We were the first ones into the Zoo on this bright but bitterly cold day in early April and soon our grandson was sprinting off towards the whooping screams of some of the primates. We managed to slow him down in an attempt to get some kind of order into our visit. We’d been give a map of the grounds and it made sense to divide our trip into three stages covering the bigger part of the zoo before lunch and then the Dinosaur Trail (see separate review) and finally the remainder of the Zoo (see separate review).
So we started off by checking out the monkeys and gibbons and not surprisingly there were performing characters in each of the cages. The monkeys seemed to spot us as we approached and within seconds a small group were showing off their skills. One even pressed his face against the glass and looked as if he was visiting us rather than vice-versa. As active as the majority were one sad looking specimen sat all alone in a corner. It would have been easy to start feeling self-righteous at this point and think about how in-humane it is to restrict the movements of these essentially wild animals. But I’m reminded of the comments I read on the Tycross web site.
They referred to the Bonobos who are perhaps our closet relative and who share 99.6% of our genetic makeup, and who sadly are facing extinction. I have to admit that I’d never heard of them before but when we saw them they are particularly endearing. In the wild they are only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo but they are under threat because their natural environment is being gradually destroyed by logging and mining; they are favoured for eating and in the Congo their meat is the third most popular; they make attractive pets and are captured to be sold on. Tycross is supporting ventures in Congo to save the Bonobos as well as ensuring a safe and secure environment for them to prosper. Indeed Tycross is the only place in the UK where Bonobos are being cared for. But I digress....
We’d recently seen Spider Monkeys on our trip to Guatemala (see separate journal) and here at Tycross they seemed as much at ease as in their wild environment. They were swinging from the heights of the outdoor cage and just when they’d captivated the attention of visitors they’d head indoors. Our grandson enjoyed the game because when he ran round to see them indoors they would seemingly wait for him to arrive and then exit to the "great outdoors". He’d run out to see them and the cycle would start again. He was captivated by their antics until the gibbons started to make such a racket that he couldn’t ignore them.
Moving away from the primate enclosures I took the lead and directed our grandson to the open air enclosure where other animals lived. First up was a Patagonian Mara which looked a "bit like a big rabbit". This herbivorous animal is only found Argentina including, believe it or not in large parts of Patagonia. It can be as long as 30 inches and weighs in at up to 35 pounds. These seemed a bit skittish and as soon as they sensed movement they ran off for cover. We soon learnt to stand quiet and still to observe their antics.
The next animal, the Vicugna, we’d had the privilege of seeing in Peru. It’s a member of the alpaca group and is the smallest of this group. They have the softest of fleeces and often in Peru they were being farmed, rather than hunted for this renewable resource. They are a beautiful animal to watch and the two we focused on seemed particularly able at playing to the crowds with their posturing. They weren’t active enough for my grandson who headed off for the Prairie Dog enclosure. This was more up his street as these animals never stopped moving. They were constantly busy burrowing in the ground and it soon became evident that each had a prescribed role to undertake – including the role of sentry. Our grandson seemed to know all about the Prairie Dog but at one point he was heard to ask if we could see the Naked Mole Rats. Much to his disappointment I had to explain that the zoo did not have any. Although secretly I was surprised that he even knew that Naked Mole rats existed!
The Capybara, a strange looking creature with semi-webbed feet, was in the next pen and I wasn’t surprised to read that this is the largest species of rodent in the world. It can weigh in at over 170 pounds is around 2 feet tall and 4 feet long. The grandson was more impressed when he heard that this creature had prehistoric ancestors that were not dissimilar in appearance. Although they were said to be much bigger!
Alongside the Capybara was a Tapir. We’d hoped to see these in a recent visit to Guatemala but failed dismally so it was good to see this one strolling around in Tycross. Once again this animal is most endangered and is hunted for its tasty meat and the skin which makes exceptionally good leather-ware.
The Dhole, an animal I’ve never heard of before, is a species of Asian Wild Dog aand although it looked very placid here in Tycross it can be fairly damaging for farm animals in its home country. That’s why this animal is endangered – it threaten farmer’s livelihood and they hunt it down as a pest. I can understand that response but it did look a peaceful and beautiful creature under the bright sun at Tycross.
Of course one of the highlights of the morning’s visit was the sight of The Gorilla. We were privileged to see the female Gorilla, Ozala, carrying her baby around the enclosure. The baby was born in January of this year and the whole family group (mother, father, grandmother and auntie) were around the compound. The father, Oumbi, is a magnificent Silverback Gorilla and although they all were moving very slowly it was great to see. Outside there was a diagram of the Gorilla’s proportions and a stream of children measuring up against it. Needless to say none came even close.
We were now becoming hungry and a little foot weary, so decided to head back to the entrance to eat. However we were distracted on route by one of the aviaries and then an enclosure holding a new acquisition for the zoo. The Siamang is an endangered Malaysian gibbon and, as they other primates seemed set on entertaining the visitors with its playful behaviour. We watched for a while but the cold and weariness were getting to us
Because there's so much happening around the site it's difficult to keep to a plan when an excited child runs haphazardly from one place to another. But to do justice to the visit I wanted to make sure we covered the ground and needed to check out the map, provided top us when we bought our tickets. We were now "back on task" and headed for lunch and a chance to "recharge our batteries" before a busy afternoon of exploration.