Tuesday, 10 February 2009


Wellies, cameras and chicken drumsticks at the ready, Andy and I set off for our visit to the Wildlife Heritage Foundation in the back of beyond of the Kent countryside. We rendez-vous with our guide, Leigh, who hurtles like a mad thing down country lanes,through puddles the size of lakes thanks to the 24 hour we've had recently on top of melting snow and, as we pull into a yard, I squeal 'Oooh look! Lions!!' 'Where?' says Andy, completely not seeing the three humungous and well-fed male lions standing in their enclosure less than fifty feet away. It was one of those occasions when you don't see something because you don't expect it to be THAT big and THAT close. Heaven help us if we ever got chased by velociraptors...

Inside a large cabin I am given a welcome pack and asked to sign a safety policy document which basically says 'Do as you're told and you won't be eaten by a tiger.' This I do. Our huge offering of chicken drumsticks is decanted into a plastic bucket, we are fortified 'gainst the bitter wind with a cup of hot chocolate and away we go.

Leigh clearly knows and loves the big cats at the Foundation. She calls them from their enclosures and out they trot, snuffing and huffing and being big and magnificent. Leigh tells us about each animal - their name and character, their breed, who they get on with, what they've been up to recently, in fact everything and more you'd want to know about them including their shoe size and where they like to go on holiday. To be able to feel a tiger's tongue lick your hand as you feed it a drumstick is quite incredible and one huge chap by the name of Tamair was quite happy to lie against the cage and have his back rubbed, before sucking up his drumstick like it was a string of spaghetti. My favourite was Makari - I suppose you could call him the Sylvester Stallone of the tiger world - tall and magnificent but not too many brain cells to knock together. He also had a sight problem which meant you had to waft your chicken around close to his face so he could see it. And then you couldn't be sure he'd know what to do with it. But he was lovely. I am very tempted to make him my adopted tiger. (£50 - a bargain!)

I was also very taken by the snow leopards, Ranschan and Mizi. Mizi might be expecting snow babies but apparently it's difficult to tell until one day a keeper goes into the enclosure and 'ta dah!!' There they are! All that can be said for the moment is that she is acting very 'schmoozy.' (A technical big cat term.)

Here are some interesting things I learnt today. 1) The first litter of a snow leopard consists of male cubs only 2) a cheetah is the only big cat whose claws are non-retractable 3) a cheetah is the only big cat that purrs 4)the Amur leopard is very beautiful but very endangered (less than 40 left in the wild, in the whole of the Earth) and therefore needs saving and 5) Andy was surprisingly nervous about feeding the tigers even though he gets bitten at work on a regular basis by hamsters and such like.

I urge people to go on the Wildlife Heritage Foundation website at www.whf.org.uk and see what goes on. And then get out your wellies and wallets and go for a visit to get up close and personal with these charismatic big cats. It is very well worth it. A great experience.

And now I'm going to try and do my bit to help fund raise. The Amur leopard does not deserve to die out (unlike things like the Labour Party and people who allow their toddler children to weave erratically across my path with dolly pushchairs when I'm shopping in town). I'm going to write a storybook for the Foundation to sell. If they want to. It might turn out to be a load of twaddle. I wouldn't want to damage their cause!! So as I sharpen my pencil and get my writing brain into 'Big Cat Story Book Mode' I'll leave you with a couple of very short films of Tiger Day!

1 comment:

Vera said...

Have been waiting with eager anticipation the outcome of your day with the tigers......was switching off my PC to go to bed: thought 'I wonder if Denise has posted yet' - and you had!

Well done. I enjoyed your day out as well. Glad you didn't get your fingers snacked on.