Archive | February, 2013

Zoos are for Children

23 Feb

We were recently introduced to Five Sisters Zoo by Lisa and Andrea, an animal-loving couple we’re very good friends with. The zoo is significant for its focus on animal rescue. Its latest rescues are two bears who had been saved from a life of circus performance, and a lynx who had been living in a small enclosure at a rescue centre that could no longer provide for him. The zoo had gone to enormous trouble to build spacious naturalistic habitats for these animals. I approved of its sense of priority: it provides proper hiding places for every creature, and visitor visibility be damned.

Thus the bears were out of sight, hibernating in underground hollows among the trees. Buster the lynx was wide awake, though. Here he is, looking a bit unsure of himself in his new surroundings. He had climbed to the top of one of his climbing frames in his woodland enclosure. The zoo owner told us he likes to watch the comings and goings in the car park from this vantage point. I blinked at him in the slow way that cats do to smile at each other, and he blinked slowly back.

Buster

The more long-term zoo inhabitants were busy, happy and curious. They enjoyed looking at the visitors and trying to poke us through the bars. Various species of lemur tried to lick my camera lens, and this one succeeded.

Lens snogger

Some of the birds spoke to us with such charm, it was difficult to walk away from them.

Birdbrains

I loved the scents of the different animals: the foxy meerkats, the goaty-horsey reindeer, the lemony raven. The skunk was, sadly, snoozing in a hole, so I didn’t get to satisfy my curiosity on that score.

Andrea adored the monkey house, particularly the tamarins who all crowded up to her, some of them hanging upside down, to scrutinize her closely. Lisa was immensely popular with all the animals, because she happened to be carrying a crackly bag. Animals have a special affinity for crackly bags. One otter went berzerk, rushed around squeaking, then climbed to the top of a tree and loudly berated her for not sharing her tuna sandwiches. Until then, I hadn’t realised that otters could climb trees.

Tree otter

Major renovations were being carried out at the zoo during our visit. New and better enclosures were going up, but in the interim some animals were unavailable to view, and a lot of  the housing had incongruous signage.

Chipmunk

We had each paid a little extra for a “handling session”, because who would pass up an opportunity like that? At the appointed time we made our way to the reptile house, and presently the head keeper appeared and began setting out chairs. The chairs were very, very small. As more visitors entered the building, we realised that everyone else waiting to handle the animals was half our height and a tenth of our age. A cluster of parents looked on proudly from behind a barrier as the four of us squatted on the tiny chairs among their infants.

Head Keeper Lynn introduced us all to a python, a tortoise, and a giant hissing cockroach. She gave a talk about each one – where it came from, its habitat and body structure, and how to hold it safely. We listened meekly and did as we were told.

Head Keeper Lynn

The looks of wonder on the children’s faces was a joy to behold. We loved that they had been given this experience, but we couldn’t imagine why their parents had chosen not to take part too. Nor could we understand why the zoo (with its tiny chairs) expected this. We thought about other people we knew, and realised that, for most people, animals are a form of children’s entertainment. If an adult buys a pet, then it’s a dog or a cat or a fish. All other pets are bought for children. Even when adults go to feed ducks, it’s generally because they have kids with them. This delight in animals displayed by Lisa and Andrea somehow gets lost  when people reach adulthood:

Animal people

Happily for the future of conservation and this blog, there are still many people who don’t grow out of it. For Bunty and me, the best part of visiting the zoo was that it didn’t have to end. We arrived home to our own zoo, which welcomed us back with a crescendo of squeaks and meows and grunts and binkies, the moment Bunty crackled a bag.

Frankenstein’s Rabbit

18 Feb

We were going to get our rabbit Broccles a girlfriend for Christmas, but instead we had his eye removed. Broccles has a talent for suddenly needing the vet during national holidays, and the money set aside for his new companion had to be diverted – and some.

Helping with the Christmas wrapping

Helping with the Christmas wrapping

His blind eye had been  shrinking, and in December his eyelid folded under itself and started scraping against his eyeball. This led to an infection. The vet knew that Bunty feels horrified about eyeball removal and the sewing-together of eyelids, so he suggested eyelid surgery instead. Broccles’s eye has led to so many vet visits, though, that Bunty and I finally felt he would suffer less if it were removed.

I made a point of booking Alasdair the Rabbit Hypnotist. All the surgeons at Broadley’s vet hospital are of the highest calibre, but my faith in Alasdair borders on the religious. As far as I’m concerned, he is a superhero of the rabbit world and I feel safest leaving our bundles of fur in his hands.

Alasdair called us after lunch to say the operation had been a success, even though the shrunken state of the eyeball had complicated it. He called again when Broccles came round, reassured us that the bunny was fine, and warned us that his face might look a bit shocking. We collected Broccles once the post-op team was satisfied that he was safe to come home. His good eye was much wider than usual, and as as soon as we got back, he made a beeline for his Safe Place on the hearthstone.

He looked a bit Frankenrabbit, but we thought Alasdair had done a fine job. Don’t you?

“If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!”

I was given oral painkillers for Broccles – a disappointment, as he has a pathological terror of things shoved in his mouth. I’m always offered oral meds for him. I suspect this is because most pet owners are scared of giving injections and have no idea how much easier they are. Alasdair  suggested wetting Broccles’s teeth with a drop at a time, and letting him lick it off – it was honey flavoured, and tasty to rabbits. I loved this idea.

Unfortunately, Broccles wasn’t hungry after his ordeal, and he let the stuff drip onto the floor. He dug at the tiles in the way he does when he wants to be left alone, thankyouverymuch. I decided to have a go at hypnotising him into taking the medicine. Alasdair had once explained his method to me, and some of you readers have posted extra tips. I knelt down and lay Broccles on his back in my lap. His feet were braced against my tummy and his head and neck were secure in my hand. I murmured soothingly and stroked his forehead until he relaxed and went floppy. I slowly squirted the medicine into his mouth, and he drank it down calmly. Amazing! Thanks to everyone who helped me to master this new skill.

A mere 36 hours later, Broccles was eating everything in sight, dancing around the cats, and showing no signs of pain. He demanded to be let outside, so against the advice of his nurse, I opened the door. He enjoyed himself following Bunty around the winter vegetable beds. Then he seemed to lose his bearings. He got stuck in this tree for half an hour, until I came and guided him back into the house.

Call the fire brigade!

For the next few days, he kept losing his way and bumping into things, and he needed encouragement to follow his usual routes around the place. He seemed much blinder than before his eye removal, even though several vets had assured us that his blind eye was completely blind. I had often had the peculiar feeling that he was looking through it, but this should not have been possible. When vets examined the eye with ophthalmoscopes, there was no sign of the retina at all. No retina means no vision.

Broccles spent January relearning his way around. He has taken to following walls for guidance, and whenever he comes to a corner or doorway, he turns his head this way and that to examine the full layout with his single eye. He has been getting faster and more adept at this. He has come on, I may say, in leaps and bounds.

His fur grew back rapidly, and it’s now difficult to notice that he has an eye missing. He is as handsome as ever, and in fine fettle for meeting a new girl.

Eye, me hearties!