Shad’s big adventure (part 2)

My feline friends were shocked when I told them that I wanted to visit Wildlife SOS because it’s in India, a long way from home and a surprising turn of events for a cat who enjoys his home comforts and prefers not to overexert himself unduly.  But the allure of the rescued pachyderms was proving hard to resist and I was curious about their natures and the lives they now lead.  John took the most convincing as he was obviously worried (although at the time I didn’t understand why) but he eventually agreed and was delighted that I was about to embark on my first big adventure.  The preparations were a gargantuan task – insurance, visa, tickets, travel arrangements, safety issues, health implications, access to food and water, car drivers, vaccinations, communication with home, etc.  But after months of planning, I set off with my backpack ready to experience everything that my quest had to offer.

I asked a few people to take some snaps of me on the way and you can see me snoozing with my blanket on the plane and chatting with the air stewardesses in these photographs.   My driver met me at the airport and as I started the 4 hour ride to my first stop, I understood John’s concerns.  The roads were chaotic with cars driving in every direction, missing each other by a whisker and honking their horns incessantly while cows and stray dogs wove their dangerous way through the traffic and motorbikes zoomed past carrying 3 or 4 people at a time with no helmets and babies in tow.  Piles of rubble and litter lined the streets while swarms of people went about their daily business in the stifling heat.

My first night in India was spent at a hotel in Rajasthan so that I could visit Ranthambore National Park the next day, an area designated as a protected habitat for a range of the country’s indigenous wildlife from palm squirrels to porcupines, pythons to hyenas.  The jeep arrived the next morning for the tour and I hopped on to the front seat as the rear row was occupied.  To my horror the seat belt didn’t work and I was not prepared to risk life and limb so a gentleman in the back agreed to swap places with me.  This turned out to be a wise move as the jeep drove like the clappers all the way to the entrance of the park.   At this point the jeep slowed down just enough for me to take in the bleak terrain, an eerie mix of barren sandy earth speckled with bunches of dry yellow grass and dead-looking saplings.  Here and there, a water hole was hidden in the desolate landscape and even a lake shimmered quietly surrounded by lush green trees which were lucky enough to find a means of quenching their thirst.  Animals gathered at the ponds including spotted dear, blue bull antelope, peacocks, monitor lizards and a myriad of smaller birds like bright green parakeets, little black and white wagtails, crows, sparrows and finches.

The highlight of the tour was the fantastic sighting of a beautiful tigress wandering through the dry grasslands marking her territory by spraying on nearby vegetation.  Unfortunately the sighting caused a frenzy of activity when the jeeps in the area all converged towards this amazing animal but thankfully she took it in her stride, looking over her shoulder from time to time without showing any signs of obvious stress.  I gazed in awe at this magnificent member of my species and the jeeps followed her at a reasonable distance until she sauntered off into the forest.  She was truly stunning, lean, untamed and radiant, and I wished there were more of them but sadly they are dramatically decreasing in numbers thanks largely to poaching to meet the demands of humans who believe in the medieval principles that form the basis of Chinese medicine.  So there I was, lost in the wonder of the moment, contemplating the splendour and complexity of the world’s ecosystem, when the jeeps suddenly  revved up their engines and began hurtling away at breakneck speed.  Bumping and skidding across the rubble on the paths, my bottom left the seat on several occasions and I gripped on to the side bar as though my life depended on it.  Dust flew up from the tyres and the jeeps one behind another like a giant snake tore towards the exit.  Apparently they were in a hurry because they were late and had to be out of the park by 7pm so that the tigers could enjoy some peace and quiet, the drivers are heavily fined if they fail to leave on time.  It was a fur-raising ride but we made it to the borders of the park with seconds to spare and I breathed a sigh of relief until I saw how much dirt was on my coat and realised I’d have to spend the next 2 hours licking it all off.

Unfortunately Video very jumpy difficult to it still in these jeeps

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!

Shad does the West Midland Safari Park

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.




Shad does Dudley Zoo

The West Midlands was our destination, Dudley Zoo the organisation, 2 or 3 hours was the travel duration to visit Daseep the Sumatran tiger was our expectation.  She is a special feline relation because of her work in conservation; hopefully she’ll exert a lot of persuasion to ensure the future of her generation.


Don’t know what came over me just then, I went all Oscar Wilde!  Alright, I know, my poetry is more comparable to Pam Ayres than a great literary artist like Oscar Wilde.  Although I’m not disrespecting the lovely Pam, she is a talented and entertaining lady.  Anyway, I digress!  Daseep was chosen this year as the face of an international conservation campaign that supported Global Tiger Day held on 29th July to raise awareness of the shocking reality of the world’s tiger populations.  According to a Dudley Zoo spokesperson, there are now just 3,500 tigers left in the wild, of which there are fewer than 140 surviving Sumatrans.  Three year old Daseep and two year old male Joao are paired as part of an international project to safeguard one of the world’s most critically endangered species.  Check out the whiskers on these beautiful animals, and the facial markings so bold and striking.  I’m not jealous!


Dudley Zoo (in the Black Country region of the West Midlands) looks as though it is built on platforms in a circular pattern that surrounds Dudley Castle on top of a hill.  It has over 1,000 animals representing over 200 different species like these Chilean flamingos that seem to enjoy standing on one leg and the otters and sea lions that started yawning every time I got my camera out.  Some of the animals were struggling to keep cool in the recent hot weather so the zoo splashed out on cold showers for the Asiatic black bear and cooling fans for the meerkats.  The monkeys and apes were treated to fruit-filled lollies and staff have been applying suncream to the sensitive skins of creatures who are normally hidden from direct sun by the South American jungle.


One of the big attractions at the zoo right now is a trio of special new arrivals born to four year old mum Daisy the lynx (Carpathian lynx to be precise).  They are the first of their species to be born at Dudley and have recently started to explore their outdoor enclosure.  Born in May this year, the cubs appear to be developing nicely and Daisy is doing a grand job as a first-time mum alongside three year old dad Dave.  Then there’s the orangutans who are partial to a drink of squash and had a unique way of drilling straight through me with their eyes, like they knew what I was thinking.  This cheeky orangutan was called Jarong and had the biggest cheek chops I have ever seen!  I saw the giraffes whose pace of life is slow to very slow and they were so relaxed that they let the keeper rub their tummies.


The highlight for me had to be meeting the snow leopard cub Makalu who was born on 17th April.  He is making excellent progress, bonding with his mum, gaining weight and chasing anything that moves.  He was named after one of the world’s highest mountain ranges within the Himalayan region bordering Nepal and China were his species apparently originates.  What a privilege to witness these exotic and rare wild animals share their experiences of family life with us.  Roar!!!

Shad’s big cousins on the Isle of Wight

Regular readers will know that John and I have visited the Isle of Wight Zoo before and enjoyed taking some fab pictures of the big cats that live there.  Remember Casper the white lion and Zena the one-eyed white tiger?  Don’t get me started about the unethical practice that surrounds the breeding of white tigers!  Anyway, the Zoo on Sandown’s chalky coast is well known for its lemurs and rescued big cats, some of which come from circus and entertainment backgrounds, having been rejected by the industry once they served their purpose.
This trip was a Really Wild Photography Workshop that is offered by the Zoo and hosted by professional wildlife photographer Karen-Jane Dudley.  Karen-Jane was excited to see a domestic cat like me in the group and said the big cats would be very curious to see me.  We exchanged tips on the art of wildlife photography and she told me some stories from her experiences in South Africa where she travels every year to capture beautiful images of the animals, like the zebras, leopards and birds of prey.

The workshop included lunch (I had fish pie, one of my favourites) and ‘behind the scenes’ access to a number of specially designed photography stations so that we could view the cats close-up.  As I peered through one of the lens ports, my feline senses tingled as the stunningly striped Aysha came trotting through the water towards me.  She was very inquisitive when she picked up my scent and looked enquiringly at me with her bold black and orange eyes before deciding that the water was far more interesting and splashing off in another direction.   Aysha is a playful 16 year old currently enjoying her retirement at the Zoo along with her brother Diamond, a laid-back boy like me.


Lions are one of the most iconic animals in the world and they are quite sociable in comparison to many of the other big cats that roam the plains of Africa.  I tried to get a few shots of Casper but he was being quite standoffish that day so I turned my attention to Charlie Brown, a tawny lion with a gentle spirit who gazed idly towards me before turning his attention to a noise coming from across the way.  It was Aysha huffing and chuffing with joy as she scampered towards a jet of water flowing from a hosepipe.  The keepers were in the enclosure playing with the tigers who seemed to love the sound and feel of the water being splattered around.  Then it was feeding time and the keepers placed whole pieces of meat tied to various items such as a barrel or a log into the enclosure, making mealtime a bit more of a challenge for these hungry hunters and helping to keep them stimulated.


We also had a special treat when we got the opportunity to actually go inside one of the enclosures.  Not with the tigers though!  Probably not a good idea!  But with the ring-tailed lemurs, a good-natured bunch of primates that come from Southern Madagascar and spend most of their time in trees.  It was quite funny being in the pen and looking out at the on-lookers looking in!  One of the visitors was overheard saying that the lemurs must be a type of monkey and Michelle (one of the alpha females of the group) was not amused.  Apparently lemurs are prosimians, a sub-group of primates that include tarsiers and bushbabies.  They lack the dexterity of monkeys and apes but they do have specially adapted eyes that enhance their night vision.  They certainly considered themselves to be more evolved, but I’m not so sure.  Don’t tell Michelle!

Shad admires the Amur

This beautiful guy is called Bagai (affectionately known by us photographers as Baggie) and resides at Marwell Wildlife Park.  He is around 18 months old and the keepers are hoping he will eventually breed with his wife-to-be Milla, after they are introduced to each other later this year.  He is an Amur tiger (also known as Siberian tiger) and is characterised by his bold rusty-yellow colour with narrow black/brown stripes, short legs and long tail, and supple muscular body.


I have a strong affinity for my big-cat kin, particularly the tigers, because of their ongoing crusade to survive against the odds.  There are now more Amur tigers in captivity than there are in the wild due to two main threats – poaching and habitat destruction. They are poached mainly to satisfy the demand for traditional oriental medicinal products made out of parts of the tiger.  Some gruesome examples include crushed tiger bone added to wine as a tonic and eyeballs rolled into pills as a cure for convulsions.  Revolting and totally without scientific basis.  Habitat destruction is often the result of increased demand for land as the human population grows, as well as intensified logging and agriculture for economic reasons. Habitat destruction in their natural environments of the Russian Far East, China and the Korean peninsula has not only removed the vegetation itself, which affects the soil and water balance, but also removed a significant portion of the tigers’ prey species, making them hungry and less inclined to breed.  Other threats include urban expansion, road construction, mining, fires and inadequate law enforcement.

There are nine recognised subspecies of tiger. Of these, the Caspian, Bali and Javan tigers are extinct and the South China tiger has not been sighted in the wild for over 25 years. The Indian or Bengal tiger is the most numerous but it is estimated that the total population is under 2,500 individuals.  In the 1940s, the Amur tiger was on the brink of extinction, with no more than 40 individuals remaining in the wild.  But thanks to vigorous anti-poaching and other conservation efforts in Russia with support from organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund, the population has recovered in the last decade and currently remains at around 400 individuals.  It is predicted that there will be none left in the wild within the next decade if human-kind does not take drastic action to save them.

But fear not my friends, it is not all bad news.  Big cats are prolific breeders and, given enough space, prey and protection, tigers can recover and re-claim their status as lord of the jungle. If you want to help, check out the WWF website for some ideas, such as sending an encouraging postcard to the rangers, the unsung heroes who work under harsh conditions on the frontlines to keep vulnerable wild tigers safe.  One thing all humans can do is ensure that any items they buy do not contain wild animal parts or lead to the unethical treatment of wild animals. Check that your paper and wood products are certified, that food products use certified sustainable palm oil and that your coffee was grown in harmony with its environment.

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.