Babe and I ended the Easter weekend with another outing and this time, we checked out the Yorkshire Wildlife Park. I took Friday off to avoid the weekend crowds. Oh … was I wrong. It was still the school break here and the car-park was rammed full that we’d to park at the end of the overspill. We’d to walk along very dusty paths on one of the hottest day of the week. What a start eh. I wished they had provided a bus service to ferry the visitors to the entrance. We were nearing the complex when we were greeted by a mighty roar from inside of the compound. What a welcome. Just wow …
Yorkshire Wildlife Park was the UK’s no. 1 award winning 70-acre walkthrough wildlife adventure based at Branton, Doncaster in South Yorkshire. It was formerly the Brockholes Farm Visitor Centre before the site was purchased by the former keepers of the Woburn Safari Park and a business partner. It was said to be a dynamic conservation centre helping to save habitats and wildlife, with the help of communities at home and around the world. It worked together with other wildlife parks and zoos across Europe to maintain animals that were endangered in the wild through captive breeding and enrichment of the animals lives.
We walked through the 600 square metre safari village which featured outlets selling the usual token souvenirs, crafts, artworks and decorations. While queuing to pay the £16 each entrance fee, we spotted a dozen or two swallows flying across the beautiful blue Yorkshire skies. As soon as we got through the gates, we were greeted by the Meerkat and Mongoose mansion. The compound were surrounded by 1 metre high of clayish wall with alternate glass screen for the little ones to watch the antics of these adorable mammals. That meant parents don’t have to carry them for them to see across the wall and also prevent them from climbing. I think it was a brilliant idea.
The cheeky mob of Meerkats and yellow mongoose were running all over the place, digging away and standing on their two feet checking out their admirers. Family group kept each other within sound and sight distance while foraging. One will always be standing on its hind legs or perched in the highest point, scanning for predators. This lookout was known as the ‘sentry’ and if any danger was spotted, it barked or whistled loudly so that everyone could dash to the nearest burrow safely.
Armed with a map, we decided to walk on the left-hand side passing the £1.2m giant play barn that was built in 2013. Beside it was the Baboon reserve which housed a troop of Guinea baboons from the Edinburgh zoo These were 17 ‘outcast’ baboons that were moved from the zoo after ‘falling out’ with 60 others who shared their enclosure. Guinea baboons have a strict social hierarchy and normally live in groups of up to 40 individuals. They spent most of their time on the ground foraging, playing and grooming each other, running about, climbing and destroying the plants.
These Guinea baboons were the smallest of the 5 baboon sub-species and were IUCN listed. There were a few very young babies being carried around by their mothers. Their antics delighted the children especially when the mothers while searching for fleas, turned their babies upside down and checking the bottoms. The Alpha male Romulus was really impressive, strutting around showing everyone who was the boss.
The Big Baboon is found upon
The plains of Cariboo:
He goes about with nothing on
(A shocking thing to do).
But if he dressed up respectably
And let his whiskers grow,
How like this Big Baboon would be
To Mister So-and-so!
The next enclosure was the one I was looking forward to see, the African Painted dogs, the most endangered carnivore in Africa . But unfortunately they were fast asleep in their cave. What do you expect on such a hot afternoon??? We carried on and visited them later. We walked through the woodland trail where I spotted Chaffinches carrying nesting materials and Robins singing from the branches. We came across the first walk-through area which was the Lemur wood. We didn’t enter because it was packed and again, we continued on walking past the birds of prey enclosure where a few birds were kept. We didn’t linger since all of them we’d seen before.
Opposite the birds enclosure we came across a pair of the cutest pair of pigs we’d ever seen. They were the Red River hogs, a wild member of the pig family living in the Guinean and Congolian forests of Africa. We got closer to them as they snuffled their way around the deciduous woodland where they were based. They had striking red rufous, with black legs, a tufted white stripe along the spine and fantastic ear tufts including a strangely beautiful face. There were white face markings around the eyes and on the cheeks and jaws and bore long, white whiskers.
Also known as the bush pig, they were the smallest pigs and used their large muzzle to snuffle about in the soil in search of roots and tubers. It was amazing to watch them stripped the bark of a sapling. This behaviour often caused much damage to agricultural plantings, resulting in being hunted by farmers. The snouts were very powerful too, lifting logs and digging holes with great ease. They possessed a striking, mellifluous vocalization pattern that was said to resemble the opening of the bassoon solo in Stravinski’s Rite of Spring but unfortunately we weren’t there long enough to hear it.
Then straight to the piece de resistance, Project Polar Reserve which was set up in 2014 with its first polar bear. It was a 500kg male called Viktor, a 16 year old from the Rhenen Zoo in Mexico. He was recently accompanied with Pixel, a 2 year old from a zoo near Eindhoven. These were the only polar bears in an English zoo. When we were there we found out that Viktor was in his rest pen recovering from an injury. He was fast asleep and was massive, even lying down. Imagine when he stood on his back legs, he was over 3 metres tall!!! It was a shame not to see him up and about but we wished him well.
But Pixel didn’t let us down. He was about a third of the size of Victor and was doing his best to entertain his admirers. We enjoyed watching him rolling about and playing, reminiscent of an overgrown Labrador. After bounding around the huge enclosure, he went up the rocks and fell asleep. It was quite surreal to see a polar bear sleeping in the sun. Nearby, there was major works in-progress. The Park were in talks about rescuing another polar bear called Yupi from another Mexican zoo. Polar bears were increasingly threatened in their native habitat because sea ice was disappearing. The Park was applauded for providing home for bears retired from breeding programmes (Viktor had 15 offsprings) and those rescued from bad conditions such as hot climates.
Call me Polar Bear, but beauty, fierceness,
courage, and my surroundings have brought
out the poet in the flesh walkers.
To Russians, I am simply White Bear;
to Danes, Ice Bear; for many, Sea Bear.
Among the Inuit, I am Nanuk,
the animal worthy of great respect,
or The Ever-wandering One.
Norsemen, who wear imagination like a garment,
hail me Sailor of the Icebergs, White Sea Deer,
Whale’s Curse, Seal’s Dread. Their poets say
I have the strength of twelve men
and the wits of eleven.
Siberia’s Ket people esteem all bears.
To them I am Grandfather.
The Lapp people point to me and say,
God’s Dog or Old Man in the Fur Coat.
So intelligent, those Lapps.
Remember all my names—or none.
I am the specter on disappearing sea ice,
J. Patrick Lewis ‘Polar bear’
Then, a long dusty walk passing the wetlands on to our left where we spotted Shelducks bobbing in the river and Mute Swans cruising about. Nearby, I noticed a mammal sitting in the shade which I’d never seen before and it was a Sitatunga or Marshbuck, a swamp-dwelling antelope. They were Africa’s only true aquatic antelope and were distinguished by their long, splayed hooves. A solitary animal, he was well camouflaged and shaded in the thickly vegetated, muddy swamps and marshes. The crowd walking past didn’t even notice him.
On another part of the enclosure, there was a small group of females with young. Pairs associated for short periods of time to mate. After being nursed for up to 6 months, the fawn were weaned and encouraged to forage on their own. Foraging took place in both dry lands and swamps. They merged at night from swamplands to graze on dry land but we were lucky to see them feeding when we went around the second time. The name Sitatunga was from an archaic Bantu language of Rhodesia.
We gave the South American viva a miss because, again, it was packed, We headed straight to a herd of Bactrian camels which included the latest addition, a baby Baby named Hadra (meaning adorned with beauty) and her mum, Elizabeth. This adorable wee lass was having problems with the electric fence because she kept on touching it and got electric shock. To train and stopped her from getting hurt, a stripey red and white tape was strung next to the fence to keep her safe. Their enclosure was huge and the camels were free to roam where ever they like and if they had enough, they trotted back to their shelters.
These Bactrian camels were well equipped with two humps, both of which stored large amounts of fat to see them through lean times as they originated from the harsh Gobi desert. When well-fed, the humps were plump and erect. We also a pair fighting by trying to pin each other with their furry necks and trying to push the opponent down. It was a show of dominance and strength. The match ended when one of them decided he had enough and trotted off.
The Camel's hump is an ugly lump
Which well you may see at the Zoo;
But uglier yet is the hump we get
From having too little to do.
Kiddies and grown-ups too-oo-oo,
If we haven't enough to do-oo-oo,
We get the hump-
The hump that is black and blue!
~The Camel hump by Rudyard Kipling~
And then we entered the Land of the Tigers which was created next to the wetlands and contained 2 pools and a waterfall. We viewed the tigers from a 150 metre raised walkway, overlooking the enclosure. We spotted a pair snoozing soundly under the shady trees quite a distance away. Previously known as Siberian tigers, the Amur tiger was renamed in the 1990’s when the last tigers disappeared from Siberia. Now they were only found in isolated populations around the Amur river valley in the far east of Russia and on China’s north east border. Only 450 were left due to habitat loss and poaching, particularly to meet the demands of the traditional Chinese medicine market which was insanely ridiculous.
There were 3 Siberian tigers including a tigress named Tschuna which was loaned from Dudley Zoo. We just found out that she had given birth to triplets on the 29th March. They were still under quarantine. The father was Vladimir which came from the Highland Wildlife Park near Inverness. There was also another female, Sayan. In the wild tigers were solitary with a male’s territory encompassing 3 or 4 females’ territories so it was quite natural to keep 2 females and a male in the large, natural enclosures with mature trees, pools and hiding places. And I guess these played a role in the successful breeding programme.
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
The Tiger by William Blake~
Further on was the £350K giraffe enclosure which was opened in October 2012. There were 4 male giraffes, the tallest mammals on earth, and they came from 3 different locations, Palle was from Copenhagen, Jambo an endangered Rothschild’s from Woburn Safari Park and Jasper with Behansin from West Midlands Safari Park. The animals were chosen by visitors as the next animal they wanted to see added to the Park. Visitors could have an eye-to-eye viewing from the neighbouring 8m high platform.
But since the platform was packed, we watched them from the ground level VIP feeding station in the outside sand yard. And off course, all we could see were their beautiful slim legs :-). These giraffes delighted the audience by scratching their long necks against the tree branches and pulling the leaves into their mouth using their striking blue tongue. The park staff also attached willow trees to high points in the enclosure to mimic feeding conditions in the wild and it was amazing to see them elongating their necks to reach to the leaves. Giraffes spent about 60% of their day eating up to 35kg of leaf matter each.
Opposite was Leopard Heights which was built in March 2012. The open-topped 6000 square metre enclosure was for viewing the leopards from an 8 metre viewing tower or from ground level through a 10 metre long glass. This enclosure with its giant climbing frame for these athletic cats, was claimed to be the largest leopard enclosure in the world. We’d limited views because the leopard happened to be lounging at the furthest end, well camouflaged among the tall grasses. Visitors could only view the animals from only 2 sides in order to reduce any possible negative impact from visitors on them. We sat below the tower to have our lunch surrounded by the hustle bustle.
There were 3 brothers, Dimitri, Denzil and Drake, which arrived from France as part of the European Breeding programme that aimed to save these endangered species. I am sure they were happy here as the whole area was designed to encourage their natural behaviour. Leopards preferred to go up high, where they felt safe and could see what was below them. This whole enclosure was not netted or enclosed like most zoos.
Round the corner was the African Plains, a large paddock displaying African grazing animals such as Chapman’s zebras, Ankole-Watusi cattle, ostriches, Lechwe and Common Eland. Unfortunately, all the animals preferred to be grazing in the middle of the plains. The distinctive horns of the Ankole-Watusi cattle caught my attention. They were named after the Watusi tribe of Africa and were a domesticated species. They were the show-stoppers of the bovine kingdom and often referred to as ‘cattle of the kings’. Living in the savannas and open grasslands, their diet consisted of grass and leaves.
The cow-like Common Eland were the second largest antelope in the world with large spiralled horns. They were also the slowest, reaching speeds of just 25 mph. To make up for this lack of pace, they’d the endurance to maintain a trot indefinitely and could jump great heights from a standstill. That would be amazing to watch. They were non-territorial mammal often formed large herds of 100 or more in the wild. It used loud barks, visual and postural movements including the flehmen response to communicate and warn others of danger.
Chapman zebras were distinguished by stripes on the lower halves of their legs, which break up into many irregular spots. A common behaviour found in all zebra species was to stand in pairs looking over each other’s shoulders or head to tail which allowed both to watch for predators. They wore their stripes with style as it was hard to tell where one animal ends and another one began especially when they stood together.
A pair of Ostriches were busy following their keeper at the other end of the Plains. Contrary to popular belief, ostriches don’t bury their heads in the sand. This old saying originated that when they spotted danger, they lie low and pressed their necks to the ground to become less visible. Their plumage blended well with sandy soil and, from a distance, gave the appearance that they had buried their heads in the sand. When they run, they used their plumed wings as rudders to help them change directions quickly.
As we walked around the plains, a magnificent-looking and fleet-footed antelope, the Lechwe, was having a drink in the boggy part. A native to Africa, they lived exclusively in marshy areas where they waded knee-deep into water in order to feed on aquatic plants which might be a problem here. They have unique, elongated hooves and their legs were covered in a water-repelling substance, making it easier for them to move through deep water. In the wild, they grazed in large herds of several hundreds and here in the enclosure they were always together.
After the African Plains, we enjoyed an on foot safari in safety along the 800 metres pathway into the 10 acre Lion Country. This huge non-drive through lion enclosure held 3 separate prides of 13 African lions all rescued from appalling conditions in the run down Oradea Zoological Gardens in Romania. They’d spent their lives in cramped conditions on hard, bare concrete with very little shelter in temperatures which ranged from –20C to 36C. Their new enclosure had been built in three sections so the 3 pride families do not mix and were nicknamed ‘The pride of Yorkshire’.
Out of the 12, there were only 10 left. 2 died of natural causes while the latest was put to sleep after he was being injured during a fight with other lions in March 2014. These lions were slowly rehabilitated into their new home under veterinary care and careful husbandry by the staff but they were also fiercely territorial. When we were there 2 females in the first pride were having a siesta. They slowly woke up with a huge yawn and started having a rough tumble with each other. They looked very playful but I wouldn’t want to be in the enclosure with them.
In the second pride, the handsome male was parading up and down its enclosure, marking his territory. There were 2 males and I think they must be related. I find it amusing the regal look they gave to the visitors. Even in an enclosure, they still behaved like they were the king of the jungle. At the third pride, all the lions were fast asleep. Who can blame them. Once or twice, they looked up, gave a mighty yawn before rolling back and falling asleep, again. It was lovely to see these magnificent beasts enjoying their remaining days in comparative luxury.
In the jungle, a lion's roar,
Loud rumbling from it's core.
Magnificent mane of golden brown,
He is a king but wears no crown.
Predator and enemy they have two,
Human hunters, Hyenas too.
The lion and his lioness pride,
If you cross them, run, don't hide.
The roar of a Lion,
The rolling sound of thunder,
The chase of a Lion,
His prey runs asunder.
The Lion's roar is his symbol,
Of Strength, Of Leadership, Of pride,
The raw Roar sound is tribal,
His pride, so true, abide.
Philo Yan ‘Lion’s Roar’
Then we turned back and popped over to the Bennett’s wallabies walkabout enclosure. Also known as the red-necked wallaby, they were very friendly and came up to us for fuss and food. A pity feeding them wasn’t allowed. If they felt that they’d too much attention, they hopped back behind the rope area. I was excited to see a little Joey sticking his head out to see what the fuss was about. Oh… cute overload. There were a few Joeys about and I watched in awe as they climbed back into their mother’s pouch. They went head first and then flipped upside down to fit the rest in. Amazing
I find it incredible that the mother can have several babies in the pouch at the same time, at different stages of development. She may have a pinkie (baby) and a tiny Joey both getting milk for different gestational age. She might also have a bigger Joey who was starting to eat other food but was only coming in to drink, or hopping back inside in case of danger. Oooh… Mother Nature was truly amazing. As we walked along the path. these wallabies were hopping about in front of us. We imagined as if we were in Tasmania :-)
We’d completed the circuit and walked back to the animals that we missed. Lemur woods was a walk-through enclosure housing groups of endangered and endearing Madagascan Brown, Ring-tailed and Black-and-white ruffed lemurs. Ropes and nets ran between the trees to keep these adorable primates, that looked something like a cat crossed with a squirrel and a dog (?), active. We felt very privileged to be walking among them because Lemurs were considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UCN) to be the world’s most endangered animals. Lemurs were named after the Lemures, the spirits and ghosts of Roman mythology.
The first group we encountered were the Brown lemur family, who were having their own get-together. They were busy feeding on the fruits, young leaves and flowers that were scattered on the ground. One thing I noticed was that they’d orange-red eyes. We saw a juvenile clinging tightly to his mother’s back while its mother was busy feeding. It was difficult to determine the sexes because they were the one of the Lemur species in which males and females were almost identical in size and colour.
Above us, the most terrestrial of all the Lemurs, the Ring-tailed Lemurs were having their own get together high up on the trees. They demonstrated that they were the masters of the trees as they jumped between trees and ambling along the branches. They were very vocal too as constant vocalization among members kept them together. A series of black and white rings around the tail were their trademark. These very long tails helped them to have the power needed for those very long jumps from tree to tree. I was hoping for them to come down because when Ring-tailed troops travel throughout their home range, they kept their tails raised in the air, like flags, to keep the group members together. Not today, they were having too much fun chasing each other up the trees.
The last group we encountered were the Black-and-white ruffed lemurs, fast asleep without a care in the world. Renowned sun-worshippers, they loved nothing more than an afternoon sunbathing and lounging about. These critically endangered lemur species were one of the most iconic species with their distinctive black and white patterns. A large white ‘ruff’ of fur around their neck gave them their name. We waited for them to wake up, but they were having none of it. We reluctantly left as more and more people poured in.
We made another quick trip to the Project Polar Reserve to see if any of the bears were awake. Viktor could be seen putting his head up but not for long and fell asleep again. Pixel was still fast asleep at the same place we saw before. We nipped over to the Marmosets enclosure and found them having a whale time, foraging, running along the ropes, climbing trees, chasing after each other and causing mischief. Common Marmosets were one of the smallest species of monkey. Their name came from the French word ‘marmouset’ meaning ‘dwarf’ or ‘little’.
marmoset is all
he laps at sap,
he leaps the trees,
quick and slick
and small as leaves,
We stopped at the Land of the Tigers where a ranger was just finishing her talk. We’d also missed their feeding time and found it a bit strange that the animals were fed at the further end of the enclosure where it was quite difficult to see. As usual, there was a push for donations to help with the conservation. We then walked past ‘Meet the animals area’ where a Macaw was at the centre of attention. It flew off to a nearby tree and refused to fly back to its handler when called. Its antics delighted the crowds. We didn’t stay to watch what happened next because I wanted to see the Painted dogs.
It was too far for Babe to walk so he went back to the Lion Country again. The Painted dogs had woken up and were in a different part of the enclosure. They were also called Cape hunting dog or African wild dog and typically roamed the open plains and sparse woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa. Their Latin name meant ‘painted dog’ referring to the irregular, mottled coat which featured patches of red, black, brown, white and yellow fur. Each had its own unique coat pattern and all had big, rounded ears. They were now faced with shrinking room to roam in their African homes.
I spotted them behind the tall wired-fence, feeding and patrolling their enclosure. These dogs, were sisters called Ayandi, Nandi and Thabo, and were from Knowsley Safari Park. Their enclosure were huge and had a variety of habitats for them to explore which also included a house to sleep in with caves to shelter and dens to dig. A suitable male will be introduced soon as part of a European wide conservation breeding programme. The studbook keeper selected the females and males that were compatible at a genetic level and it was up to the staff to make sure that their first meeting goes well and they get on. Good luck with that :-)
I joined the long queue for ice-cream before meeting Babe at the Lion Country. After finishing our ice-cream, we called it a day. Then it was purchasing the obligatory fridge-magnet from the Safari village before a long slow walk back to the car-park. As we exited the compound, we heard a loud roar from one of the Lions bidding us ‘au revoir’. We were quite impressed with the park as it had something the world’s greatest zoo couldn’t match and that was space plus natural looking enclosures without the thick bars. The later was very important for photographers. The design of the park also meant that despite heavy crowds, we were able to walk around feely and there was no queuing to see the animals.
There were several signs throughout the viewing area including information on the species, its conservation status and projects that the Yorkshire Wildlife supports. Keeper presentations and talks at each section, enclosure and paddock provided the visitors with information on the various animals and about the conservation of the animal in the wild. These included information on deforestation and climate change as well as what the visitors could do to help save these animals, plus fundraising after each presentation. We will definitely return especially to see Victor and also the 3 Amur cubs. It was interesting to know that all the newborns in 2015 will have names starting with H.