Shad gets some sad news

When I look at the face of this beautiful lioness named Frosty, I see a long proud snout, focused curious eyes and a tufty beard (although I wouldn’t say that bit in front of her!).  She lives at the Isle of Wight Zoo which regular readers will know is a sanctuary for rescued big cats overlooking the scenic beaches of Sandown.  See how her rounded ears are facing forward probably listening to sounds in that direction, fully alert and concentrating on her surroundings, a perfect portrayal of the skill and patience required to capture prey so that herself and her family can survive.  Her broad nose is designed for superior scent detection although her whiskers are a little lack-luster compared to mine (I wouldn’t mention that to her either!).


One of the things I respect about lions is that they are the only social members of the feline family, choosing to live in large groups called ‘prides’ and engaging in a variety of peaceful tactile behaviours such as head-rubbing with other lions in greeting and licking each other.  So it is with great sadness I have to tell you that the noble big-hearted Charlie Brown passed away just a few days ago.  I met Charlie Brown at the beginning of the year on a previous trip to the Isle of Wight Zoo and you can see a photo of him just below.  He was a much loved character who arrived at the Zoo more than 10 years ago with his litter-mate Snoopy.  Snoopy was a dominant male who used to lead the lions in their evening roaring sessions but he sadly died in 2012 when it was discovered that he had an inoperable tumour.  Charlie relied on Snoopy for his sense of security so you can imagine how much Charlie must have missed his bro, but the keepers watched him carefully and after a while his neighbour Nahla moved in as his companion.  Poor Charlie became unwell this year and had been undergoing chemotherapy when he suffered an aneurysm and was put to sleep.  As I watched Nahla alone in the enclosure, I thought she looked lost and I wondered if she roared her goodbye when she realised Charlie would never come back.  It’s a sad business and Charlotte (the Zoo Director) is broken-hearted but I have no doubt she will continue to pour lots of love on to the remaining residents and welcome any new arrivals in need of help.


I gave Nahla a soft trill and walked slowly away from her enclosure with my tail low in respect and headed towards the tiger enclosures whilst pondering the circle of life.  Life does indeed go on and the gorgeous Ayesha lounging by her pool is a fine example, luxuriating in the winter sun and generally making the place look classy.  There is something regal about these magnificent creatures, whether it’s the aristocratic gaze or the eye-catching stripes I can’t tell.  Just across the way is my old buddy Xena the one-eyed white tiger I’ve told you about before.  Unfortunately Xena’s rock where she sleeps fell-in the other day so her enclosure is in need of repairs.  It seems they’re having a tough time at the moment at the Isle of Wight Zoo and my admiration goes to the keepers who were working hard on this freezing cold day while John, John’s daughter Natasha and myself sauntered around chatting to Charlotte and admiring the view (of the animals obviously)!  On our way home while we were waiting for the ferry to take us back across The Solent, we watched the hovercraft leaving Ryde Pier and as the powerful engines fired up, the blast-off really took me by surprise and a mighty wind shot through my fur and made John’s curly hair stand on end.  We all laughed!

The Ferry Home

We arrived at Fishbourne at 3.30pm and took our place in line for the ferry.  The sun was getting low in the sky, making it gloomy and chilly, so I was pleased when the ferry turned up and we rolled on to the ramp for the journey back to Portsmouth.  As the ferry turned around to face the right way, the gulls flew around the boat and the winter sun glistened on the water.  John decided he would go outside to snap a few pictures and I said I’d join him shortly.  But as I sat comfortably in the warm listening to the humming engines and the splashing of the water against the sides of the ferry, my head lolled sideways and my paws dangled over the edge of the soft seat and I was gone, snoring my furry little head off apparently.

When I came to, Natasha was admiring a rather splendid photo John had taken of the sunset.  I gave my face a quick lick to get the sleep from the eyes and looked around.  I could the Solent Sea Forts coming into view, telling me that we were almost there.  The four forts were built on sandbanks and shoals to defend Portsmouth Harbour from attack and also have the advantage of warning ships about the shallow places and sandy elevations that constitute a hazard to navigation.  The sea forts were the last thing I remembered when I woke up at home in my favourite bed next to the radiator, and I went back to sleep to dream that I was romping through the forests with the beautiful jaguars and the lovely tigers.

Shad does the Isle of Wight Zoo

A huge roaring tiger was leaping off the roof towards us.  Of course it never actually reached us because it was made of plastic!  It’s the first thing I saw as we pulled up to the Isle of Wight Zoo on this sunny clear winter day.  I was chomping at the bit to go inside because, although the zoo has a variety of animals, it specialises in tigers and lemurs, both beautiful and intriguing creatures that a sassy cat like me can relate to.  It’s a family-run zoo built within the ruins of a Victorian Fort constructed to guard Sandown’s coast and its fundamental goals revolve around care, conservation and education.

We wandered in and caught sight of the black and white ruffed lemurs with their paws spread out and their bellies on display, laying on a rock in a sunny spot of their enclosure.  They lifted their heads lazily and watched me go by as if I was impudent for disturbing their sunbathing.  There were some lively ring-tailed lemurs, black lemurs and red ruffed lemurs, and the slightly more timid grey mouse lemur and white-fronted brown lemurs.  I had no idea there were so many types of lemur!  The mongoose lemur (named McLovin) was originally taken from the wild by illegal traders and sold as a pet to a Polish sailor.  I’m so glad he ended up here at the Isle of Wight Zoo where the keepers care deeply for this lost little soul and make every effort to encourage his natural behaviour and enrich his environment.

Like McLovin, many of the animals at this zoo have their stories.  Some have been rejected by their prides or family units, others rescued from circuses or animal performance groups, or liberated from lives of stress and misery.  Natasha has visited this zoo before and is friendly with the keepers, so she gave us the inside scoop on the histories of me of the big cats.  Rajiv the tiger (an Indian/Siberian cross) was bred by a circus organisation in the UK and sent to the USA to be a ‘celebrity animal’, posing with people and opening hotels.  I can only speculate as to what unkind means his owners used to keep him pacified during the times he was on show.  He was apparently kept in a concrete pen and suffered chemical burns to his elbows because his owners would hose-out the pen with him in it.  His life at the zoo is a thousand times better than the life he had before.

Zena the white tiger suffered with eye problems for many years due to the inbreeding history of these animals and had her right eye removed due to glaucoma in 2006, which is why breeding white tigers is not ethical practise.   When we saw her, she was parading up and down her enclosure with a muddy wet tummy, having splashed around in the puddles and got that fluffy white coat of hers all dirty!  She is amazingly 17 years old and enjoying her retirement with her sister Zia who you can see in the photograph flopped out on a rock.

Casper is the white lion you see in this iconic pose as he stands on top of the rocky hillock in his enclosure surveying the surrounding terrain.  Lions are under threat all over Africa as they lose habitat and compete with humans and Casper has played an active role in helping to raise awareness of their plight by taking part in a project for Lionaid.  What a star!  He had quite the entourage as we looked up at him in awe and he went all alpha-male on us, puffing out his chest, shaking his magnificent mane and grunting.  We were doing a bit of grunting ourselves after holding awkward positions for ages waiting to get some good shots of Casper so we decided to go to the café for some lunch.  As we sat comparing images, my cat instincts kicked in and I felt eyes on me.  I looked around to discover we weren’t alone in the café as a pen full of degus was checking me out.  I gave them a flick of the tail and a shimmy-wiggle as I trotted out of the door.  Well, you’ve gotta give ‘em something!!

My brazen swagger was nothing compared to the bold strides being taken by Tequila the jaguar.  This striking beast had black spots and rosette-shaped patterns across her coat, a muscular body, robust head and powerful jaw.  She arrived at the zoo in 1999 with some behavioural problems thanks to her less-than-happy experience with an animal entertainment troupe.  However, she now displays natural and healthy behaviour as a result of the care she receives at the zoo.  The jaguar is the third largest feline after the lion and tiger and populations are in rapid decline.  As their habitats decrease in size and richness of wildlife, these poor things are being forced to venture too close to human populations in their desperate search for food and are being killed by farmers and ranchers for attacking the livestock.  So much damage has been done through poaching and deforestation that the road ahead is a tough one and the future of these exceptional cats is bleak, but organisations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society are making efforts to protect jaguar populations and we can only hope that this help has come in time.

I liked this zoo’s ethos and their willingness to take on animals that other zoos may not want because of their age or history.  The keepers know the characteristics and requirements of each individual big cat in their care, down to disposition, sociability, allergy status, food preferences and even the noises they make.  You can read more about the animals on the website.  Meantime, one small domestic short-haired cat, two adult humans and one child made their weary way back to the car with exhausted smiles on their faces for the journey home.

Shad goes on the water for the first time

My closest and most daring experience with water to date has always been my mad dash through the shower as John turns it on.  For some reason, I hear the shower door open and the motor start to run and I am overcome with an impulse to hurtle on to the shower floor and leap across it before the water hits.  But my encounters with water took a fresh turn on Sunday when John and I ventured across the seas with John’s daughter Natasha and her little boy.  When I say ‘the seas’, I mean the bit known as the Solent between coastal Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, which from my perspective was like an ocean.

We arrived in Portsmouth, first in the queue for the ferry, and I felt like Jack Sparrow in Pirates, all villainous and swash-buckling, ready to board the Black Pearl.  I got so excited I had to excuse myself for a moment and use the facilities.  The ferry arrived at port and it looked like a giant rusted metal rectangle floating on the shimmering surface of the water.  I looked resolute at John and he smiled reassuringly as he drove the car on to the boat and parked at the front.  I stayed in my travel basket until we found a seat upstairs and got our cameras out.  As we made our way to the outer deck, I could smell the salty sea air and hear the water swell as the Black Pearl parted the waves.

The Solent was calm and a murky turquoise green and the sky was blue with the odd puffy greyish-white cloud overhead.  An aircraft carrier rested motionless at the harbour, speed boats powered past us and huge cargo ships sat ominously in the distance, their boxy silhouettes a reminder of the other world that exists at sea.  The mainland got smaller and the Spinnaker Tower disappeared into the distance as we cruised towards the roughly diamond-shaped island that is known as an area of outstanding natural beauty.  We soon arrived at Fishbourne, disembarked and set off through the narrow pot-holed country lanes and rural landscape towards the dramatic chalky coastline on the other side of the island at Sandown, where I caught sight of our destination.