA for their efforts in promoting the wellbeing of animals and giving them a voice.

2013 was a busy year for the keepers at Marwell who also welcomed a giant anteater baby born in November.  Little Rojo seemed content and was fully occupied when we saw him in his enclosure with his mum,  digging at a branch with his long fore-claws, looking for insects.  These curious looking creatures are listed as ‘vulnerable’ in the wild and have thick necks and a tubular snout which ends in a tiny mouth opening and nostrils.  They apparently have poor eyesight but a sense of smell 40 times more sensitive than that of humans.

John’s French friends were visibly impressed at how well the animals were cared for and how keen the Brits are to keep animals as happy and healthy as possible.  They went home with lots of photos and good memories from their trip to the zoo, and I improved my language skills and did my bit for anglo-french relations.  So au revoir, c’est la vie and bon voyage!

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