Tilgate Nature Centre in Crawley is a nature reserve for protected and endangered species and is home to over 100 different animals ranging from reindeer and ravens to frogs and pheasants. It’s surrounded by lakes and gardens and lots of woodland and bridleways, far too much for one cat and his two-legged friend to explore in one day. I don’t think John would have the stamina! So we concentrated on the nature park and the fluffy, spikey, feathered and scaly specimens to be found within it. The beauty of nature is that it comes in so many different shapes and sizes like the spiny-tailed iguana who sat watching me from his branch. His eyes set on each side of his head as opposed to mine that face the front so I could only see one of his eyes and it was fixed on me. I started to sway back and forth, shifting my weight from side to side then dipping down and popping up to try in order to throw him off but that eye seemed to rotate in every direction and never once lost its target! I concluded that lizards can stare out anyone and accepted defeat. In an attempt to help me get over my downfall in the ogling competition with that scaly scoundral, the keeper told me that we had more in common than I might think. For example, we both had four clawed feet and a long tail and we both use body language and postures to define territory and resolve disputes. That all sounds like hard work to me and I prefer to put my energies into ensuring my daily dietary, play and petting needs are met by using whatever unique moves I have at my disposal including my irresistible purr and signature tail flick.
The sow in the field was busy feeding her piglets and every time I counted them there seemed to be more. I had 9 at the last count and these weren’t the only babies to have arrived in recent times at the park. Four pups had been born in the meerkat enclosure and were proving very popular with visitors thanks to their squeaky and mischievous natures, running around pinching food from each other and chasing the grown-ups. I had to admire their vitality which reminded me of myself in my younger days! The Asian short-clawed otters had a similar care-free outlook on life and seemed to be endlessly having fun, scurrying across their logs and splashing around in the water. The other babies we saw were the pygmy goat kids running around their rock pile and butting heads as though practising for when they are big and deciding who will be the alpha. And judging by the romantic behaviour of the tortoises, we might see some cute tortoise babies being hatched over the next few weeks. I noticed the keepers had filled their bowls with extra figs, dandelions and sweet-peppers probably to give them the strength required to bring up a family.
Petrie the one-eyed magpie cannot be released back into the wild because she doesn’t have the all her survival skills in tact so she lives with two friendly owls and passes her time whistling to anyone who talks to her and playing with her pink ball. The keepers fill the pink feeder with worms, leaves or pieces of fruit for her to roll around until the treats come out and she hops off to one of her secret stashes to hide her hoard when she thinks no one is looking. As we headed past Cinnamon and Nutmeg the Shetland ponies I caught a whiff of cat and I followed the scent until I found Kenya, a serval originally from the African savanna and now considered vulnerable due to habitat loss and persecution. Kenya was so busy rubbing his cheeks around his enrichment area and searching for the mousey morsels left in his den by the keeper that it took a while for him to notice me. With his powerful gaze in my direction, I puffed out my chest and tail so he’d have some respect for his small domesticated cousin looking up at him. Then I realised we were not so different after all as he pottered around his enclosure and settled down in a sunny spot for a nap.