Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sleeping amidst the Animals

One of our first views of an English free-range kangaroo at Whipsnade Zoo.
Bedding down within feet of man-eating lions?  Ensuring your "people enclosure" is fully locked so the amara can't get in?  Free-range kangaroos in the English countryside?

Yes - that was our weekend at Whipsnade Zoo.  Thanks to the generosity of Mom and Dad Toler and the help of our beloved Asha, we were able to enjoy a belated Christmas present this weekend, an overnight stay at "lookout lodge" within Whipsnade Zoo 30 miles north of London.

It was an adventure anyway you look at it.  We arrived at the zoo at about 3:00 p.m. and, because it was raining, explored the indoor areas where we met a mini crocodile and this chameleon and the covered area of the new children's zoo.

We then headed cross the zoo's 300 acres to our experience's starting point.  I was startled by a kangaroo hopping across the road.  I promptly informed a uniformed zoo employee that an animal had escaped but was told that no, there are hundreds of free-range wallabies and amaras (not to mention the deer and rabbits) at Whipsnade. Alrighty then.

The official experience began Friday evening at 5:00 p.m., when we were greeted with a hot drink (hot chocolate, thanks) or champagne by our night hosts before settling into our "pod" accommodations, which were surprisingly comfortable.

We then fed the endangered "bongos," were told all about the southern white hippos (which are not white at all - it was a mistranslation, and stuck), and met the Siberian Tigers who have decided don't really like one another.  After a dusk safari wherein we saw many of the zoo's deer herds, we then enjoyed an evening meal at the zoo's restaurant.

Rhinos are poached for their tusks, which are thought by many Asians to have magical powers.  Sad,
as there is no scientific research to back this up. Rhino horns can go for something like $600,000. Crazy.

It was then time for our torch-lit walk (that's a flashlight for the Yanks).  We then saw the boy cheetahs, the lions (SO cool), and the wolves.  The latter put on quite the show for us.  Each stop was accompanied by a talk by our guides.

The evening ended at 10:00 p.m., when we headed back to our pods, now cozily warm, and fell asleep under a pitch-black sky and the sound of the lions roaring a few hundred yards away (a distance which can still be measured in feet, right?).

Breakfast was at 7:30 a.m. sharp.  We then fed the chimps - possibly my favorite animal of the morning - the bears, and the wolverine.  Last we met the South African penguins, who had the best view in town.

The penguin's view.  Whipsnade is absolutely beautiful.

We were pretty tired at this point, but were able to fit in the giraffes, the lemurs, the red pandas, and take the steam train to see the baby elephant and yak before heading back to our London-bound train.

The steam engines, around 100 years old, take three hours to heat up

The little baby is so tiny yet already weighs 16 stones (whatever that is)!

Dad Toler, I thought of you and our yurt when I saw the yaks.

Wonderful, memorable experience.  Thank you, Mom and Dad Toler.  It was a blast!

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