Nothing melts the heart like a baby elephant as you can see from these lovely pics of Sutton, the first baby elephant to be born at West Midland Safari Park in its 41 year history. At birth, African elephants can weigh 100 kgs and stand at 3 feet tall, growing anything up to 12,000 kg (14,000 lbs) and 13 feet tall at full maturity, making them the largest land animals on earth. As John and I watched this little lad playing and bonding with his mum and auntie, I felt a huge sense of sadness at the fate of many of his cousins roaming the wilds of Africa. Nevertheless, it was a privilege to see him flap his ears and practice using his trunk to grab branches and swing it in the breeze. According to National Geographic, the trunk alone contains around 100,000 muscles and is used for lots of fun activities like smelling, drinking and trumpeting. Sutton was very cute and put smile on my furry face (metaphorically speaking of course) as I watched him gaze lovingly at his mum, copying her movements and sheltering under her tummy every time he felt shy.
The safari trail is a 4 mile drive that takes you through a range of habitats within the park which is situated in deepest Worcestershire. The African Plains is home to a herd of white rhino’s who meander freely around their enclosure, munching on grass and hanging out with the zebras and giraffes that also live there. The giraffes were so tall that I couldn’t see their faces without cocking my head sideways and lifting it up to a 90° tilt, but I had the chance to look them in the eye as they bent their 6 foot necks down to eat the food being handed to them by people in the cars.
The Wild Woods enclosure provides board and lodgings to an Asiatic wild dog called a dhole. These rusty red-coloured creatures are highly social animals and live in close-knit packs. I admired their russet coats but was quite pleased that they were far enough away not to see me. Being a pussy cat I could tell their canine instincts would have been strong enough to pick up my scent and I’m sure they can run pretty fast. Although probably not as fast as the cheetah, the world’s fast land mammal capable of speeds of up to 70 miles an hour.
One of the most fascinating animals we saw was the Indian rhinoceros (also known as the greater one-horned rhino) with its segmented hide that looks armour-plated. They made me chuckle because from behind they look like they’re wearing a skirt, hence the photos of rhino bottoms. See if you can tell which one is the Indian and which is the white rhino. Their prominent horns are unfortunately their downfall and many animals have been killed for this hard, hair-like growth which is used in traditional Asian medicines even though there is no evidence that it cures any ailments. In this civilised and high-tech world, I find it barbaric and backward that some humans choose to hunt a species to the brink of extinction just to make money. Despite protection and an international trade ban in rhino horn, it is still traded extensively throughout Asia.
Thankfully I cheered up when I caught sight of a fine feline specimen, the Sumatran tiger. The Sumatran tiger is only found in the wild on the island of Sumatra in Indonisia and is another critically endanged sub-species of tiger. It’s the only surviving member of the Sunda Islands group of tigers that included the now extinct Bali tiger and Javan tiger. That’s why keeping these animals in captivity is essential so that they can one day become the breeding stock and gene-pool for future generations who will hopefully be returned to the wild as part of carefully planned reintroduction projects aimed at re-establishing a species in an area which was once part of its historical range and where it has become extinct. I spotted some more big-cat cousins in the Realm of the Lions enclosure, an impressive landscape designed to imitate the savannah grassland. It contains boulders, plants and a sculpted lion head rockwork from which a waterfall cascades into a pool below. Check out the magnificent African lion sitting on top of the sculpture surveying her realm.
John and I had a good time at the West Midland Safari Park but we definitely chose the wrong day to go. It was a Bank Holiday and the huge volume of cars on the safari made it difficult to get a good view of the animals. There is a zoo section at the site but it’s really a theme park full of rides aimed at children more than adults. However it was worth the stroll around the amusement park to see this amazing posse of hippos. Normally having a reputation for doing not much during the day and coming to life at night, these hippos were busy waddling from one pool to the next, splashing each other, seeing who could submerge under the water the longest and showing off their teeth. Their big shiny bodies seemed slow on the grassy bank of their lake but appeared graceful in the water where they all stood in a circle like they were having a good old gossip.