Okay, (gulp) I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna write a blog about, er………. a zoo!
Why such a big deal you may ask?
Well, because as a vegetarian, animal loving, confirmed zoo-detractor I remember becoming seriously depressed by the sight of beautiful, powerful animals reduced to miserably pacing around teeny- tiny enclosures, and avoid them like the plague!
And yet today I returned from a visit to the Isle of Wight Zoo with not a tear in sight.
The zoo was the venue for my daughters Brownies Region Roadshow, a fun day out that began with a presentation by the Chief Commissioner at neighbouring Brown’s Café, and finished with entrance to the Zoo for the Brownies and some friends from outside the Girlguiding movement.
Jasmine was really excited about the day, (Brownies is one of her favourite things) so I promised myself I would “zip it” with any negative comments, and let her and her friends enjoy themselves without lectures!!
Before we left I was pleasantly surprised on reading the website to discover that many of the animals were rescued from circuses or illegal trade, rather than kidnapped from the wild! I also found out that they specialize in the tiger, acting as a retirement home for older tigers.
Better still Education and Conservation Officer Tracy Dove gave a talk to the Brownies and described all the conservation work that the Zoo is involved in, one of their passions being to ensure that tigers remain in the wild. This year the zoo won the Small Collection Award for Best Field Conservation Project.
Once inside, I found myself delighting in the joy that my kids and their friends took in running around the enclosures, gasping at the proximity of the big cats and giggling at the monkeys and lemurs. We saw porcupines, wallabies, a warthog, and guinea pigs, rabbits and goats in the Zoo at Home area, but it was the Big Cat Territory that made this a special day for us. The magnificent lions and tigers were out in full view, basking in the sunshine, on what was otherwise a freezing cold day, whilst a jaguar lay curled up inside a hollow tree.
When the two of the male lions and the female, Nala, started roaring, it hit us all in the belly, sparking a primal fear, and astonishing my son, far surpassing his imaginary lion roars. We talked about how the wire fence was keeping the lions from ripping our bellies open and eating us for dinner.
Later, a wonderful keeper explained how when they “kick off” like this it is a part of their social bonding behavior, that their roars could carry for 5km, and that they were also partly letting the Shanklin pride of lions know that they were there. (Okay, so there isn’t a Shanklin pride of lions, but these lions don’t know that).
She also told us the decibel level of this humungous sound – my frozen brain can’t remember that bit -but it equalled the levels found at the front of a rock gig. She described how when she was back at home (in Africa) she walked barefoot so she could feel the roaring of a lion pride through the ground in her instep (and the deeper sound of elephants in her heel.)
By now something was happening to me, and I was starting to fall under the spell of these powerful animals. Years of zoo avoidance meant I was viewing the whole experience with fresh eyes and the sight of huge tigers and lions less than 6 feet away from me was somehow deeply moving. As we stayed to watch them become extremely animated during the 2.30 Big Cat Feed, I found myself marveling at their raw power and sinuous movement, whilst slowly falling in love with Casper the white lion.
If you pay a visit to the zoo, I think watching the feeding is a must, definitely the kids favourite bit, and especially good with Caspar as there were 4 big sections of glass where you could see him in action without looking through wire.
Talking with the kids during the visit we agreed that while it would be better if the enclosures were bigger (they brought it up, not me – honest!), their healthy coats and bodies, and the policy of environmental enrichment meant that they were obviously well loved and cared for.
I honestly feel pretty awed to have spent time near real live, and lively, big cats, but it still somehow feels a bit wrong, so the kids watched “Madagascar” later that evening – you know – the animated film about animals escaping from the zoo and returning to the wild!