“Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened” – Aanatole France
I love it when I receive a letter in the post. Nowadays it is a novel experience (although my parents always moan because it’s either another pizza delivery advert or a bill). So I ripped open the envelope – managing to rip the letter too (typical!!). It was an invitation to a supporters day for the Aspinall Foundation. I filled out the form and sent it back the very same day.
3 weeks and 1 day later I arrived nice and early at Port Lympne Animal Park in Kent. I have been supporting the charity for a few years now and I think it is a wonderful cause because not only is it focused on animal and ecosystem conservation, but it also gets involved with the local people. For example it funds local schools, provides education and medical supplies, gives people relatively well paid jobs and provides a degree of stability for communities.
This supporters day is run each year and I have been lucky enough to attend the last few. The day starts off with a drink and biscuit (custard cream of course) in the mansion and then a talk about some of their most recent projects. This year a park ranger, Jack, from the rehabilitation project in Gabon gave the presentation which I really enjoyed!! I hadn’t appreciated how large an area they have to protect from poachers – it’s about the size of Kent and is patrolled each day by a team of 20.
Despite the common technical glitches, we were able to enjoy some amazing footage of gorillas, a lion and antelope all enjoying their natural habitat. After a quick Q&A session we headed off to take part in a selected activity.
I have always had a special place in my heart for red pandas – I mean come on they are just so cute and fluffy!! But there is something magnificent about a tiger’s walk. The gentle thud of their paws. The rise and fall of their shoulders. And their eyes, conveying strength, power and pride. So it is no surprise I opted for the big cat behind the scenes session in the hope that I may learn something new about these beautiful creatures.
However it was better than just seeing them close-up. We actually got to feed them!! I could not quite believe how large they are, but also how gently they took the meat. It was actually very precise.
A slow walk back to the mansion and a delicious lasagne lunch followed. Both of which I enjoyed. We then had the rest of the day to wander the park as we wished. And despite seeing many beautiful animals, and going on a mini safari – it was this close-up encounter with the magnificent tiger which has really stuck with me.