Saturday, 11 June 2011
Feeding a small herd of giraffes is not as easy as you might expect. Watching them gracefully sweep across their paddock towards you, their liquid eyes gleaming up at you beguilingly from beneath long eyelashes, it’s hard to imagine how powerful they really are.
Holding willow branches out to them, my mum and I realised pretty quickly that the number one rule of giraffe feeding is: hold on tightly. For these ‘gentle’ giants would easily rip the entire branch out of your hands, in their lust for tender leaves and chewy strips of bark.
Their keeper, who was very kind and informative, tried telling us lots of giraffe facts, but I was rather distracted as one of them mistook the strap on my camera for a tasty shoot, and I was left wrestling her for it. Luckily I won that battle, and she went back to delicately removing strips of bark with her long, grey tongue.
Giraffe tongues are usually about 19-20 inches, and we were told to mind our feet in case the herd’s two curious babies (adorable with tufty horns) poked theirs up onto the platform.
“Watch out for that one, she has a bit of a cold and caught someone with a sneeze the other day,” the keeper told me cheerfully, as the lady in question slobbered her way up my branch. I had such a wonderful view of her flat teeth, lightly freckled nose, and those appealing dark eyes that I wouldn’t have cared if she had snotted all over me, although thankfully she didn’t!
I would recommend the experience (an incredible £7.50) to anyone in need of an upper body workout – just make sure you don’t have too many bags to hold on to, as you’ll need all your grip available for the branches, and get someone else to take your photos so you don’t lose your camera to a feisty herbivore.
We strolled around the rest of the zoo in a happy giraffe-slobbery haze, visiting the cheetahs in time for their feed. The education officer threw them chunks of beef, which they asked for noisily with their strange, kitten-like meows.
Banham is a great zoo for big cats, with dozing tigers, stunning leopards in their spotted jumpsuits, and an adorable family of five snow leopards, curled in blissful sleep. Some of the smaller cats looked decidedly less happy, with an ocelot pacing his modest pen. I’m hopeful the zoo will be expanding these enclosures in the future, as there seemed to be lots of building work going on, and they don’t need to worry about space. In fact Banham has a lovely feeling of spaciousness, with an enormous tiger enclosure, and paddocks all around for their working horses and donkeys.
There was also a delightful red panda who kept us amused for about half an hour, wandering around his pen, stuffing bamboo leaves into his mouth and generally looking like a big ginger teddy bear.
The talks are worth making a point of visiting, particularly Amazing Animals, where I got to hold more rainbow lorikeets (always a delight!) and get a close view of a kinkajou, which was utterly captivating. Now my mission in life is to hold one of these supple raccoon-like animals, and feel its soft, prehensile tail draped around my neck…
Although having googled them I found this story, which might just have changed my mind: http://www.metro.co.uk/weird/44123-woman-in-bus-kinkajou-sort-of-horror.