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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.

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The Case of the Midnight Rabbit

5 Aug

Bunty and I have been exploring the joys and agonies of detective work, using an undercover camera. It came about because our rabbit Broccles suddenly started peeing about four times more than usual. The vets thought he may have a kidney infection. (Bear with me; this is relevant.)

“How much is he drinking?” asked Alasdair (of Rabbit Hypnotist fame).

I had no idea. Alasdair explained that if he’s not drinking lots, his urinary system is likely fine and he is probably eating more juicy food than usual. I was instructed to measure the water level drop in his drinking bottle. I explained that Broccles shares a water fountain with the cats, making it hard to judge how much he drinks. I said I’d keep him indoors and watch his drinking habits closely.

Bunty had a better idea. He stuck an infra-red webcam near the fountain, and set it to email us a series of snapshots every time its motion detector was triggered. The computer also sounded a noisy alarm every time the fountain was approached by an animal. This meant we could check the screen and watch the animal without having to walk through to the living room.

Broccles and the cats snoozed the long day away without having any drinks. In the evening, the alarm blared frantically over our TV show as a cat turned up for a drink. Ten minutes later, the other cat set it off. We couldn’t turn the sound off without muting our TV, which is Bunty’s computer. Ten minutes later, HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! Broccles turned up, took a few sips of water and groomed his bib for a while. We paused our show and watched him benevolently.

Ten minutes later, HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! He set it off again. We carried on watching TV. We knew what a drinking rabbit looked like by now.

Ten minutes later, HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK!

Every ten minutes through the evening and night, he set the damn thing off. I felt sure his kidneys must be disintegrating.

It took a long time to trawl through the emails the next morning. The vast majority were of him taunting us:

Most of the rest showed him taking the odd sip of water and then grooming his bib:

Turns out he really likes to groom his bib. I called Alasdair and gave him the run-down. Alasdair said that, from my description, it sounds like he’s fine. He referred to the sipping and bib-licking as “wetting his cloth to use it”. We will continue to keep an eye on his drinking habits, but this time with less of the whole HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! HOOONK! I have had it with sleuthing.

The Doorstep Angel

1 May

You know those stories where a couple lets a wayfarer stay the night and they kill their only goat to feed them, and then the wayfarer turns out to be a wish-granting angel? That happened to us. Only, we didn’t have a goat and anyway, she’s vegetarian and any goat living here would be part of the family. Bunty killed and stuffed a marrow instead.

We had been feeling fraught. I was behind with my studies, Bunty with his work. The house was a tip. The guinea pigs were still living indoors because we hadn’t had time to fix up their summer housing. Everything was getting on top of us and I had a deadline coming up for an assignment which required a familiarity with Excel – a programme I have never used. Then there was a knock on the door.

A smiling girl stood on our doorstep with a rucksack on her back. She asked if she might stay the night. Readers will know that our door is open to every creature needing a bed for the night, so, of course, we said yes. The girl’s name was Seraph. A Christian friend has remarked that you can’t get a bigger clue-by-four than that.

Over the marrow, it transpired that Seraph was familiar with Excel, and so after enthusiastically cleaning out the guinea pigs’ tower for us, she spent the evening walking me through the steps needed to produce graphs from tables. It was a huge relief. The cats showed their approval by standing on her.

A week later, she is still here. She has fixed up the animal housing,

Bathed the guinea pigs and released them into their new homes in the garden,

Dismantled and spray-cleaned the guinea pig tower,

Cleaned the house, told us stories, cheered us up, and gave us enough free time and energy to get out of the house and go sightseeing.

It’s mighty generous of this God fellow to bless us godless atheists like this. Our Doorstep Angel is looking for a job, and when she finds one, she will move on and leave us. We wish her well… and we are thinking of starting an angel sanctuary.