Shad talks about Snow Leopards

Taking photos of wildlife is one of my favourite things to do, and I can often be found lurking outside enclosures at zoos and animal sanctuaries, waiting for the perfect shot.  It requires a calm demeanour, patience and a steady paw to trigger that shutter at precisely the right moment!  I particularly enjoy taking pictures of big cats because they’re part of my extensive feline family and I’m fascinated by the similarity of their mannerisms to mine.

I’ve spent many happy hours watching the snow leopards at Marwell in Hampshire yawning, stretching, playing and grooming.  However, like most cats, they spend an enormous amount of time snoozing, hence the need for patience and stealth when trying to capture an exciting moment.  Like the time I caught on camera the snow leopard cubs born in April 2013 as they took their first steps outside of their den close to proud parents Irina (mum) and Indeever (dad).

Unfortunately, these magnificent creatures are in trouble, and only humans can help.  It saddens me to say that the World Wildlife Fund estimate there are only 4,000 to 6,500 snow leopards left alive today in the wild and numbers are dwindling as a result of poaching, hunting, climate change, and loss of habitat and natural prey.  However, an international forum was established last year to outline urgent actions and a global strategy to conserve these rare animals and you can read more about that in an article I found in the South China Morning Post this week.

I love the idea of humans from different countries working together to protect the snow leopards and I have no doubt that their combined efforts will have other positive consequences such as preserving biodiversity, protecting other endangered species, supporting rural development and managing wildlife honourably.

Did you know that snow leopards hiss, meow and growl but don’t roar like other big cats?  They live in the cold high mountains across Europe and Central Asia in countries such as Afghanistan, China, India, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia and Kazakhstan.  Their white-grey coats help them blend in with the steep rocky terrain and their long tails and powerful builds provide balance and help them stay warm.

Shad does Arundel Castle and Gardens

I wonder what life was like for a black cat like me in the 12th Century Norman Period in a place like Arundel Castle.  I would hopefully have been part of the Royal Court, being hand-fed haddock or loitering outside the kitchen, hoping for some scraps of pheasant from the roasting spit, while watching battled-scarred young men put on their armour and prepare to leave for the perilous Crusades.  Outside the Castle, life was hard on the streets for both humans and cats, and medieval people were superstitious about cats and persecuted them.  In fact, cats have taken a bad rap throughout history, particularly in Europe, where they were associated with witchcraft.  Yet around the same time in Egypt, cats were kept to control rat populations and protect food stores, and gradually became members of Egyptian households and were even worshipped.  It wasn’t long before the cat craze spread to India, China and other Asian countries and now I like to think they we are highly regarded pets.

Arundel Castle overlooks the River Arun in West Sussex and has a 1,000 year history spanning from the reign of King Henry I (1068-1135) to being passed to the seat of the Dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors for over 850 years.  It has been at the forefront of English history and displays a unique and priceless collection of fine furniture, tapestries and clocks dating from the 16th Century.  John and I, and a couple of other friends, wandered around the corridors and rooms, mouths open in awe at the shiny polished silverware, the grandeur of the paintings and the skilled craftsmanship evident throughout the castle.

We also took a stroll through the peaceful grounds and the meticulously kept gardens.  The gardens are divided into formal courts and have a central canal pond with water fountain, an ideal place to dip my paws and freshen up.  The gardens are imaginatively planted and managed in an eco-friendly way and there were various gateways to walk through and pavilions with seats based in oak where we could rest.  I enjoyed chasing the insects in the peach house and vinery, hiding in the herbaceous borders and taking a nap under the palm trees.  Altogether, the gardens were lovely and had a rustic charm.