Monday, 30 May 2011

London zoo - randy warthogs and butterfly hands

It's hard not to feel affection for London Zoo. For one thing it's the country's oldest zoo, as shown in its many listed buildings. The twisted concrete structure once used for penguins, which was entirely inappropriate but very beautiful, has been preserved, but happily the penguins have a brand new beach area which they seemed delighted with. Sadly the giraffes remain in their old-fashioned house, and I watched one gloomily failing to reach the trees growing in the zebra pen, its tongue stretched as far as it would go.
The giraffe enclosure is by far the most upsetting in the zoo, but I also saw lots of satisfied creatures, none more so than the pygmy hippo, preparing his mud wallow by treading it down in a circle, before settling down blissfully with a happy sigh.

I'm equally joyous in the butterfly house, where a kindly volunteer places a stunning Indian Leaf butterfly on to my hand.

It's a grey, humid day when I visit the zoo, and the gorillas are inside their shelter. I watch the enormous silverback settle into his bed of straw, mice chasing around his ankles. As he nibbles at his wrists, picking off any bugs, I eavesdrop on two volunteers talking about his parentage - apparently he was born at Dublin Zoo and his father is twice his size, so he's expected to grow.
I wander off to see the warthogs, past the African hunting dogs who are, as usual, fast asleep in their marbled pyjamas. There's a strange noise, like a motorbike revving, and at first I think it's coming from a boat on the river, but suddenly realise it's coming from the male warthog, who is doggedly pursuing a reluctant female. He chases her around the enclosure, before she urinates - presumably to prove to him she isn't in season - which he sniffs sadly. He stops his awful noise, and lies down in the mud. Never have you seen a more dejected creature.
Friday is a great day to visit the zoo, particularly the week before half term, as it's nice and quiet. I get great views of the otters crunching up prawns in their pool, and lions asleep on their wooden platforms.

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