Hello and how are we all on this first day of June?
Since posting every day in April (*cough, cough) to accomplish the A-Z challenge, I’ve taken a month off from the blog to catch up on
sleep other activities.
‘Where have you been?’ I hear you ask. Well, I’ve been to Africa to feed lions.
Out of the two options, feeding lions probably seems the less likely but that is exactly what I had the marvellous opportunity to do!
You may remember that earlier in the year, I visited Yorkshire Wildlife Park for the first time. This was when I heard about the various experience days you can book and being the spoiled only child that I still am, I asked for a VIP tour for my birthday and my parents obliged.
This was not a cheap experience (£100 each), so wont be for everyone but when weighed up against the others available, taking into account the range of animals you can see and the time spent (2 hours), it seemed the best option.
And we were not disappointed at all.
Arriving just before lunch with my mum, we had access to the whole park before our experience began. Just enough time for a sunny picnic lunch and to check-in with the meerkats.
And then it was time to go on safari!
We met our lovely ranger and guide, Jasmine, near the entrance, who immediately apologised for being incredibly late (a whole 3 minutes) and being out of breath – she had just finished a talk on deadly bugs and had sprinted over to collect us.
We followed her into our first Restricted Area, to don some stylish high-vis jackets and to collect slabs of beef – we were starting with the biggies. Lions here we come!
Jasmine was chatty, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable throughout, showing us behind-the-scenes details such as where all the food was prepared: in a container unit, smaller than my kitchen, the staff prepare the veggies for the entire park, which can take over 3 hours a day if working alone!
We viewed all the different menus pinned on the wall, seeking out the lions so that we could select the correct food for the day. What we were feeding was more of a treat, as all the animals also have set times to be fed (these are varied though, to help with enrichment).
She then called for the carnivore keeper with the magic keys, ran through some safety and we were in!
There are three prides at the park, rescued from Romania. We tried calling to one of the males – they respond to their names – but he was having none of it, too busy lazing in the sunshine. However, a female was more accommodating. She immediately padded over, silent and soft, a deep baseline rumbling from inside her, as she purred, just like a domestic cat!
In fact, everything about these beautiful beasts was like a regular cat, just scaled up. Being so close, you could see the power in the muscles, the size of the paws and the dense softness of their coat, that you just wanted to sink your fingers into. At no point did they seem at all menacing…
For what seemed like hours, we fed her pieces of raw beef and learned more about their time in the park and plans for the future – YWP is very concerned in the conservation of all its animals and is involved in various breeding programs to ensure their survival.
Next stop was to collect some willow, apparently a food favourite with several animals, which had just been delivered. Parting the sea of visitors with our high-vis superiority, and trying to avoid swiping a child with the long branches slung over our shoulders, we went to the wallaby enclosure.
This area is a walkabout zone: basically, the wallabies can come and go as they please but humans have to stick to the paths. Except us, because we were special! Jasmine encouraged us to stride straight into the enclosed areas and simply offer a branch. And it worked. Before we knew it, Mum and I had six wallabies, two with joeys, nibbling out of out hands! And we became the entertainment along with the animal stars, as the crowd came over to watch what we were doing.
From here, we took our remaining willow to the ringed-tailed lemurs. Unlike the wallabies, which we were allowed to stroke, we were instructed to allow the lemurs to touch us (they try to leap on you) but not actively stroke them. Again, this is a walkabout area, but the staff are trying to minimise human interaction, as lemurs can get quite attached.
Within seconds, the troupe bounced and skipped out of the trees and made short work of stripping the willow branches. Teeny, tiny babies flipped and spun on their climbing ropes, one leaping across onto my long branch and running up towards me! When it was time to move on (and I would have happily stayed in this area all day), we had to hide food to encourage the lemurs to stay behind – having around twenty chattering animals chasing you to the gate is quite an experience!
Next, we popped in to feed the warty pigs some hard boiled eggs and scatter a selection of cereals, fruit and veggies for them to forage. We didn’t stay long here as these can be quite vicious (could snap our legs) and also a bit quiet and grumpy!
Not at all quiet however, were the next creatures on our list: giant otters. Mora and Alexandra are sisters who know how to talk! These velvet-skinned beauties can grow to be five foot six, larger than either myself or my mum, and have a variety of very loud calls. From shrieking in excitement, to a satisfied ‘nom, nom, nom’ noise when fed, they never shut up! Unfortunately, as I had gloves on to feed them whole fish, I didn’t take photos but we learned that the otters are being trained to offer theirs paws when instructed, to enable their health to be checked without the use of darts, which can be traumatic for them.
Whilst feeding lions was incredible and not something many people could say they have done, we had one request of a favourite animal to visit: the armadillos.
The park’s two armadillos share their enclosure with the marmosets and before we could go to see our favourites, we had to feed their housemates.
Marmosets are gum-eating creatures, which means they eat tree sap as part of their diet. YWP substitutes this element with a powder mixed into a paste, something like the consistency of glace icing. As Jasmine was explaining all this, the marmosets were going crazy, flying about and having a nosey at us.
All of a sudden, one cheeky chap, around the size of a large orange, flung himself at the fence, thrust his manhood through, and promptly wee’d on us! How rude! Fortunately, he obviously hadn’t consumed much liquid, so it did little damage. But as first impressions go, he put me right off his kin.
Once they’d been sectioned off outside, happily lapping up the artificial sap I had made and spread on branches, we went back in to see the armoured delights.
The pair were a little sleepy but got up for a tummy tickle and some mealworms. Stroking them was every bit as bizarre as I imagined. Their leathery backs, made from the same substance as fingernails, shielded their soft, squidgy undersides. Seriously cute (I like weird), had they been smaller, I would have been tempted to smuggle one home…
Equally as odd, in the grand scheme of animal classification, was the giant anteater. Being nocturnal, the large ball of bristle was not too fussed about coming to see us, but his bed needed its daily clean, so it was our job to entice him to his spare bed with a mealworm and fruit smoothie, followed by more live worms.
After much coaxing, he reluctantly got up, slobbered more worms onto the floor than I’m sure he swallowed, then lumbered into his other bedroom. Such an uncomfortable looking creature – they walk on their knuckles – I was amazed by how small he could make himself once curled back up into a ball.
We were nearing the end of our experience, which had already exceeded our expectations and time limit and still had the giraffes to see.
We took a short cut to the large, African plain enclosure via the tigers and leopards. The jealousy of the crowd, who could not see these majestic cats up close (it was packed and they prefer to lie low until it is quieter) was palpable.
Although not as close as with the lions, one of the female tigers gave us a fantastic display of her teeth. Jasmine explained the tigress had smelled something she particularly liked, after rubbing her face in the grass.
Baring her teeth was a way to accentuate the scent with the help of glands near her mouth.
Unfortunately, we only saw the shadowed spots of the leopard, who was staying cool and away from prying eyes in his enclosure, but we were possibly the only members of the public to see him that day.
Finally, the stilt-walking giants of the plains were ready for…willow. Told you it was a favourite with many!
The four giraffes at the park were waiting at their gate, eager to nibble on more leaves. We were told to stand in front of the solid gate, just in case they kicked out and simply hold up half a tree. WOW! The power of their tongues, as they wrapped around the branch and stripped off the leaves within a few seconds, was insane. And actually lifted me off my feet!
We spent a good fifteen minutes with these towering beasts before they followed us back across the plains, past zebras, antelope, ostrich and their opposite neighbour – a black rhino.
The day was amazing and something I would both recommend and happily take part in again. Perhaps we were lucky with the guide we had but I cannot praise the work of the park enough and it was reassuring to see that in all areas, it was clear the animals were well looked after and appeared content.
So, if you have the chance, help to support the conservation work by booking a VIP experience. I guarantee you’ll not regret it…just watch out for those pesky marmosets!
IMAGE CREDITS: All my own, so please be sweet and ask before sharing!