This blog post is rather late, mostly because I had flu after my birthday, but also because I have been very busy interviewing zoo-type people (very exciting!)
I had the most lovely 25th birthday thanks to Steve Sampson and the other kind staff at Paradise Wildlife Park.
I was treated to several 'meet and greets' with the animals, including cuddles with the ring tailed lemurs, who had two adorable babies! They clambered all over mum and me in a fruit-based fever, their paw pads surprisingly chilly.
The babies were most obliging, sitting quietly on our laps - when mum received an important phone call she put down her fruit bowl, but instead of following the food, one of the babies climbed up her arm to sit on her shoulder. Cute, but rather distracting.
It was interesting for me to see the social structure of the group, as it's very different to Shepreth's all-female gang. This mixed-gender group had a father figure, and then rather down trodden young males, one of whom hid behind my back, allowing me to sneak him pieces of watermelon.
We then went in with a boisterous group of male black and white ruffed lemurs, who leaped around showing off. One of them hung upside down from the roof of his cage by his toes - presumably just because he could...
These boys, who were all named after characters in My Name is Earl, had a weakness for being tickled under the arm pit, but they had to come close enough first. After a few minutes of staring at us, one got onto mum's lap, stretching his front paw out helpfully, to let her give him a stroke. Then one climbed into my lap, which was heaven. His bright little eyes flicked around the enclosure, as his raised one paw slowly. His fur was soft, if slightly tangled, and very thick.
People outside the enclosure stared in at us, until we began to feel like zoo specimens ourselves.
It was then on to the moment I had been most looking forward to - meeting the tapirs. Every time I meet an animal close up, I'm always surprised by them. I assumed tapirs were just gentle giants...which they are, sort of....whilst also being extremely clumsy and short sighted! They staggered around the pen, blundering into us and their keeper without a care in the world. I could begin to see how forest clearings happened with these guys around.
Once we had got used to moving swiftly out of the way went they decided (without warning) to lie down on our feet/hands/bags, we gave them a good scratch on their bellies, which they seemed to love.
Their hair was short, coarse and rather grubby, and they explored us with their long, mobile snouts in a most endearing fashion.
The sun came out, and the three tapirs dozed beside us. What could be a better way to turn 25?
The rest of the zoo was in an excitable mood too, with a tiger catching (and killing) a pigeon which had flown into its enclosure (a bit off-putting while we were having cheese sandwiches in the beautiful treetops cafe).
We bought paper bags of food and were able to get close to some of the park's other animals, such as zebra (who had just had a baby), reindeer and an emu (a bit scary to feed!). Paradise is a great place to meet animals, as well as a really beautifully laid out zoo - I recommend a visit asap.