A day at the zoo

Louise and I at Blair Drummond Safari ParkWell, technically a safari park but I’m the pedantic one here so don’t go giving me any gyp. As past blog posts will show, I love zoos. Well, I love a good one – Hanoi was a little decrepit but on the whole I’ve been impressed with the animal welfare in them. Anything which encourages children to see and appreciate animals in a safe environment is fine by me. Yes, I do believe that an animal’s place is in the wild. On the other hand, it’s incredibly important that today’s younger generations get to see what they’ll be missing if we keep screwing the planet up. This handful of animals is doing a job in – hopefully – saving their species for lifetimes to come.

My view, anyway. Feel free to debate this in the comments. It’s always good to hear other viewpoints, even if they’re wrong 😉

Lions at Blair Drummond Safari ParkThe day started moderately early. Given that we’d kept my little cousin up well past her bedtime the night before, she had a little lie in. On Saturday evening she’d sat next to me as I went through pictures of the Tiger Temple (“Why is that man wearing those clothes? Is it to show he’s special?” That was the abbot in his safron robes) and Auckland Zoo before she started snoozing on the sofa.

The lovely Leah came with us as well. I’ve never taken a little kid out before on my own and Leah’s a certified teacher with experience of nippers, sprogs, kids, children and so forth. Lots of them at once. I was sure she’d be able to cope with one little cousin.

We bundled her (the cousin, Louise – not Leah) into her safety seat in the back of the car and set off. Of course, we wouldn’t tell her where we were going. That’s half the fun! She kept guessing, actually asking if we were going to the shops at Braehead as we drove past because she’d like that. She loves wandering round looking at everything and spending money. Takes after her mum…

Not once did we get an “are we there yet?”. Instead, we got “are we lost?” which we played along with. Until I looked over my shoulder and my heart broke to see her sitting there with tears coming down her face. In a quiet little voice she said “I want to go home”.

Enter Miss Leah, teacher extraordinary, and a bundle of enthusiasm about where we were going and all the great things we’d see and that she could do. By the time we stopped at some services for a little toilet break there was a bounce in Louise’s step and a smile on her face. I knew I’d brought Leah along for a reason.

MeerkatWe got to Blair Drummond Safari Park around 11-ish, and coughed up the entry fee of £10.50 per adult and £7.50 for the little one. There are a few ways you can tackle the park, and we opted to do the “drive around” part first, then park up and enjoy the lovely hot weather. I’d already removed the aerial from the car roof. It’s a staple of home video TV shows to watch monkeys unscrew them and run off into the trees.

Fortunately / unfortunately, simians were not to be seen in the drive-through segments. We did see plenty of other animals though. A handful of very impressive-looking rhino were first up. Some ostriches, gazelle, bison, camels, giraffe and the obligatory lions.

We were particularly lucky with the lions as we got stuck in a small queue of traffic just as a couple got up and walked towards the car. This gave us a great opportunity to snap some close-up pictures. As the last adult walked past the back of the car (my mum’s, incidentally), its tail rose up, thumped the back window and with an almighty *SQUIRT* that we could hear inside, sprayed gooey scent all over the side-panels. Whoops. At least it’ll keep the neighbourhood dogs from peeing on the wheels.

We parked up and had a wander round one of the central areas. The weather was gorgeous so a lot of the animals were out and basking or pacing. Meerkats, as always, drew quite a crowd. Cute little things. Louise liked the penguins and the llamas managed to abstain from spitting on us. Which was good.

There’s a regular sealion show which we attended. Just the two of them, but doing some pretty neat tricks and impressing the crowd. At least the adults, anyway. I overheard one obnoxious little brat later on saying “Well, I almost fell asleep. That’s how boring they were.” Well, sod off home and play on your X-Box then. Grr.

Sealion jumpingOne of the few extras we paid for was to have Louise’s face painted. She opted for the “bunny” design which was cool and all glittery. We didn’t see many bunnies around, so it made her even more special (you can tell I dote on my little cousin, can’t you?). Her balloon vanished during the afternoon – the string tied round the balloon end gave way – but the staff kindly gave her another one to replace it.

Lunch wasn’t too expensive given the potential captive market. Burgers were £3 and you could whack on as much salad as you wanted. My aunt had packed us drinks, crisps and yogurt so we didn’t need to buy anything else.

We had a good wander around to see the elephants and up to the river, but Louise didn’t want to go in the boat because she was scared she’d fall off! Instead, we walked across the bridge onto the new Lemur Island, home to some Brown and Ring-Tailed Lemurs. The Browns were skulking around the back of their shelter so we could barely see them but a family of Ring Tails were out enjoying the sun. I think we spent around ten or fifteen minutes watching them dash around and play-fight. The baby was particularly cute as it practiced the jumps that the older animals managed with ease.

Louise decided that she still wanted to wander around the shops – those X-chromosomes have a lot of power – even though there are only two in the park. And they both sell the same stuff. She’s quite subtle, not asking for anything. Just picking it up and carrying it around the shop on the off-chance you notice and buy it for her.

Baby Ring-Tailed LemurShe’d spotted a cuddly penguin which she liked, but I set down the law – penguin or ice cream. The scales were tipped when I mentioned that her new teddy bear I’d given her the day before might get jealous of a penguin. She nodded, agreed and decided on a Ribena ice lolly instead. Quids in!

The last event of the day was a play on the big wavy slide thing. I remember these from when I was her age. The raggy old rope mats, the bump on your tailbone as you go over the last hump at speed. The friction burns if you run your arm down the side. Ow.

After an agreed-on half-dozen run down the slide, we headed back to the car. Louise “rested here eyes” on the way back home, and we dropped her off in good time for tea. Via Asda where I bought her sweets. I am a bad influence.

I had a great time and I think she did as well. Leah seemed to enjoy herself, too, but I confess I was just reveling in spending a whole day with my little cousin. I’ve missed her a lot while I’ve been traveling. As you can probably tell!

Oh, and I’ve still not told my mum about the car.

Gunpowder, treason and Dreamworld

 Most Aussies seem to have actually heard of Guy Fawkes unlike most Americans I’ve heard of. Despite this, they don’t “do” Bonfire Night. Also, you can’t buy fireworks without a license so their emergency departments aren’t run ragged around October/November due to idiots who think it’s a giggle to throw them at each other.

So, to celebrate the first terrorist in recorded British history we instead trolled down to the Gold Coast to another theme park – Dreamworld. This one’s bigger than Movie World and contains a lot more than just rides and attractions – a small Australian zoo, Bengal tigers, cougars, the Aussie Big Brother house, The Wiggles show… a lot is indeed aimed at children but still made for a good day out.

Fortunately the weather had improved from the previous day – it rained for about 14 hours on Saturday. This was probably the most rain this part of Queensland had seen in months! Sunday morning, though, saw blue skies and sunshine. Ideal for us and the gazillion other people who beat us to Dreamworld and filled the car park.

 Like Movie World there are a load of shows to catch throughout the day, but the only one we bothered with was the Tiger Island one later in the afternoon. Most of the others are very “child-centric” (Spongebob Squarepants, Slime Time, Big Brother…) so we weren’t too bothered with them. First stop was Gold Rush Country where we took one look at the queue for the Mine Ride, then Belinda mentioned that she’d not had breakfast and that we had to go eat. So our first actual stop was one of the overpriced food outlets.

Finally fed, we returned to cowboy country and queued 30 minutes for the Thunder River Rapids Ride, one of those big inflatable tyre jobs. It was over in a little under five minutes and somewhat disappointing given the queue.

Next up was the Giant Drop. At the time of opening (and I think still) the tallest free fall ride in the world. Basically it’s a huge pillar. A rack of chairs is pulled to the top where it stays for around a minute so that the view can be enjoyed. Then it drops. Fast. Before being “caught” by air brakes at the bottom so that riders don’t end up as pavement pizza.

 I confess, I chickened out. I don’t “do” heights very well. On another day I may have been up for it, but today… nah. I’d have been trying to wrench the harness off at the top and seriously freaking out the other riders. Instead, I stayed on the safe ground with Belinda and waited while Albert and Sean wended their way through a ridiculous queue (50 minutes) just to scream like girls and look sick.

The ride is definitely bad for your health, though. I aged 50 minutes, got sunburned and ended up with sore feet – and I didn’t even go on the thing.

From there, we walked to the Log Ride. Again, a 30-minute wait for a 3-minute ride, but at least we got wet on this one. Albert more than anyone else, I think, although my shorts still hadn’t dried by the time we got home.

The next hour or so were more relaxing as we headed into animal territory. A petting zoo, Australian critters (kangaroos you could cuddle and other animals that were thankfully behind glass, pits and wire) and the beautiful Bengal tigers and cougars.

I learned a lot about Australia and some of its animals today, just by reading the posters and chatting to Sean. For instance, the taxonomical name for an emu is Dromaius novaehollandiae – note the “New Holland” bit at the end. I didn’t know this, but Oz was originally called New Holland as the Dutch were the first to discover it. Thing is, they only saw the west coast which doesn’t offer a whole lot, turned round and went home!

 Tigers are a favourite of mine as anyone will know – check out the posts from the start of April for more details – and the demonstration they put on here was superb. The animals are in very good health and performed “tricks” based on their natural actions including some amazing leaps. The cougars caught us by surprise.

Al, Sean and I walked off to ride the Tower of Terror, leaving Belinda to shop for a gazillion tiny tiger momentos. The ToT is a hybrid of the Superman ride I went on at Movie World and the Big Drop ride from earlier. 15 people sit in a 6-ton car on rails which is aimed directly at the Giant Drop tower. Using magnets, the car is rocketted forward with some amazing acceleration and shoots around 4/5 of the way up the tower, hangs for a couple of seconds and then gravity takes over, rolling the car backwards from whence it came. Again, at the time of opening, this was the fastest accelerating and tallest ride of its type in the world.

We staggered back from there to the shop to find Belinda, and as we left we encountered purple ropes enclosing a small square directly outside. Two cougars were walked in and a short display given, including how they can jump metres directly up to swipe birds from the air. The cats were literally inches from the guard ropes and the temptation to give them a pat was somewhat strong, but I find all ten fingers come in useful for typing.

The next, and last, ride of the day was the Cyclone. Again, Belinda sat out while us three testosterone-charged men wandered off to pretend how tough we were while quivering like jellies inside on a ride that kids took in their stride. OK, I’m taking for myself there. I’m just glad my shorts were still wet. Nobody could see when I pee’d myself.

Five o’clock and all the rides closed. We never did get on the Mine Ride. Maybe next time.

We then had far too much pizza for dinner and sat around watching CSI, typing up blogs and so on. Once more, there’s a handful of videos I’d like to upload but that’ll have to wait until I get a broadband connection. Stay tuned.

Photos by Belinda and Sean! Posted by Picasa

Video and picture update

Finally, I’ve had the chance to upload a few videos that I’ve mentioned in my posts. Dodgy leached wireless connections are rarely reliable enough to do this, so thanks to Rob and Indy for the use of their broadband connections to get these things up here.

In addition, I’ve put up a selection of photos from Invercargill, Stewart Island and my trip to see Sirocco on FotoPic.

Rattling a few shots off on an M-60 at the Cu Chi Tunnels on August 22nd 2006. [21.52Mb]

Mimosa pudica demonstrating Thigmonasty, also from August 22nd 2006. [5.10Mb]

Singapore Zoo – two giant tortoises engaging in some adult activity. Filmed mainly as I couldn’t believe the noise! Relating to the post on August 25th 2006. [1.7Mb]

The sound of silence – some of the beautiful and peaceful beachfront on Stewart Island from September 4th 2006. [13.02Mb] Posted by Picasa

Animals and Birds – photo update

Courtesy of free wireless in McDonalds (that was initially as sluggish as trying to wade through a swimming pool full of their milkshake) I have uploaded a *ton* of pictures from the Zoo and the Bird Park.

All at the usual place.

As ever, if you’d like any larger, better quality images then please ask and I can email them to you.

Jurong Bird Park

 Now, I’m not as huge a fan of our feathered friends as I am of the rest of the animal kingdom. However, as it was so cheap to add this one extra park to yesterday’s ticket, it seemed daft not to include it in my itinerary so I paid up and made my way there today.

Again, public transport made the trip a (very cheap) doddle and I arrived at 10:40, missing the first Birds of Prey show of the day. The next was at 4pm and I wasn’t to make that one either as I left too early!

The Bird Park is larger than the Night Safari, but nowhere near as big as the Zoo. Still, I left just before 3pm and didn’t stop for lunch so it’s still a good half-day with my walking pace. Like the main zoo there are many places where you can walk in amongst the birds so there is no glass or wire between you and them. The prime example of this is probably the Lory Loft which is utterly huge and filled with the brightest-coloured Aussie birds you’ve ever seen. For a small fee (S$2 or S$5) you can collect a container of sugary liquid that sends these avians nuts and has then sat on your arm for feeding. Suspension bridges and half a forest complete this amazing attraction.

 Not too far away is the Waterfall Aviary which includes the world’s largest man-made waterfall which towers at 30m in height. The whole exhibit looks like someone’s lifted a chunk of rain forest and dumped it indoors. Like the Lory Loft, it’s utterly enthralling if for slightly different architectural reasons.

Sadly, such is the nature of birds that many of them have to be caged which lessened the number of photographs I could (or would) take. Where possible I’ll not take a picture that shows an animal to be caged. Don’t ask why. I just don’t like to.

Outdoors, however, it’s amazing how many birds are in completely open enclosures and don’t disappear. Pelican, flamingo and numerous others I can’t recall the names off all live happily outdoors – even some parrots and maccaws.

The bird show I did get to see was impressive with some great aerobatics from the feathered performers. One vulture wasn’t playing, though. It was his first performance and he seemed to get stage fright!

 Near the entrance are a few Mynah birds and parrots which can speak surprisingly well. All of them have a list of words and phrases that can say. Coaxing them to do so is suprisingly easy!

Though I didn’t stay long enough to see the Birds of Prey show, I did get to see the stars as they’re housed near the park used for the demonstrations. Part of me wishes I had stayed on, but I would have been sat around for over an hour. Maybe next time!

I do have one less happy thing to say, and this goes for all three attractions. It’s nothing to do with them directly, in fact they’re doing their best to raise awareness of this and help out. It’s the staggeringly upsetting number of times you look at the information board for an animal and see the word “Endangered” written on it. Worse still is “critically endangered”. And even worse is that in every single case it’s our fault in some way or another. Deforestation. Hunting (for trade, meat, safety of humans). Poisoning. Environmental destruction due to global warming and the like.

 This is where I’m glad we have zoos. It’s easy to tell people that these animals are struggling in countries far away. We can look at the TV and read books with pictures of them and go “aw”. But sit next to one, touch it, watch it perform feats that prove it’s not just a “dumb animal” and hopefully it’ll hit a little harder that we need to save every single one of these animals. The Zoo has two wonderful quotes on large boards as you exit the Fragile Forest exhibit:

If all the beasts were gone,
man would die from great loneliness of spirit,
For whatever happens to the beasts
also happend to man
All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the Earth
befalls the sons of the Earth.
Chief Seattle of the Suquamish & Duwamish, 1855

The forest is a peculiar organism
of unlimited kindless and
benevolence, that makes no
demands for sustenance and
extends generously the products
of its activity; it affords
protection to all beings,
offering shade even to the
axeman who destroys it.
Lord Buddha, 500BC

Right, I’m off for a McDonald’s. Purely to see if they do indeed have free wireless as I’ve been told.

[update – sat outside McD’s and I have a 4-bar wireless connection. Wicked!] Posted by Picasa