We wandered to Wingham. Let’s have a look at the wildlife park we said, and expecting to have to shelter at times from the rain we stopped there and prepared for what we thought might be a mediocre experience. Wrong. The place was once a dowdy place mainly with birds and a few small animals but when we saw the entrance and some early morning visitors coming out looking happy we began to change our opinions. The change was made more certain by a perusal of the map and as we progressed toward the ticket office we saw pictures of penguins, tigers and otters! Coo – as a resident wood pigeon remarked.
Claiming insanity and old age we got in for a discount and, with hand stamp, a chance to have lunch and a second attack on the sights. First thing, after a visit to the toilets, was the Guinea Fowl and the exotic chickens, ducks, parakeet, a pair of parrots and a couple of lazy lemurs. It was good to see the birds loose with water and trees around. We wandered, through the Flamingo pen, having missed the otter feeding, thinking of Alice and games of croquet, and from there out into the rest of the park.
First let us get the idea of Zoos and animals in captivity in perspective. We do not like captive, caged up animals put on display just for a spectacle. Most zoos are not ever going to be large enough to show animals and give them the room they need, but they need to be workable; and the justification for a zoo’s existence is that it serves a number of useful purposes.
A zoo should be educational, look after animals properly, create an environment in which they are happy, do some public service such as help act as a breeding ground for endangered species, rescue and nurture abused animals, and it must make enough money to maintain a high standard of care. The old idea of a zoo where large animals are kept in small cages is redundant and no longer acceptable. In part many modern zoos are a long way from this idea. Wingham has some of the old ideas but is steadily developing an environment that is more than acceptable. The enthusiasm of the employees and volunteers shows this.
There is a small collection of animals so that overcrowding and management is balanced. We have to bear in mind that most animals when fed well and looked after will not want to roam – they are not normally tourists – even the vast herds of wildebeest in Africa travel a circuit, a territory where the balance of food and numbers is part of a greater cycle. Given only a few of them and plenty of food they have no need to roam. Animals define their territory.
Which brings me to the big cats. I like pussycats. Wingham has a pair of crossbreed Bengal tiger cubs about a year old and two lions rescued from the circus – Clarence and Brutus. The tiger cubs are brothers, neutered and of course lovely. Fed each day at 2:30 we joined the crowd and watched it happen. Wonderful.
The big cat pens are well built and laid out so that the animals have their space and people can easily see them. A number of pens have a walk through system and at points around the park there are places to buy feed for the birds. The walk through pens include a children’s petting zoo with hand gel cleaning at many points. One at times is also surprised by the sudden call of a peacock and amused to see a Royal blue neck appear above on roof tops with beady eyes peering down at you.
On the subject of big cats; the park has a beautiful Puma and although I do not know the story of its arrival I must say it looks wonderful with that sleek, smooth litheness of body that these creatures have. It looks comfortable, happy and showed no signs of any restless pacing. In another pen there were a group of Scottish Wildcats, the first I have seen, looking like large tabbies, chunky tails, high rear quarters who ignored us completely. I liked that.
Gripes? That I will have to wait for the Parrot House and the Tropical Area to be upgraded but that is a matter of anno domini and will be done. I was not that impressed by the reptile house, I have seen better, and it seemed that the collection was inherited and not that well thought out.
It was a good to see native birds enjoying the facilities and of course noisy mallards popping inn to say hello. In all we enjoyed the visit. It was good to see a pair of Kookaburras and some Galahs, the latter being a favourite bird having seen them in the wild flying in flocks showing their pink and grey and crimson colours as they swoop around. All in all a good afternoon’s wandering.
As the title says, it was a sort of safari with the only shooting being done with my camera.
The other attractions at Wingham are the educational areas that focus on children, a good children’s playground and the Meercats.
In the tropical house there are bats and butterflies and beautiful birds but for me the tigers were the creatures I like most. There is a good selection of birds and animals, too many to list here so go and pay a visit and find out for yourself. See the Emus, the Wallaby, the Pelicans and all.
Of course we must not forget that there are other attractions in the area; Wingham itself, the small township looked wonderful as we passed through. Close by is Goodnestone with the gardens, a lovely village and a pub.
The Kings Head pub in Wingham is good although there are two others to try if you want a better bill of fare than the cafe at the Park will offer.