I am a great supporter of zoos and wildlife parks where staff do their best to conserve and protect flora and fauna on our fragile planet thus, when I was in the very south of Ireland, I dropped into Fota Wildlife Park a few miles outside Cork City.
When the day is hot and sunny the animals, like myself, prefer to laze, move as little as possible once they’ve found a comfy spot whether to bask in the sun, or cool down in the shade.
The tiger, I could only see one, was certainly hiding in the tall grass, silent and still, he barely moved a whisker and a few visitors walked away not being able to spot him, so well was he camouflaged.
A mother and baby rhino chose to lay on the hot sand and sleep under the sun, semi-sheltered by a wall, seemingly oblivious to the visitors staring down at them. These Indian rhino with their skin like armour reminded me of Durer’s sixteenth century woodcut of a rhinoceros exhibited in the National Gallery in London.
A herd of bison were grazing in an open field, a calf keeping close to its mother and a herd of horned oryx were chewing the cud, only metres away from a cheetah seated on a wooden bench in his enclosure, majestically posing for a photograph. (Or was he looking out at the happy herd and dreaming of a tasty steak?)
Many of the primates had taken to the trees to shelter from the midday sun, only the younger ones wanted to play by the lake, the older ones preferring to groom themselves or each other. The noise they made in the trees screaming, howling or baying didn’t seem to distract the other animals, especially the ducks paddling in the lake.
The park has a hot house in which are aquaria and several species of snake, frogs and tortoise. A host of butterflies, all resting on the flora and not flying around in the humid heat, were footloose and fancy free, but then outside on the grass so were kangaroos, wallabies and peacocks.
I was surprised to find kangaroos and wallabies hopping around the parkland, but visitors were warned not to feed them, chase them or treat them with any disrespect. I was glad to see that people heeded the warning and the marsupials foraged for food or lay under the trees. Having never been to Australia I don’t remember ever being close to these animals before.
It was too hot for the peacocks to show off their plumage to the peahens, but one particular giraffe was happy to show off his magnificent height striding around his enclosure as if he owned the place ( and I guess he did!) His massive size struck me as I realised that when I’d seen giraffe before I’d been looking down on them (see Belfast and Dublin Zoos) whereas at Fota the giraffe were looking down on me and I, at 5’7”, barely reached this spectacular animal’s stomach.
It must have been quite a shock for early Western explorers to see giraffe for the first time on the African plains and I feel they are living proof that God exists. Ask anyone to draw an animal, an alien, a fantasy creature and the chances they would draw such a tall beast with thin, long legs, knobbly knees, stubby horns, a strong, elongated neck and a fascinating patterned coat are remarkably slim. (Oh and they have blue tongues!). I do find giraffe an awesome sight and they appear to me a divine invention.
I spent over three hours at Fota Wildlife Park enjoying the antics of the elusive red panda, the company of a pelican gliding inches past me as I sat on a bench by the lake and learning about the work done by the staff in caring for the animals who have plenty of room in which to roam, play and enjoy each other’s company.
A hearty thanks to all who work there, keep up the incredible work and enjoy the up and coming celebrations. Happy 40th Birthday! May there be many, many more!
Please check out my other blogs regarding the great work people up and down Ireland are doing to protect many species:
I support Dublin Zoo by sponsoring an okapi.
Belfast Zoo has sun bears on which my favourite bear, Paddington, was based.
Wild Ireland near Buncrana in Donegal is doing fabulous work caring for brown bears and wolves. Now they know how to pose for photographs!
All of these are well worth a visit and would appreciate your support over the summer. Check out their websites to learn more and please do as the staff ask for both visitors and animals to stay safe.