I am very proud of my fur coat. It’s glossy, black and silky soft to the touch. A cloak like that must have provided my ancestors with a great camouflage in the forests and John tells me I blend in quite nicely on a dark carpet which must be why I can stalk my mousey so well. But on the crispy white snow of Innsbruck I stood out like a sore thumb. With my jet black fur and John’s tomato red ski jacket we looked a right pair! Luckily most peoples’ attention was focussed on the sturdy metal bathtubs that kept sliding at full velocity down a sloped twisting ice chute. John said it was the 2017 World Cup Bobsled competition and the humans dressed in shiny Lycra cat suits with protective helmets were deliberately descending the ice chute to see who could do it the best.
Bobsleigh or bobsled (not sure what the difference is) involves teams of two or four people pushing the sled down a narrow, banked ice track before leaping into it just as gravity powers it along and they rocket down the track at around 120mph. This is a popular winter sport in Innsbruck which is known fondly as the Capital of the Alps. It’s the fourth largest city in Austria yet its small enough to get around on foot. The Olympic Winter Games in 1964 and 1976 were held here and it is a hub of snow-based activity including skiing, snowboarding, skating, mountaineering and snowshoeing. The bravest of all compete in the luge competition where one or two people lay face up on a skateboard literally inches from the hard ribbon of concrete beneath them and thunder down the track without even being able to see where they’re going.
Innsbruck is known for its imperial architecture with gothic attributes like the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) building, a landmark structure completed in 1500 and decorated with 2,738 fire-gilded copper tiles for Emperor Maximillian 1 who was King of the Romans from 1486. We also did a bit of celebrity spotting when we went out for dinner and saw some of the cast of reality TV show The Jump relaxing in an Austrian restaurant in the old town. One of them kept rubbing John’s hair which is admittedly extremely bouncy and curly and grows at an alarming rate. One time I heard tweeting coming from his head and a twig fell out! Anyway, I’m not sure if this is an Austrian tradition or simply a quirk of this particular eating establishment but as we got to the end of the meal, there was a commotion. Apparently one of the photographers on the trip, didn’t finish all her food and was punished with a smack on the bottom with a fish! Everyone roared with laughter but I thought it was a waste of a perfectly good sea bass!
Dry feet are very important to a pussy cat. We like our paws to be shipshape, our whiskers to float free and our bellies to feel full! But this day my fur glistened with moisture from the endless drizzly rain that fell from the sky. It’s not uncommon to see doggies wearing a waterproof overcoat or a tartan jumper, but cats mostly don’t tolerate costumes or too much bling. And this cat certainly isn’t prissy enough to pull-off a leopard-print mackintosh. So I went ‘á la nature’, in reverence to my unadorned big cat cousins residing at the Wingham Wildlife Park in Kent. John, Natasha (the other photographer in John’s family) and I had driven all the way over to Canterbury to catch a glimpse of Poppy the baby jaguar and it was worth every lick of my coat required later to get myself clean and dry.
Having never seen a jaguar in real life before, I switched from happy-go-lucky ‘human mode’ (which employs the skills I have perfected to communicate with humans in their visual / auditory way) to ‘untamed feline mode’ (which involves using body language and scent to connect with other cats). My whiskers stood proud and bristled with excitement as I flicked a few happy pheromones in the direction of Poppy’s mum whose name is Luna. I wanted her to know I was there to admire her baby so there was no need for her to fret. You can imagine my surprise when I strode purposefully to the fence and found that Poppy looked just like me – sleek, black, handsome and proud. The only difference I could see (apart from the size perhaps) was that Poppy had big blue eyes and mine are yellow. Poppy is the first big cat to the born at the park and she takes after her black mum Luna more than her yellow-spotted dad Loki. She was born in July 2014 and has recently gone on show to the public now the zookeepers are satisfied that her protective mother is comfortable with the idea.
Another new sight for me was the pardine genet. This debonair exotic creature is very shy in the wild and as such there is not much known about its natural mating, courtship and hunting behaviours. This mysterious cat-like mammal is similar to a civet, a fossa or a mongoose and has a vast range from Canada down to the Andes. It’s a protected species throughout most of its range except for a few areas including Ecuador and El Salvador, yet they are hunted in many parts of Canada and the United States. Seems like a contradiction to me but I’ve never understood the killing for sport thing.
There are far too many animals at the park to mention them all but some of the striking ones in these photos are the Puma (also known as a cougar or a mountain cat), the noble lion and magnificent tiger, curious meerkats and the dignified red panda, as well as quirky perky penguins. There was also a monkey with a teddy who made me laugh because I have a teddy at home, but don’t go telling everybody that!