Archive for the ‘Big Cats’ Category

Breakfast with the Big Cats

21 October, 2012

Earlier in the year I spotted a Groupon offer that sounded like it was made for me – Breakfast with the Big Cats!  So I bought the voucher and got to use it this summer.

Cheetah faceThe voucher included an overnight stay at the Cheshunt Marriott hotel with dinner included.  The hotel was clean and nice.  The menu for this break was fairly limited but you could choose alternative things off the ordinary menu if you didn’t mind paying extra.  They seemed to be a bit confused about which menu they were giving us as they gave us two different ‘special’ menus at one point.  I thought it was a shame that they didn’t let you pick something off the main menu if it was cheaper than the options on the specials menu.

In the morning we made our way to Paradise Wildlife Park before it was open to the breakfast.  There we met our guide, who was one of the cat keepers, and the other 4 people who were doing the tour with us.  We also got given some goodie bags which included DVDs and t-shirts.

Our guide took us around the different big cats and told us about their stories, as well as some general information about the work that Paradise was doing.  It was lovely to have an opportunity to see the cats while no-one else was around – made for some nice photo opportunities.

Om nom nomAt the end of our tour we got to get up close with one of the tigers while our guide showed us how they perform some routine medical checks on the animals – namely feeding small bits of meat through the bars so the tiger put his feet up and the keeper could check his paws and belly!

After the tour we got to go and have a full English breakfast in the restaurant.  They couldn’t have been friendlier – greeting us and checking what we’d like to eat, and then coming back and asking if we wanted more!  There was plenty of tea, coffee and orange juice to go around too.  The food was fairly basic canteen style but it was all freshly cooked and nice.

Doesn't taste like chickenWhile we were eating breakfast the zoo opened to the public and we were free then to spend as much of the rest of the day as we wanted in the park.  One of my highlights was watching the white lions – they were just about to get their enclosure refurbished, but the male lion decided it was time to make a start.  He managed to chew his way through one of the huge logs making up his platform and totally rip it out of the rest.  It then became a rather large cat toy!

Overall I thought the deal was excellent, and the park very good.  The zoo is relatively small but they had made a lot of effort to design to park in ways that meant there was plenty of room for everyone to see, with raised walkways as well as the standard viewing windows.  It also meant that is was good for photography as there was some different angles and places you could view the animals from.

More photos from our visit on my Flickr set.


Lowry Park Zoo

8 August, 2012

We’ve been to Florida now a few times in recent years and although we love to visit some of the same old favourites we always try to find somewhere new to visit each year.  This year a friend suggested Lowry Park Zoo as she’d heard good things through her friends that had been.  Being a huge animal lover it sounded like a good suggestion to me!

The zoo is in Tampa so just over an hour from where we were staying, but the drive was straight forward and easy.  One nice thing about going was that it felt more chilled out that many of the other parks and attractions in Florida – which although we go in lower season still get thousands of visitors daily.  The car park was free to enter and there was some shade too which meant getting back in the car wasn’t unbearable at the end of the day!

Wave to the peopleOne of my highlights was the Clouded Leopard.  He was such an attractive cat, and he had a cute personality.  We went and saw him first thing in the morning which meant he was up and about and he kept coming over to us to say hello!  The conservation status of these cats is vulnerable, so while not quite as rare as some of the other leopards, their population numbers are declining.

In addition to wandering around the zoo they do offer other things to see and do.  There are a couple of rides for children – a log flume, a carousel, a small rollercoaster and a train.  They also had what was named a safari ride which is a narrated tram tour around the park.  This was the only ride we did while there and in hindsight I wouldn’t have minded missing it!  We waited for around 5-10 minutes as there only seemed to be one tram going around.  The tram did go around parts of the park not directly visible from the paths in the zoo, but you didn’t see anything different so you wouldn’t miss animals by not going on it.  As I volunteer in a zoo, and have visited rather a lot over the years, I didn’t find any of the basic commentary told me anything I didn’t already know.  However, I am sure for children the ride was a fun addition.

Flying tigerThe zoo also put on various talks and shows throughout the day.  The one we went along to was with the tigers.  We’d walked past there earlier in the day but the cats were asleep in the cave at the back and we didn’t really see them so I hoped by going back during a talk they may be more active.  However, they remained sleepy!  It was a good talk though and the keeper told us about the two male brothers living there as well as general facts about the species.  Luckily just before we went home I nipped back to see if they had woken up and was delighted to find them playing together.

There was also a few animal attractions where you could choose to pay a few dollars extra for some unique experiences like hand feeding a giraffe or riding a camel.  I liked the fact that people could make their own day and it kept it interesting for all ages and interests.

Overall it is somewhere I would definitely recommend.  The zoo was really nicely laid out with about five distinct areas, and each was easy to wander around without missing anything.  The animals all looked well cared for and in good accommodation, and signage and things around the park was kept up to date.  So although the zoo clearly doesn’t have the income of the larger places like Busch Gardens it was a really nice place to visit.

West Midlands Safari Park

28 April, 2012

While we were up in the Midlands back in March we went along to the West Midlands Safari Park.  It was on my list of places to visit as I’d heard about their white lions, although I wondered whether being a Safari Park rather than a zoo would mean there wasn’t the same kind of photographic opportunities.

The entrance price seemed very reasonable, especially as if you buy tickets online you got a free return visit.  The park is laid out with the safari area which you drive through, and then there is an area where you can park and walk around the other attractions.  There is a small theme park / rides area, but they are mainly for the younger guests, and you have to pay extra to go on the rides so we didn’t bother.  There are also some more animals you can wander around, including penguins, hippo, meerkat and what looks like quite a new lemur woods. 

WMSP 2The last time we went to a safari park we’d lost some parts of the car after driving through the monkey enclosure, so my husband wasn’t overly keen in taking his car in to another safari park!  However, there isn’t monkeys to drive through here, and there are routes you can miss certain animals if you don’t wish to drive through them all.

The safari area is really well laid out, with the roads twisting through different enclosures.  I liked the fact that the road in most places is two or three cars wide so there was plenty of room to stop for photographs, or to pull around people when you were ready to move on.  Quite a few of the areas you’re free to open windows and even feed some of the animals – they’ll sell you the food at the entrance to the safari.  We had fun watching some of the giraffe and zebra up really close, and found it funny when a zebra put his head through the window to say hello!

Who dares to disturb my sleepI was really pleased to see that there were a lot of different big cats.  In a couple of the areas (cheetah and white tigers) there was additional fencing between the road and the animals, but you were close enough to the wire, and the animals were far enough away, that it was possible to still get some nice photographs without the wires causing a problem.

Eat up dearSeeing the lions was one of my highlights as there are two massive prides – one of the normal lions and one of the white lions.  They both seemed to have been fed relatively recently so were all enjoying midday snacks!  Due to the fact the road wound its way around the enclosure there was plenty of opportunity to see them up close and take some nice pictures.

The safari area took about an hour and a half to drive around.  It wasn’t too busy when we went which was good as there was lots of time to enjoy it without feeling rushed, or having your view blocked by anyone else.

Overall I think the West Midlands Safari park was well worth a visit.  I still do prefer the leisure of walking around somewhere at my own leisure, and being able to return to areas at different times of the day to see different things, and for that reason do prefer a zoo to a safari park.  From a photography perspective you don’t have so much time to get a photo set up, and you can’t always move yourself to get that perfect angle.  However, you can utilise the window frame and things inside the car to anchor yourself and try to avoid camera shake a little.

More of my photographs from the visit on my Flickr set.

Drayton Manor

22 March, 2012

On Tuesday we wen to Drayton Manor in Staffordshire.  It is part theme park and part zoo, and was fairly close to where we were staying.

Black leopardWe first wandered around the zoo, as the rides don’t open up until later.  It isn’t a huge zoo, but had quite a mix of animals.  I particularly liked seeing the two gorgeous black leopards and the very pretty Geoffroy’s cat with his spotty back and stripey tail.  It wasn’t an ideal place for photography as the bars were quite thick, and I didn’t have my proper camera with me anyway.  We also went along a little later and managed to catch the meet the keeper session and see the penguins being fed.  It was a shame that the keepers didn’t bother to acknowledge anyone was even standing there.

After wandering around the zoo we went on the rides.  They have tried to cater for all ages, and had a variety of rides, from a stand-up rollercoaster for the older kids to a Thomas the Tank Engine train ride for the small ones, and family favourites like a log flume which everyone could enjoy.  The thing I found rather frustrating is that on many of the rides they insisted I took my glasses off.  I’ve worn glasses since I was 4, and on huge great rollercoasters in the US where you hurtle face down towards the ground so I hardly think I’ll get into any trouble on a log flume!

The park currently costs £36 to enter plus £3 for parking which is rather expensive.  Luckily you can offer find deals, and we managed to a get a buy one get one free offer.

Overall it was a pleasant enough day out, but I much preferred Chessington which we went to last year.  The parks are both aimed at a similar audience, but Drayton Manor felt like less care had been spent on keeping it looking fresh, and the staff were no-where near as friendly.

There are some more photographs on my Drayton Manor set on Flickr.

Chessington Roar ‘n’ Snore

2 January, 2012

I seem to have gotten rather behind with writing up some of my blog posts!  While I probably won’t now write up some of the things I was going to, I did want to write a little about the ‘Roar ‘n’ Snore’ mini break we had back in September last year.  It was just after the schools had gone back and so we decided it might be quiet and fun to go to Chessington World of Adventures

HotelI’d been before, but not for at least 15 years!  So I was interested to go back, especially as they had expanded the place again to make it more of a zoo again as well as just a theme park.  We found their ‘Roar ‘n’ Snore’ offer was a really good value, and included accommodation in their Safari themed hotel on site, full breakfast, and two days entry to the park, zoo and their new sea life centre.  Staying at the hotel was more relaxed and it meant we didn’t have to pay for parking, and could leave things back at the hotel – so we were able to enjoy the rides without lugging bags around or paying for lockers.

Beautiful LeopardWe spent the first morning enjoying the theme park rides – the place was pretty quiet so we didn’t have to queue for anything.  In fact, we were often allowed to stay on the rides for another go which was good.  There is quite a nice mix of rides for the young at heart and also a few more adventurous rides.  I remember a few of them from back when I came as a child – the Vampire Rollercoaster, Runaway Train and the Bubbleworks.  The Bubbleworks could do with a bit of a spruce up after all these years but they all brought back fond memories! 

In the afternoon we headed off to explore the zoo.  I remember there being a zoo when I first visited Chessington as a child, but then as a teenager much of the zoo areas disappeared.  They have done a lot of work recently to extend it though, and their safari themed hotel overlooked the reserve so you could wake up in the morning and see the animals grazing.

Food Hunt 2My absolute favourite area of the zoo was of course the big cats – they have some nice large areas for their tigers, lions and leopards.  Each day at 2pm they have a feeding and enrichment sessions for one of the different cats.  We turned up a little early and discovered from the keeper that the tigers were the lucky ones that day.  We watched as the keepers hid pieces of meat all over their enclosure – up trees, on rocks and even floating on logs in their pool!  Then they cleared out and released the tigers.  The tigers chased all over their enclosure looking for the meat, and managed to climb high into the trees and on top of the roof of the walkway in their enclosure.  It was amazing to watch.  The keepers gave a brief talk to the visitors but then were happy to stay and chat to us for quite some time afterwards.  It was a really lovely experience.

Lion rockThe hotel was nice and for a small extra charge you could book one of the rooms overlooking the reserve.  We spent the early evening making use of their swimming pool and jacuzzi.  Neither was that large, but there was only one or two other people around so we had plenty of room.  In the evening we went to the Zafari Bar and Grill for dinner.  We had a table by the window overlooking the animals so we were able to sit and watch them while the sun went down, and then see as the lion rock got lit up.  The food was nice – we had one of their special chicken skewers cooked over the open flames.  It wasn’t the cheapest of options but it tasted good and there was plenty to eat.

Yellow tangOn the Sunday we went back into the park, and went to the new Sealife centre.  The centre was not huge, but there was plenty of different things to see from the very small to the large sharks.  There was areas where you could interact with some of the fish in the rock pools, and also a tunnel where you could walk through the area with fish and sharks.  As an addition to the whole park it was nice, although if you’d come expecting a full sized Sealife centre you may be a little disappointed.

Overall, it was a lovely mini break away.  For those without children it was a great time to visit as the schools had gone back, so there was no queues for anything and I felt you could spend more time appreciating the animals and getting up close to some without being jostled out of the way.

Twycross Zoo

19 September, 2011

Twycross 10We’ve got the week off work but aren’t going away on holiday.  Instead we have a number of short breaks and day trips planned.  The first of these was this weekend when we went to stay in Birmingham.  I decided it would be nice to go and visit Twycross Zoo as I get in free with my Annual Pass from Marwell Wildlife and it isn’t somewhere I have been before.  I also knew they’d had a pair of baby snow leopard cubs born about the same time as Marwell and I’m a sucker for cute and furry cats!

Twycross Zoo specialise in primates and as such, I’d say that over half of the animals they have there are some type of money, ape, gibbon etc.  I found a lot of these enclosures were not very good for photography – many were inside, and a lot were cluttered with a lot of things for them to climb on.  Obviously the animals come first, so if this is what they like then that is great but I prefer a much natural looking setting for my photographs!

Twycross Snow 25As you enter the zoo there is a big area known as Himalaya which is where you’ll find shops and eating areas, and also a massive viewing area for the snow leopards.  I thought this was a great idea as it means they can run things and use it for events without the need to go into the zoo.  I imagine it got busy when the snow leopard cubs first came out, as you could see them without the need to pay to enter.  We were really lucky and timed a late breakfast just as they had woken up and got to spend an hour watching them play.  Even mum seemed to have a spring in her step and had fun with the cubs.

Twycross 24Apart from the Himalaya area and the primate sections the rest of the zoo was quite varied but none of it felt particularly cohesive – from children’s pets such as guinea pigs, to penguins and sea lions, to elephants.  We spent about 3 hours there, but if you aren’t into primates then this probably isn’t one of the best zoos to visit.

Triple delight!

27 August, 2011

I’ve known since the day after they were born about the three snow leopards born at Marwell Wilidlife and it was really tough keeping it a secret!  When they were around 6 weeks old Marwell put some video footage up in the park which at least meant I could get excited and talk about them.  Finally on Thursday they were allowed out for the first time, and I was up there with my camera ready to greet them.

Triple delightThis second shot was taken later in the afternoon just after one of the cubs adventured a little bit too far and found himself a bit too small to climb or jump back up on to the rocks.  Luckily after quite a lot of calling for him mum she turned up and showed him an easier way back up!

Baby snow familyThere are more photographs of the new cubs on my Flickr stream, and I am sure many more to come!

Florida Manatee Adventure Tour

7 June, 2011

Florida Dolphin ToursSo in my last post I shared my experience of snorkelling with the manatee, but I wanted to write a bit more about the rest of the trip.  The trip was known as the Florida Manatee Adventure Tour and we first heard about it through the airlines.  However, when we tried to book they wouldn’t let us saying we could only book with them if we had booked our whole holiday not just flights.  I didn’t let that put me off though and with a little search on google found lots of hits of tours where you could swim with the manatee.  Unfortunately most of them required you to self-drive and that is all they included.  We had really liked the idea of having our whole day planned for a change and let someone else take care of the driving so I persevered and found the Florida Dolphin Tours offering the same trip (and clearly where the airlines used as the wording was identical!).

Our trip started at 7.30am when a mini-coach picked us up from a hotel just near our villa.  After a couple of other stops to pick up more guests we headed to a Sizzler restaurant for an all we could eat breakfast buffet.  My favourite chain for doing the breakfast buffet is still the Golden Corral restaurants, but the Sizzler was quite nice and had a good choice.  I always go for the pancakes with fresh melon, pineapple, strawberries and some chocolate sauce!

After breakfast we headed to Crystal River which is where we got to go snorkelling with the manatee.  The drive probably took just over an hour and wasn’t the most exciting of scenery, but they showed a film on the coach so the time flew by and it gave us time for breakfast to go down!

BobcatAfter the snorkelling we got back on the coach to go to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park.  On arrival we were all given a good packed lunch of cheese roll, crisps, cookies, fruit, fruit drink and a bottle of water.  Stef and I headed into the park and found a park bench overlooking the hippo pool to eat ours.  Here we were quickly joined by two rather hungry looking squirrels who didn’t want to leave us alone!

After lunch we were free to wander around the widlife park.  The 210 acre wildlife park was set around a 45 foot deep natural spring and contained much of the wildlife that is home to America – such as the bobcat, cougar, bears, alligators and of course the manatee.  The park is nicely laid out with board walk areas around the springs.  Most of the enclosures were a reasonable size and the animals seemed well cared for.  I was of course keen to see the bobcat and the cougar.  We were lucky to catch the bobcat up and about for a while, but the cougar was fast asleep right up close to the viewing area so nowhere I could get a good photo.

Patriotic EagleI spent a little time trying to get some good shots of some of the birds, but the sun was quite bright, and the enclosure often quite dark so it was difficult to get a shot right in the time I had.  I was very pleased with one of the shots I got of the bald eagle though – they’d put this American flag up at the back of his enclosure which made the photo look a bit different!

After our visit to the park we headed out on the coach again back in the direction of Kissimmee, but we had one more stop first.  We stopped at Wild Bill’s Airboat Tours in Inverness.  The airboat tour lasted 45 minutes and took us down the Withlacoochee River in search of alligators and other wildlife.  We chose the front of the boat and managed to get quite sprayed with water – so not too many photos from this part of the trip! 

Stef with Alligator 4After the airboat ride we had a short wait for the second half of our group to return.  During this time Stef got to hold a baby alligator and I got to take lots of photos and have a quick stroke of it’s tummy.  Finally we returned back to Kissimmee to arrive about 5.30pm.

The whole day trip cost about $118 which when you consider how much we got I think is extremely good value and I’d say was well worth every penny. More photos from the day on my Florida set on Flickr.

Cat Survival Trust

10 October, 2010

Okay back in July I said I’d been away and I’d reveal another highlight of my trip ‘soon’ – turns out soon is October as I’ve neglected to keep up with my blog posts!

For mine and my dad’s birthday mum treated us to the Small Cats Workshop with Photographers on Safari.  This was set at the Cat Survival Trust in Hertfordshire who are a charity helping to promote the conservation of wild cats.  At their headquarters in Hertfordshire they have a collection of rescued cats, and cats which have been bred at the facility.

The day started with a health and safety briefing and then was split into two halves where we got to spend time with different sets of cats and photograph them.  This wasn’t really an educational workshop or course, but more a chance to spend a day photographing the cats which suited me fine.

In the morning we spent time with the lynx, serval, snow leopard, puma, clouded leopard, Geoffroy’s cat and Pallas’ cat – although the last two spent most of the time well hidden!  The area on the whole was a little disappointing and I felt the cats didn’t have as much room as they should. 

From a photography perspective, although there was only about 8 photographers it wasn’t ideal as the corridors around the cats were quite narrow and we didn’t have much room to move.  The guy leading the workshop had brought some meat to tempt the cats but there was really only one or two people who could get in a good position at any one time to take some photographs which was a shame.  I decided a better option was to head where the rest weren’t but it meant I didn’t get any action shots.

The highlight for me in the morning were the lynx which were absolutely beautiful.

Lynx 9

In the afternoon we got to spend time with some of the larger cats – the Amur Leopard and the Snow Leopard.  These had larger enclosures which were easier to walk around.  We also got to go see the caracal which was really pretty.

I was lucky to pick a good spot to catch the Amur Leopard up really close as he snarled through the bars at me.

Leopard 16

The absolute highlight of the whole day though happened about half way through the afternoon.  The snow leopards are recently bred and had 3 beautiful cubs.  Due to their young age they were being kept inside a specially humidified room to help their lungs develop.  But we were lucky enough to have one brought out to the field to see us.  She was let free to run around the field exploring while we all sat around ooing and ahing over how cute she was and of course taking hundreds of photographs!  She was very inquisitive and kept running over to see us so we even got a little cuddle with her which was amazing.

Baby snow leopard 28

I adore the big cats and so overall it was a wonderful day.  Any charity doing work towards protecting these beautiful animals gets my vote.  As far as the workshop goes if you want a rare opportunity to get up close to some cats this is for you, but if you want to learn more about photography you might be disppointed.

Many more photographs from the day on my Flickr set.

Whipsnade Zoo

25 July, 2010

Red Panda 1I’ve been away for a couple of nights this week staying up in Hertfordshire.  I’ll reveal the highlight of my trip in another blog post soon, but on Thursday I visited Whipsnade Zoo with mum and dad.

On arriving at the zoo you get a choice to either park in their car park or take your car into the zoo.  Parking currently costs £4, which is slightly cheeky as the zoo entrance fee isn’t cheap, but I guess that maybe it encourages people to use public transport to get there.  If you do take your car in there are various car parks around the zoo, but if you don’t then there is a free bus that can take you around if you don’t fancy walking.  Personally, I didn’t feel either was necessary as apart from a small route in the park most is easily accessible.

Brown Bear 4The zoo is quite large and the animals generally seemed really well cared for and had large enclosures.  They had noticeably recently redone the area with the brown bears and wolverine.  It was really nice to get some good shots of the bears in natural looking surroundings, as you are on a walkway above the enclosure, so no nasty wire fences.  Sadly the wolverine was nowhere to be seen.

Cheetah 5Another area of the zoo I really liked was the cheetah rock.  There were two large enclosures for the cheetah, and a nice glass viewing area.  They had thought carefully about the area and set up an area where children could try timing their running speed to compare with the cheetah.  It would be nice if they can grow up some more natural surroundings around the outside of the enclosure though as it looked a little stark – although that maybe just because it was relatively new.

One area that could really benefit some work was the tiger enclosure.  It wasn’t small, but it didn’t feel like the best use of space, and the wooden shelter and walkway that had been built didn’t actually over look the tigers so seemed a little out of place.

Lions 1The other area where I felt they had slightly missed a trick was the lions – it is a nice large area, and there is a new looking glass fronted viewing area, but a lot of the enclosure was hidden as you were looking up at a hilled area.  So a second higher level on the viewing area so you could look down over the lions would be fantastic.

Overall it is a really nice zoo, and I’d visit again.  There are more photographs on my Flickr set.

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