Tuesday, 28 February 2012

No man is an island but a gorilla can be

Last weekend we celebrated my 40th birthday by escaping the working from home routine for a visit to Longleat Safari Park. Not what most people would chose to do on their 40th but I did a zoology degree some time ago and have two young kids who wanted to be a key part of the celebration.

It was an inspired choice as Longleat is a fantastic place to visit. We were very lucky with our animal experiences. The monkeys were fantastic fun as they jumped on our car, playing tag and trying to steal the aerial. However, it was the big cats that really made the day worthwhile for me.

The sight of a tiger majestically prowling twenty feet away from us is hard to describe. The latent power and danger radiates out from the beast – a truly gripping sight that filled me with awe. Then we found a pride of lions sunning themselves on a fallen tree, while to one side some cubs were play-fighting.
This was enough of a treat but suddenly the lions heard something and quickly, but deceptively gracefully, they jumped down from the tree and went to investigate. Our car was in the way and the pride surrounded us as they slunk past; their eyes fixed on the source of the sound behind us. We could have touched them they were so close.

Later we went on a boat ride around a lake to see the gorilla island. We were obviously expecting to see gorillas but as the boat chugged through the water we were surrounded by playful sealions. They were mesmerising to watch as they slipped effortlessly through the water around the boat. Suddenly, Liz nudged me and said “Look! There’s a hippo!” and true enough there were two of the most dangerous creatures to man swimming in the lake; firing a gaping yawn at us, warning us to keep our distance.

You would have to travel a long way to experience this sort of connection with these animals in their natural habitat and you’d be very unlikely to get anywhere near as close. Later on the kids were stroking ferrets, watching marmosets scuttling over their feet, holding a tarantula and feeling the smooth scales of a beautiful snake.

Anyway, I was telling you about the gorilla on the island on the lake. He is an old silverback (even older than me) whose mate died years ago so he lives on the island by himself. He has a house, complete with satellite TV and a huge HD screen. Apparently his favourite program is Spongebob Squarepants and he turns his back if Eastenders comes on. He also throws sticks at the sealions if they make too much noise near his island in their quest for fish from the boat.

This stately silverback is happy in his retirement but there is a diverse world of amazing experiences across the short expanse of the lake that surrounds him.

Sometimes we need a reason to try new things as we are constrained by the restrictions placed on us by family, work and other commitments. However, the reality is that there are amazing experiences relatively close by that don’t take up huge amounts of time or money. In my fortieth year I’m determined to try out lots of them.

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