Durrell's Creatures

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I was never happy visiting zoos as a child, but after reading Gerry Durrell’s books in my teens I longed to go to the zoo he established on Jersey. His aim then, and ever afterwards, was to provide a sanctuary for endangered species.

Durrell_15%20007This was to be a place where they could be kept in safety, and where they could be studied to improve their chances both of breeding there in a suitable environment and of eventually being returned to their original habitat when the time was right. It was also to be a place where conservationists from round the world could be trained to help the animals of their native countries.

It was some years before I got to Jersey zoo, which is now the Durrell Wildlife Park, home to the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust – both named in Gerry’s honour after his death. To many people, of course, it is still simply Jersey Zoo.

I’ve been going for many years now, staying for a few days on the island each time, and spending every possible hour at Durrell watching the animals. Visits were on hold for a few years, as I couldn’t leave Tirn, my old dog, for days at a time, but now Bryn, my young Border collie, whizzes happily into kennels and I’m free once again to visit the creatures at Durrell. And of course it isn’t just endangered species from other countries that I see here, but ones from our own too – it was here that I first saw a red squirrel.

Below are accounts of what I see now, and one day, possibly soon if I’m organised, I’ll write up my diaries of my earlier visits.

The Ark's inhabitants

durrell14%20007Andean Bears

1 Exploring new quarters

The sound of water filled the air as soon as I walked through the entrance into Durrell. It glittered as it spilled down the high fall to flow gently in streams down to the moat that curved around the island. The glade in this half of the island was green with thick grass, and the opening leaves of the oaks would soon create a canopy over what seems to be a graveyard of dead trees. Great stumps stick out like giant warts, here and there connected by curved half trunks to make wooden bridges. Other bare trunks rear their arms high, without any leaves to garnish them, but sometimes ending in large platforms. Ydurrell14%20002et more trunks lie at awkward angles, linking the network loosely together in a huge tangled web.

Seagulls perch individually on the trees, or in a row on the wooden bridges, and a robin moves confidently through the grass. But this is the home and playground, feeding place and basking spot for Bahia and Quechua, the two Andean bears, who have recently moved into the newly refurbished accommodation.

The indoor bear quarters, in the building that divides the island in half, have also been refitted. There is the inevitable increase in trunks for these young creatures to climb over and gnaw, the bark-less lengths carefully circled with rope to improve the bears’ purchase as they go up and down. But there is also the massive red rubber ball hanging conspicuously from the ceiling, which Quechua, pushes idly from time to time, making it bounce satisfyingly off the nearest wall.

durrell14%20001And there is the litter of logs, clustered near the viewing window, and tidied into a neat heap after the den has been cleaned. Bahia and Quechua investigated the new neat pile, effortless heaving large pieces around, thoughtfully gnawing others, and walking nonchalantly over the unsteady mound to move on to something more immediately interesting. For if they’re not resting they’re eating or playing, naturally much more active than their predecessors Barbara and Wolfgang who had subsided into a slower pace as they aged. It was a great pleasure to watch their elderly routine, which swung between Barbara’s fractious irritation at Wolfgang’s constant pestering, and their joint desire to be together, cuddling up on the floor with each other in their last years. Now it’s as great a pleasure to watch these new bears finding their way around their new environment and learning to live together.

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durrell14%20003Andean Bears

2 Life in sanctuary

The Andean bears Bahia and Quechua (alias Chewy, right) are both 3 years old, she born in December, he in the following January, but they are conspicuously different to look at. They each have spectacle markings, his similar enough to his predecessor, Wolfgang, to be uncanny at first, while hers is a perfect yellow curve above her eyes.

Chewy is much bigger, his coat thicker and more luxuriant. Bahia is so much smaller that visitors often think the pair are mother and cub. Her coat is thinner and more patchy, just like her predecessor Barbara’s. It was never quite certain what caused Barbara’s skin condition, various causes were investigated, like allergies, hormonal imbalance, stress, until it was found to be alopecia. This is suffered by twenty six other Andean bears in captivity, not all of them females, but Bahia doesn’t have this condition.

At first, the intention was to separate the bears, as they live in solitary state in the wild. But Bahia was unhappy on her own, and very pleased to see Chewy when he arrived. Once the initial inspection from separate quarters was completed and the connecting door opened she became a much happier bear, so at the moment the two of them are staying together. The metal grid between the inner and outer pen is sometimes only left open a fraction, wide enough for Bahia to squeeze through for some privacy if she wants to. But it hasn’t proved to be any hindrance to Chewy, any more than it was to Wolfgang, for he too can squeeze his bulk through it when the female on the far side is encouraging enough.

Chewy’s quarters may change in the future, they certainly will if the pair breed once they reach sexual maturity when they are about five years old. The inner cubbing den was used several times by Barbara, who I think had five pairs of cubs. But the number of cubs Bahia and Chewy may have will depend on how many homes there are for the youngsters in other safe places throughout the world. Most zoos are full to capacity with their species, so it’s often a question of assessing which bears are ageing and likely to die, then which genetic matching among younger bears is most important. Timing is crucially important as well, as the cubs will stay with their mother for two years, possibly three, during which time Chewy would be based in another enclosure, and after that the youngsters will need to move out into territories of their own.

Talking to various people here on this visit I fully realised for the first time that creatures like these bears will never go back to their natural homes in the wild – neither they nor their heirs – unless the world changes beyond recognition to provide them with secure lives in their native lands. Their homes will always now be sanctuaries like these – places where they can be kept safe, their gene lines maintained in as natural an environment as possible in case of miracles, and where we and future generations can come to imagine what the wild world was once like before we destroyed it.

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Andean Bears

3 Chewy makes himself comfortable

Quechua or Chewy, as the male Andean bear is fondly known, was fast asleep when I saw him again for the first time in 2015. His black bulk filled his shredded-paper-lined nest in the main den, his gold-marked head rested on a thick pillow of hessian sacking. As I watched, he shifted in his sleep, rolling over to dangle both front legs over the edge of the nest frame. Still he slept, his paws twitching from time to time as he dreamed.

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Behind him, Bahia, the female, was almost hidden in the nest she had created on top of the metal door cage. She had dragged the shredded paper from the other nest and taken it up to her preferred spot, where she had spread it out and sprawled across it to sleep.

It was only later that I realised Chewy had created his own pillow, pulling a sack from a few that had been hung up in the den. When he was awake and active I saw him investigating these, pushing and pulling at them as they dangled from a big chain. He gave one hefty shove, sending them swinging, before deciding to venture outside for something more exciting – probably food.

13 April 2015

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Bats 1

Durrell_q4%20001It’s one long stretch of luxuriant greenery growing in steamy warmth around the shallow rectangular declivity in the ground and creeping towards the ropes that make the open centre a huge version of a spider’s web. The side walls and roof of this tunnel-like enclosure are plastic, letting the sun’s warmth in. Once in, it’s retained by the earth-filled tyres that create the banks around the tunnel and make up the end walls of the enclosure, which are lightened here and there with patterns created by bottle ends.

Durrell_q4%20002The tyres create a heat sink that releases heat into the structure long after the sun has gone, and the warmth of waste fires is sometimes channelled into the tyres to top up the heat level in colder months. The system has been so successful that there have been no heating bills since the enclosure was built. And the creatures that live here can revel in the warm moist atmosphere that they need.

They are everywhere, hanging like misshapen black fruits from the roof, climbing with remarkable speed up and down the hanging ropes, or crawling with unexpected speed across the turf-covered ground. Their main aim when moving is to reach or defend Durrell_q4%20003the chopped fruit that is stuffed into hanging baskets, or the orange halves spiked temptingly around the enclosure, or the beakers of nectar that stand halfway up the walls, for these are fruit bats.

Those living here are mainly Livingstone fruit bats, black with a pale gold crescent on their backs. They share the enclosure with Rodrigues fruit bats, who are conspicuously different with their golden heads. Both kinds are active in the day, needing light to operate as they don’t have echo location radar, so the enclosure is always a scene of activity.

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Bird Tunnel

Heavy footsteps sounded on the plastic roof, walking slowly and deliberately in an unsteady line across it. Looking up, the imprint of large webbed feet marked the seagull’s route, first out, then back again as it marched along the perimeter of Durrell’s bird tunnel.

Within the netting pagoda ringed by the plastic was a lush wilderness of plants, surrounding the tree ferns that stretched up to the roof. A small stream trickled through the thick greenery, running through earthen flats covered with leaf litter. A wren perched on the edge of a bush, her beak full of nesting material. durrell14%20014She has crept under or through the netting and is the only bird in here that I would normally see outside.

In the little central clearing, where dead branches reared to different heights, a bird the size of a song thrush perched on the top of the tallest prong. He lifted his head to stare at the footsteps, for his mate sat on a nearby nest. As he moved, his bright red eyes alert, sunlight lit his lovely blue back and tail, for he was a fairy bluebird (left), appropriately named in this place where the brightly coloured birds seem like magical variations of the ones I can see outside.

There are in fact thrushes here, and one of them squats on the ground staring at me. durrell14%20013He’s a small creature with an imposing presence, perhaps from the white chest vividly marked with blotches, perhaps from the fixed eyes that seem to watch me quite belligerently from the white mask he wears across his black head. Probably his attention is fixed on me because this chestnut-backed thrush (right) also has a mate sitting nearby, whom he’s busily feeding with tiny grubs.

The robins here look as if a child has taken his colouring crayons to a drawing of a fat British robin, durrell14%20017then life has been breathed into them so there they are, with their orange and yellow chest and wings, splashed with vivid pink to match their lip-sticked beaks (right). The Pekin robin stare is inquisitive, rather than challenging or belligerent, but its effect is magnified by numbers, because the three males here currently seem to stick together.

durrell14%20012The pigeons come as a pair, as do the wood pigeons in my garden. But these Nicobar pigeons (left) have an iridescent coat of many colours, topped by the semblance of a carnival mask with a wide fringed edging, more conspicuous in the male, which flaps gently as he struts about the ground.

The bleeding heart doves (right) look as though they should be part of a Catholic religious festival. Their creamy buff chests are marked startlingly with a vivid red stain, durrell14%20016often in the shape of a heart, as striking a sight as the wounds of many plaster images of martyred saints. The deepness of the colour contrasts with the bird’s main shades of soft pinky-brown back and pale turquoise neck, but its overall appearance is very different to the pink and grey worn by my garden doves.

durrell14%20010Even the pheasant here is a peacock-pheasant (left). It’s roughly the size and shape of the pheasants I see in England, but has stunning turquoise feathers in its wings, and turquoise eye markings on its tail, hence the name.

durrell14%20009 The musician of the bird tunnel is not a thrush or a robin, but a bird that has no obvious English equivalent. It is a white-rumped shama (right), whose name belies his elegant chestnut chest and black back. He perches in the open, his long tail balancing him on the branch as his liquid warbling fills the air in a solo that can be listened to for a long time.

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In the bird tunnel 2

In Durrell’s bird tunnel a local wren was singing piercing notes, perched on a branch near the entrance, so close that I could see the markings on the feathers splayed out in his tail, and see his beak moving. Nicobar pigeonThe other birds around him were more exotic.

The pigeons were Nicobars (right), with their plumage of beautiful subdued colours and elegant crests that nodded as they pottered around on the ground. The doves that seemed to be everywhere wore bleeding heart marks on their chests. They scurried around on the ground by the stream, and wove through the stems of the bamboo thicket. They flew low through the undergrowth or perched on branches, where one glowered at me, and a nearby pair copulated briefly.

A male chestnut-backed thrush Mating was the main preoccupation. A male chestnut-backed thrush (left) stood in the pebbly streambed, feeding worms to a female. One of the many Pekin robins sat on the ground fluttering his wings and clicking his beak enticingly. Another robin perched briefly in a shrub, with strands of what looked like hair in her beak, presumably to thread into her nest. Nearby a female shama (below left) was collecting shreds of bamboo to build her own.

White-rumped shama Palawan peacock pheasant

The wren was not the only bird to give voice in the bird tunnel. The Palawan peacock pheasant (above right) was constantly giving its alarm call, pausing only briefly to scratch up earth and peck through it.

15 April 2015

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Lemurs

durrell14%20021There’s a lake that runs between high sloping banks, thick with green shrubbery and shielded by the spreading canopies of oaks and sycamores. Yellow iris ring the edge of the water, pink Herb Robert and bright golden buttercups thread the grass in the open glades. Narrow beaten earth paths curve through the trunks on the eastern side, winding away into the distance. A great tit works his way over the bark crevices in a nearby oak, a robin searches through the grass, pausing occasionallydurrell14%20020, his head cocked, to listen. He’s cautious, aware of the unusual look-outs perched at the ends of the topmost branches, betrayed only by the long black-ringed tails hanging down through the leaves.

The two ring-tailed lemurs sit still for a short time, scanning the water below, but mainly watching activity on the far bank, where more of their kindred share space with a pair of black and white ruffed lemurs. The black and white ruffed lemurs look at first glance oddly like smaller, more slender pandas. There’s a low platform in the woodland where they like to huddle together sleeping, oblivious to the emerging spring beauty around them. But any strange noise and a pointed head lifts, golden eyes staring around accusingly, to see what’s going on. They seem to promote togetherness, so that where one goes the other follows.

durrell14%20018The watching ring-tailed lemurs across the lake stiffened with excitement when their larger cousins went wandering along a woodland path. Their pace quickened until the bulky bodies were gambolling along at speed, one chasing the other. They were positively frisky by the time they reached their upper house, and began to climb the wire of the enclosure. Before long the exertion was over, and they rested, dangling from the wire by all four feet.

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Lemurs 2 – Alarm!

durrell_15%20004Loud screaming sometimes fills the park. It comes from the lemurs, who like to make lots of noise when they are annoyed or giving the alarm. Certainly nobody could be unaware that they’ve been disturbed.

The ring-tails like to sunbathe on a shelf high on the wall of the hut on one side of the lake, with a view of all that's going on below. They saw a squabble break out on the far side between the two black and white ruffed lemurs. One was resting awkwardly on a across a rope that ran through a slender oak sapling, Durrell_15%20005and loudly objected to the other’s attempts to join her on such a precarious perch. As soon as their spat began the ring-tails were screaming and screeching, whether in alarm or encouragement it was impossible to tell at first.

Then it became obvious that they were sounding the alarm as the ring-tails on the same side of the lake as the black and white ruffed lemurs were startled out of dozing on their own hut shelf. All the masked faces pointed upwards, the noise rising to a startling pitch. It was enough to drive away the large crow that had flown into the upper branches of an oak just above the female black and white lemur.

30 April 14

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Meerkats

Durrell_q4%20011A row of little sentinels perched rigidly upright on the dust-coloured rocks in the desert landscape. Each little creature in the enclosure blended into the background, except for these guards. They were very visible even from a distance as they stood at their posts high on the pile of rocks that ran in a carefully disorganised reef across the miniature desert. Each sentinel’s head pointed upwards in a different direction, making sure that danger didn’t approach unobserved.

Around them the rest of the meerkat family went about daily life. They sunbathed in little groups, they groomed each other in tightly wrapped pairs, they scampered around peering under rocks and scratching the dry soil. But if one of the sentinels sounded the alarm the whole family bolted underground in one swift concerted movement.

Durrell_q4%20012 Durrell_q4%20010

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Orangutangs 1 Mothers

Durrell_15%20009Dana came outside, crossing the log bridge with baby Kea balanced carefully in one arm as she pressed her other hand, knuckles down, on the logs to keep her balance as she moved. She sat at the end of the bridge facing the building and the sun, and Kea lay across her lap, cuddled in her arms. Long wisps of the baby’s hair occasionally drifted up or out as she moved. Sometimes she leaned over her mother’s side to delicately prod at the bridge, exposing a slender arm. Once she stood up, carefully supported by Dana, to test the bridge cable.

Dana is very protective of her precious baby, and keeps her close, while Annette is more relaxed with Jantho. She has had several babies elsewhere, but only a few have reached maturity. So when Jantho became ill with a cold the orangutan keepers were very concerned, not knowing why Annette’s other babies had died. What they did know was how very precious these rare Sumatran orangutan babies are, for a species so endangered in the wild. But Jantho survived, and his mother is quite relaxed to leave him squealing indoors among other members of the group while she goes outside for some peace and quiet.

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The mothers frequently spend time with each other, while the babies play together. They were all together in the evening, Dana in the upper passageway, Annette on the inside platform, both tightly clutching their babies as they watched Dagu, the huge dominant male. He was throwing himself at the wire door that separated the enclosure from the kitchen, enraged at the non-arrival of his meal. He swept around the floor like an enraged warlord, whose long moth-eaten sheepskin robe swished across the floor, with the earflaps of his Mongolian style hat screening his scowling face, until he ended up again at the entrance, standing hunched and angry as if waiting for his missing hordes.

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Orangutangs

2 Babies

Both orangutan mothers stood beside the wire of the enclosure, holding their babies. Dana held out Kea for the keeper to check, as she has been taught to do, and soon afterwards Annette held out Jantho.

Dana at times looks as though she could do with some peace. At one point she covered her head with a sack, clasped Kea to her chest and climbed up to the private nursing chamber above the passageway. Baby Kea is growing adventurous, and venturing further away from her observant mother.

orang baby Kea 1 orang baby Kea 2

During the afternoon Dana sat at one end of the bridge as Kea ventured cautiously along it towards the house, trying different ways of using the hand cables. It wasn’t long before Dana collected her baby and took her indoors. But they were soon both outside again, where Kea tried her balancing act on a land-based log and rope.

orang baby Kea 3 Dana collects orang baby Kea

Kea was still active by the evening, climbing the inner door tower right to top. She was followed as always by Dana, who came up more slowly. She was armed with a willow stem that she used to poke holes in the enrichment pipe running across door. Her efforts pushed the nuts inside, making them come out at the end of the pipe, and usually falling to floor where she had to go to collect them.

Dana made an effort to go to bed, settling down with Kea in one of the nests. But it wasn’t made to her liking, so she tossed a sack over her head and began to remake it. Kea took the opportunity to scramble out and down to the floor. Baby Jantho was already there, escaping from his mother Annette who had been trying to feed him chard stems in her nest. Both babies played together, and the mothers abandoned bedtime routine and came down to join them.

30 April 2014

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Orangutangs

3 Jiwa – Part one

Jiwa was the young orangutan male that I watched with another youngster some years ago and his home will be here at Durrell for his lifetime. His development was arrested, shown now both in his behaviour and his small stature, and he won’t be moved away from this place that he knows so well. The other young orangutan, Jaya, went to a new home when he was nine, by which time he had become mature enough for dominant male Dagu to see him as a competitor. Dagu tolerates Jiwa though, possibly because the younger male had a vasectomy.

It seems no time since I was watching Jiwa as an endearing youngster, holding the younger Jaya by the hand as they walked down the slope of one of the islands, then showing him how to do sack races, or make a stylish hat or hammock out of the hessian. It was particularly good for screening their faces, either from the sun or perhaps just because they wanted to.

Now Jiwa looks like a picture I once saw of the old man of the sea. His wizened body is still child-sized, but the large adult face topping it is fringed with a wispy ginger beard that sometimes frames his bared teeth. He’s still good with youngsters and likes both the babies, but Annette and Janthu don’t care for him too much.

He lives with Dagu and Gina, who is going through the menopause. It may be that her hormonal imbalances made Jiwa so obsessed with her. As if he were at a loose end, Jiwa followed her everywhere and could not leave her alone. He slouched along after her wherever she went, and she shifted often, trying to shake him off.

Gina sat at first on the grass, when I first arrived at the outer enclosure, just enjoying the warmth. But when Jiwa came up he sat close beside her and gradually one long-fingered hand crept round to stroke her flank. Gina’s hefty clout failed to dissuade him, so she got up and went indoors, where Dagu crouched by the door cage, meditatively chewing a straw.

Gina edged across the wire wall between the two inner enclosures, went up to the top-most nest, then down to perch on a cable, crouched near the wall. Everywhere she went, Jiwa went too, one long arm circling round her. At last she let him mate with her, tolerating him with complete indifference, and at last he left her in peace, moving away to pick at pieces of food on the floor.

31 April 2014

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Orangutangs

4 Bedtime play

Orang mother and baby on the bridge 1

The orangutan mothers and babies were going to bed in separate sections of the indoor enclosure. It was in the last moments of play before they settled for the night. Tiny Kea suddenly flung herself against the glass partition that separates orangutans and humans. She startled the little girl, just larger than herself, who stood pressed against the partition on the corridor side. More children crowded round to see what was going on and Kea began to play to her audience, dancing around, grabbing a hanging tube and shinning up it, hanging upside down to stare at the crowd.

Orang mother with baby on grass 1

Her mother Dana wandered off to get her nest ready, but the other female Annette came down to see what was going on. She came right up against the partition between the two enclosures, her fingers curled under the wire that separated them as she held on to it. Her face was level with mine, only inches away, with just the clear glass separating us, and twice she looked me in the eye, consideringly, as if to say, youngsters, always exhibitionists. Jantho, her own youngster, was hanging upside down from the edge of the topmost nest, dangling a sack enticingly.

Orang mother and baby on the bridge 2

He was always keen to play during the day, especially if he could get Kea to join in. He tried everything he knew, coming indoors to try to entice her out of the upper nest where her mother Dana was holding her fast by the ankle. At last Kea’s attempts to get away were rewarded by a short spell of freedom with Jantho, but after a few minutes Dana gathered her up again.

Orang mother and baby on the bridge 3

Sometimes Kea’s able to follow Jantho when he sets off to explore or start a game, even outside, but not for long. Her mother soon takes her back, and Jantho’s mother Annette comes to supervise him, aware no doubt that Dana doesn’t want him taking Kea too far away.

Orang mother with baby on grass 2

Dana likes to keep her precious hard-come-by baby close, but she doesn’t mind Jantho joining them in their nest. It isn’t often that the little male will settle down, and certainly not for long. So bedtime must come as a great relief to Dana as she snuggles down with Kea for a few hours of undisturbed peace.

Orang baby

13 April 2015

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Orangutangs

5 Dagu

Dagu and sack 1

Dagu, the dominant male orangutan, crammed another piece of apple into his already full mouth. He was on one of the islands, picking food out of the grass and storing it in his mouth, which seemed to be a capacious receptacle. When it was full he loped across the bridge to his indoor quarters, where he obviously intended to chew his haul in peaceful shade.

Dagu and sack 2

I rarely find Dagu outside, but this time the fine weather seemed to entice him to venture out and stay. He even enjoyed an ice lolly, holding it in both hands to eat it. But he generally took a sack with him everywhere, wearing it on his head when he moved, and almost completely covering himself with it when he sat down by one of the poles that support the ropes and platforms replicating a tree canopy for the orangutans. I don’t know if the sack was being used to screen himself from the sun, or even from visitors so that he could snooze or meditate privately, but occasionally he’d lift the sack a little and peer out.

Dagu and sack 3

Dagu even had his sack with him I saw him indoors this time, in the strategic spot by the door to the kitchen. He was covered by the sack as he lay on his back, his feet curled up, and seemingly oblivious to what was going on around him. I had no doubt that the first movement in the kitchen would quickly have him standing to peer expectantly through the door.

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Orangutangs

6 Jiwa – Part two

Jiwa, the young male orangutan with arrested development, is not having a happy time. On my first visit this year he was curled up indoors on an interior platform, screened from sight. He was recovering from an operation to remove pins that had been inserted to repair the the fingers of one hand. They were broken when Dagu, in play, roughly pulled Jiwa from a rail. His finger plates have never fused properly, so that in spite of his size, Jiwa’s bones are still fragile as a child’s.

Jiwa being private

Dagu is becoming less tolerant of Jiwa, but the females, Dana and Annette, already don’t like him and won’t let their babies play with him. Outdoors they, especially Annette, gather up their babies and move away, climbing up high, if Jiwa approaches them.

Jiwa is now kept in one half of the indoor enclosure. He misses being part of the group, and gets as close against the separating screen as he can. He sat next to Dagu on the floor, pressed as closely to the screen as he could, watching Kea cuddled up with her mother Dana and Jantho trying to entice her out to play. Jiwa would swing idly from a rope, still watching the others, or press up against the screen, keen to contact with them and play. I have a very clear memory of him some years ago, leading one of the other babies out to play and showing him the various uses of a sack – toboggan, screen, hammock.

Jantho of course is the one out of the current babies who’s curious and would like to communicate with Jiwa. Eventually Jantho climbed up the screen to where Jiwa was clinging onto it, and spent some time near him.

An attempt may be made later this year to reconcile Annette, Jantho’s mother, to Jiwa, so that he can at least have contact with Jantho and the companionship he so much wants. Otherwise the only other likely option is to find this for him in another home.

Jiwa gets comfortable

My last view of him was a happy one. Jiwa lay on his back on one island, a paper sack half over his head, a tomato in one hand, and head of celery in the other, half a pear in one foot.

16 April 2015

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Otters 1

durrell14%20005The flat roof of the low shelter was thick with sunbathers enjoying the heat. But they were hardly ever still, jostling for position, looking up alertly at any sound or movement. It only took one to go to exploring and the others were up, following the leader. They stayed close together, whether pausing for another heat-filled doze on a grassy bank, or lingering on the pebbly shore of the pool.

But generally they were always active, scrambling through the thick stems of the gunnera that grew beside the shore, partially screening the water that fell smoothly over two shallow ledges beneath the oak that crowns the enclosure. The fall was greater over the third ledge, the water running musically into the pool beneath.

durrell14%20004Tiny islands are created in the water by a mainly submerged tree trunk, but these little pinnacles attract the family of five Asian short-clawed otters who live here when they swap sunbathing for swimming. They move lithely through the water, sometimes sliding straight over the islands, other times squeezing up as a group on one of them, or taking it in turns to stand there, occasionally in pairs but generally singly, imitating the nearby meerkat sentinels.

durrell14%20006But they are most at home in the water, whether swimming up as a compact fleet to inspect their visitors or moving in line about their own business. Their acrobatics may start on the surface, but they continue seamlessly underwater, as the otters weave round and roll over each other, creamy bellies flashing more clearly than the sleek brown backs that blend with the water colour.

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Otters

2 The babies

Durrell_q4%20004The young otters slid off their den roof and swarmed down to greet me with great excitement. This faded almost at once as they checked me out and realised I hadn’t come to feed them.

Soon they were snoozing again on a sunny patch of ground, only stirring when their mother arrived. She stood upright beside the fence, staring up at me as she scolded, her little mouth working furiously.Durrell_q4%20005

The youngsters couldn’t keep still. They were in and out of the water, one or two of them endlessly playing with a pebble, juggling it from one front paw to the other, imitating the catching of their natural prey, such as molluscs, crabs and other small sea creatures. When they are close it’s easy to see the partial webbing between the short claws of those paws.

Durrell_q4%20007Then there was a mass excursion to a rock in the water. They congregated on it, dived off it, glided over it, swam out from it and back again. Soon they moved away restlessly, scrambling up the far side of the waterfall, paddling across it at the top, pausing on the rocks to stare down at the gate and out of the enclosure. Wherever they were they always they kept a sharp eye out for the visitor they wanted, their keeper bringing food.

Durrell_q4%20008When I went again in the evening all five otters swam towards me in an ordered phalanx, their heads raised, their mouths opened in a concerted outcry. I wondered if today was a starvation day, a means of replicating how they would feed in the wild – well some days, not at all on others. The otters obviously thought it was and were vociferously indignant about it.

29 April 2016

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Andean Bears

4 The Three Bears

There are now three bears in the First Impressions enclosure, Bahia, the female, Chui, the male, and a young cub. Bahia gave birth to a male cub earlier in the year and can occasionally be seen on the webcam in the inner cubbing den where she and the cub have lived since his birth.

She has a nest of shredded paper there where she sits, pulling the baby to her, playing with him, and cuddling him. When he began to suckle, Bahia lay right back, holding and stroking him as he fed. When he moved from one nipple to the other she licked herself tidily clean after him. As soon as he had fed his full he wandered out of sight of the webcam, with Bahia right behind him.

Bahia and cub 1

They stay indoors while Chui, the male, is outside. Their time to explore the wider world comes when he has been shut into his side of the bear house. Mother and baby have been venturing outside for a week now, and the water in the moat surrounding the enclosure has been drained to a shallow slick to prevent accidents when the cub goes exploring.

Bahia and cub 2

Both Bahia and the baby have faded colouring, as they need sunlight to turn their markings from grey to gold. The baby’s markings are a mirror image, if a faint one at the moment, of his father’s. Bahia didn’t eat for two months after the birth. She survived and fed the baby on her fat reserves, so she was very thin when she emerged.

Bahia and cub 3

Chui is living a solitary existence, separated from mother and cub, and only coming outside briefly. He perched on one of the trunks and split a piece of wood, presumably to find something tasty that had been inserted into it. When he was back indoors he went to the caged door, where the keeper let him lick a stick through the mesh. This had been dipped in honey and peanut butter, and once he’d got the taste of this the stick was put on top of the cage to encourage him to climb up it. He’s being encouraged to exercise, as the horde of bouncy balls around the floor testified. He’s being kept occupied as well as possible, as he’s very glum. He misses Bahia.

Bahia and cub 4

And Chui’s not very interested in all the artificial fun and games. But he does express himself vigorously when his frustration become too much. He slams the balls across the floor, so that they ricochet off the walls, before stalking outside for a short time. When he jumps up and down repeatedly on the scales and claws at the caged door he may be demanding attention from the keeper. Or he could still be frustrated, especially if he could hear mother and baby running up and down their quarters, Bahia playfully chasing the cub.

The cub is very adventurous, good at climbing up obstacles, although not so good at descending. But he seems to fall well, without harming himself. Bahia is unconcerned by his acrobatics, but she did see off a large gull when it came too close.

Apr2016_005

Chui has been allowed around the back to have eye contact with mother and son, and the dynamics between him and Bahia seem good. It’s hoped that the family can be reunited soon. But at the moment he can’t be outside, even in a separate area, when Bahia and the cub are out, in case he pushes down the fence to get to them. The cub will stay with Bahia until he’s sexually mature, at about 2 years old. When he leaves, Bahia will come into season again.

24 April 2016

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Andean Bears

5 Teaching baby

Baby 1

On the bears’ webcam I could see Bahia sifting new shredded paper bedding. Baby wrestled half a loaf of bread from her and played with it, tearing pieces off. Soon he began to draw the shredded paper together, imitating his mother, turning in it to make it a hollowed nest. He stopped in his task to lay back and play with a handful of the paper, before curling up for a nap.

When Bahia left the den, the baby rolled over to watch and lay stretched out over the edge of the nest, where he soon fell asleep again.

Bahia came back in later and tried to wake the baby to take him outside. Baby was sound asleep and limp, so she dragged him away by the scruff of his neck and tried to nudge him onto his feet. Baby stirred briefly, but went straight back to sleep so Bahia covered him with paper and lay down beside him.

By tea time, the roles had been reversed. Bahia was asleep and the baby was lively, darting out of the cubbing den and reappearing, bouncing like an excited puppy, with a stick to lick.

Baby is imitating his mother and exploring his world, both indoors and out. Soap suds from the floor washing in the neighbouring coatis’ enclosure fascinated him as they crept closer and closer.

But he wasn’t so sure of the water spurting out of the hosepipe, and backed away quickly when the jet was turned towards him.

Baby 2

Bahia goes outside before she encourages the baby to come out too. She grazes a bit, making the most of some personal time, checks the fruit bowl, then checks too that the electric guard on the trees has been removed.

When she goes back to fetch the baby, he usually has to be roused from sleep and persuaded to go with her. He’s often a little unsteady and bleary-eyed when he’s first woken, and follows his mother closely in this big wide outdoor world. He leaps over clumps of grass, pushing through the taller stands of grass with just his ears visible, jumping down a steep drop to land in thick grass and vanish momentarily from sight. He tried a couple of times to climb onto Bahia’s back to make progress easier and was pushed off to make his own way.

Baby 3 Baby 4

Then began a cautious exploration of the moat, as he ventured after Bahia who had gone down into the shallow trickle of water. He negotiated the concrete rim with care – one back paw was still at the top when he was at full stretch with both front paws down on the concrete slope.

Bahia with baby

Both were startled when Bahia inadvertently moved the nearby wooden pallet, which had been put in to help the baby get up and down here. But Bahia helped him on his chosen way, her nose under his tummy, one paw under his bum, gently lifting him down.

Later on, they came down again by the bridge, where the baby put his paws in the water and sipped, before retreating, following Bahia up a pallet.

When Bahia had had enough of outdoor activity she picked the baby up by the scruff of his neck and carried him back to the den, dangling lengthwise from her mouth. It was time for a feed.

Bahia likes grapes, fed by hand through the wire of the door enclosure. Then come peanuts in shells, which the baby fancied too. He only has tiny scraps as he’s just started on solids – mango and banana. He climbed up the door cage, as Bahia did, to forage in the straw above. The baby now seems to have got the idea about going down backwards from this height. He waved one back paw over the edge, but didn’t quite have the courage to risk the move, so Bahia carried him down.

Chui

Chui is often seen bouncing up and down, indoors and out, sometimes in one of the trees. Occasionally he suns himself, sprawled full length along the one of the wooden tree trunks by the moat, sniffing at food smells from the distant café. He too likes peanuts, and is enticed in with them, coming right up against the door cage of the main indoor enclosure, and so standing on the scales. He weighed in at 119 kg, and soon began to jump up and down, waiting for his evening fruit snack. He has this outside, but took his time to follow the keeper. As food rained down around him in the enclosure, he ignored it, pulling half a loaf of bread out of the undergrowth and settling down to eat that, while a seagull began to eat the fruit.

25 April 2016

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Otters

3 Ganging up

The otters were out in a gang of four, waiting for their keeper. She threw frozen sardines into the water, which the otters dived for and retrieved, taking them back for snacking on the rocks. At one point, there was a moving frieze above the waterfall, otter following otter nose to tail until they found the ideal picnic spot.

Otter feeding 1

Each otter took only one or two bites from a fish, but they all held them differently – one gripped a fish in her paws and ate bite by bite down from the head, obviously finding it very chewy.

Otter feeding 2

There was a solitary fifth otter who appeared later on and grabbed her fish before darting into a hole in the bank above the gunnera. She stayed in there on her own and the others kept investigating her space, but retreated rapidly.

Straw! 1

The keeper took a straw bale into the enclosure, which was greeted with great excitement, jumped on and pulled apart. Great mouthfuls were taken up to the pipe entrance to one of the holts. The activity got more and more frenetic, with otters passing each other on the path, dragging the straw out and moving it around, even taking it back outside and down to the bale again. The one nesting in the bank, Abbie, was chased by the other four whenever she emerged but darted out from time to time to drag some of the straw into her hole.

Straw! 2

Later Abbie came across the top of the rocks, with a shiny sardine in her mouth, heading towards the holt below the tree on the far side of the pool. She met one of the gang, who seemed to be out hunting for her, and was chased into the pool. The other three followed, watching with a lot of vocal encouragement as the first two fought with a great splashing of water. Eventually the aggressor emerged to join the audience, and there was no sign of Abbie. Soon the four were happily rolling on the path and grass above the beach, in the remnants of the straw.

By afternoon the gang was out by the viewpoint, munching the carcasses of young chicks. A couple of these lay on the ground in front of the bank hole, and Abbie crept out of it, tolerated by the nearest two otters as she grabbed a chick and rushed back into cover with it. When their snack was finished the four gathered around the hole and tried to get in, but soon wandered away.

Abbie crept out again later, still tolerated by two of the other otters, and went cautiously further until the main bully saw her and attacked, followed at once by the other three. Abbie ducked into her hole, the bully grabbing at her flanks and biting her tail. I didn’t see her again before I left at 6pm when all was quiet in the otter enclosure, and only a gull swooped down to take an otter’s discarded fish.

It was clear that the dynamics among the otters had changed and that Abbie was not popular. I wasn’t sure if this was a temporary situation, or something more serious.

24 April 2016

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Otters

4 Driven out!

This morning the otters were out, fidgeting through the water, climbing onto and diving off of the submerged tree trunks as they waited for the keeper. Abbie’s presence was being tolerated, but she was still wary, lurking behind a shrub as the defrosted chicks were thrown out.

Where's she gone?

The group dynamics have changed recently, since the return of a young male who played truant for a month, after escaping when a trench was being dug through the enclosure. Abbie is an additional female, the others form a family group of mother, father, daughter and son. Abbie’s own offspring have been rehomed, and the others in the group have turned against her, led by the younger female, Ollie.

When there is this kind of change within a group and the equilibrium upset, it is the eldest female who is generally thrown out, perhaps because it is otter fathers who feed the babies. This appears to be happening here, where Abbie is just accepted by the other three now, but lives on the fringes of the family because Ollie won’t tolerate her. There is some hope that her situation may improve, otherwise she’ll have to be moved away. In the wild, this is what would happen – the victimised female would have to leave the family.

Abbie stayed as much as possible down the hole in the bank, popping out to grab some food, which the keepers managed to throw near her sanctuary. She kept putting her head out, then creeping cautiously into the open, hoping to be unobserved or tolerated, but at this stage Ollie always spotted her and went into attack.

On patrol

At last Ollie went repeatedly into the hole in the bank, with the others crowding round behind her, but each time Abbie made them back out. So they lurked on the bank and just outside the hole, before retreating across the pond to the central log and the rocks, always with their eyes fixed on Abbie’s bolt hole, waiting for her to come out.

Ollie seemed to be perpetually waiting for Abbie to appear, if not actually trying to get at her. But the other three were not so obsessed, and took time to tear off pieces of gunnera leaves, presumably to add to their bedding as they took them into the holt. But they were also scent marking en masse more frequently, especially on the rocks at the top of the waterfall – perhaps to warn off Abbie.

25-26 April 2016

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Otters

5 The showdown

Abbie was desperate to come out from her hole and eat, so she kept cautiously emerging more and more – she knows the feeding times as well as the others. The Four kept looking for her, and if they’d spotted her they’d have harried her back into cover.

Where's she gone? 2

Mice were on the menu this morning, and the keeper managed to throw two onto the track above her hole. She shot out to get them and was back in her hole in a flash.

The Four kept looking

After feeding, three of the gang pottered separately past the hole, aware of Abbie as she stood warily half out of it, and went on to the holt above. Ollie stayed on patrol, and was down by the beach when Abbie crept out and around the back of the hole. Almost as though Olly was aware of Abbie’s departure, she went to sniff at the hole, found Abbie wasn’t there and went in to check. When she came out she began to hunt Abbie down in earnest. She swam around the pool, diving, then scanning the banks. When she came out on the far side she picked up Abbie’s scent and went after her.

Abbie was searching for food scraps, and was only aware of Ollie at the last second. Abbie dodged past her and raced around the holt on the far side and shot down the bank.

Ollie was right behind her, bigger and heavier. Abbie put on a desperate burst of speed and plunged into the water with only a head’s space between her and Ollie. There was a frantic underwater swim marked by bubbles rising to the surface. Abbie flashed out and into her hole, Ollie was virtually on her tail. There was no time for Abbie to turn, and there was a minute of desperate grunting before Ollie emerged from the hole, wiping her head and belly on the ground before going into the holt with the others.

Gathering bedding 1 Gathering bedding 2

Later, I feared Abbie was dead. The Four seemed very relaxed, going down her hole, taking straw, yucca and gunnera leaves in there as bedding as well as into the holt above. They were moving around individually, not as a group. One rolled over and over in the water, another was busy prizing something out of the rocks at the line where the waterfall meets the pool.

27 April 2016

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Otters

6 She's off!

Abbie is okay, tucked into a hole by the waterfall. She came out quickly early this morning, when she had some biscuit, and the keeper managed to chuck her a couple of chicks later on. Abbie had to pick her moment to snatch them as they fell on the ledge below her hole.

It may be the others don’t yet realise she’s still around, but she is being removed as soon as possible, and sent to another otter sanctuary.

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Adders

Two males

Two male adders were curled up in the sun in their outdoor space. One was on the ground, the other nearby in leaves under a bush. They were let out two weeks ago when the weather improved and had acclimatised to their surroundings in the fresh air.

Today three females were released into the enclosure at the end of their hibernation. They were larger and more active than the males, and very keen to meet them.

Courtship

One female immediately slithered towards the male on the open ground, and he curved away, perhaps startled by her sudden appearance.

Courtship 2The second female made a beeline over logs for the second male, who reacted quite differently to the other male. When she came close this one lifted his head to watch her pass. She wove around, her head slightly lifted, tongue darting and flickering, then moved away. He lowered his head, but kept it out of his coils.

Courtship 3

It was twenty-four hours later that I saw them again and their interaction had changed pace. A sleeping female was joined by a male. They rested together in dried leaves after she’d brought her head around to his. Another male slide over the two, and the first male moved off with him to struggle for dominance. At last number 1 retreated and number 2 went in triumph to join the female who had moved away during the males’ struggle. But number 1 wasn’t totally vanquished and followed 2’s tail tip, so that the pair of them moved off together again, struggling across the path and out of sight. The female didn’t move from her waiting position.

27/28 April 2016

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Narrow-striped mongoose

Hades

Last year’s narrow-striped mongoose baby survived. He’s a male called Hades and, as he’s nearly sexually mature, he will soon be moved on possibly to Chester to join two females.

Hades' stripes

These mongooses are beautiful creatures, one of Gerry Durrell’s ‘little brown jobs’. They have very faint bronze stripes along their speckled brownish-grey bodies and a tail like a mist of grey thistledown, nearly as long as their bodies.

Hades on tree

They are coming to grief in the wild as their habitat is lost to logging, so young Hades is very precious.

Hades digging

He’s like any youngster, curious about his environment. I watched him dig away at a log with excited persistence until he pulled out what looked like a piece of glass. Still diggingHe kept losing it down the crack by the window shelf and fishing it out, and later he took it into his den. It's mine!It turned out to be a piece of plastic, but all the tree trunks in the enclosure were going to be checked in case there was more of it.

Jeanette

There are four older mongooses, two pairs, including Hades’ mother Jeanette, who’s nine years old. There’s hope that she may breed again with her sixteen-year-old male companion. They and the other pair take it in turns to use the arboreal outdoor enclosure, where they can be seen laying nose to tail in the sun on the windowsill of the indoor enclosure.

Mongoose courting

26/27 April 2016

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Tortoises

Tortoise 1

The tortoises were very active in their sunny outdoor enclosures.Tortoise 2 There were giants from Galapagos and their radiated cousins with shells marked with bursts of bright yellow like painted suns.

Tortoise 3

In the same way as the neighbouring adders they seemed to be invigorated by the warmth of the spring day and were moving with more speed and purpose than I’ve seen before.Tortoise 4 A rapid turn of speed took them on tiptoes around the enclosures, with only an occasional pause to stare at me or sample a stem of leaves. Even the food was taken away to eat on the move.

Tortoise 5

26 April 2017

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Aye-Aye

It was as if a pale ghost moved through the dimly lit branches, as Pan the aye-aye flitted through her enclosure, her long feathery tail floating like a shadowy cloud behind her. The whiteness of her ears on her fox-like head was her most distinctive feature, more sparsely furred than her grey body, and her large eyes could see in the gloom so much better than I could at first.

For an instant I thought she was being stalked by a second aye-aye, but it was her shadow, thrown beautifully against the pale wall. She walked equally well along the top of a branch or underneath it, her long fingers curling round it for grip, her tail giving her balance.

Constantly in motion, she went in and out of her den flap, never seeming to settle inside or out, all in total silence. She was intensely interested in the locked hatch into the neighbouring enclosure, sniffing around it from time to time, and trying occasionally to unlatch it.

Otherwise she paused only once, upright on the floor right in front of me, to claw at the bark on a trunk. She was probing it with the distinctive long curved finger which is unique to this nocturnal lemur, searching for grubs, although she’s partial to a sweetcorn treat too

24 April 2016

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Gorillas

The gorillas were indoors when I first saw them this time. The silverback has his favourite female in the same part of the spacious quarters, where they have separate nests. His is the leather hammock in the top corner.

The other females are next door and include the mother of the young male, Indigo (Indie). She has one lopsided breast, a result of mastitis after his birth. He’s nearly four now, and she’s weaning him, sometimes pushing him away when he tries to feed. He has his own indoor den for feeding, as his mother takes food from him if she can.

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The older female in the group has been relegated by the new favourite, but she brought up Indie’s mum, who stands by her in squabbles, unless the male is involved. Later, outside, the male chased the eldest female away from food, which she’d waited for in an isolated spot, knowing the keeper would feed her there. It was the new favourite who spotted her there and came over, followed by the male.

The older female ran off, but she knows where to find all the feeding spots and sometimes gets to one and waits for the keeper there before the dominant female arrives.

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A film crew were trying to install cameras around the outdoor enclosure. The silverback didn’t like the cameras, and could throw food or a lump of earth or wood to knock them down, so the technicians were trying to mount them on poles hidden in bamboo stands around the perimeter.

26 April 2016

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Lemurs

3 Tails and food

Black and white lemur

Both the black and white ruffed and the ring-tailed lemurs distinctively walk along paths in a line with their tails raised in curling question marks, as they patrol their wooded lake-side habitat. When the black and whites raise their very thick black tails their bodies, seemingly plump and bulky, suddenly become much slimmer and their faces more pointed and distinctively lemur-like.

Black and white lemur 2

The black and whites are surprisingly agile given their size and shape – there was one in the open branches right at the top of a slender tree. A second was also at the top of another tree, perched in a nest-like jumble of branches. Both were making loud squabbling sounds.

Below the group of ring-tailed lemurs appeared in a line, one by one. They approached their indoor enclosure in a leisurely fashion, their tails curved into those question marks and seeming to float independently over the grass. One went up a tree, again to the very top, to nibble at leaf shoots, but the others stayed on the ground, either grazing or going into indoors.

Ring-tailed lemurs

There are only two black and whites here, but they intimidate the ring-tailed, who always move away when threatened. Two of the ring-tailed lemurs have previously lost half their tails in fights elsewhere with black and whites, which may have made them wary.

But when the black and whites make their loud territorial calls, they are instantly backed up a screaming cacophony from the ring-tailed in the enclosure, as well as the red-ruffed lemurs from the territory on the far side of the lake.

*

The gentle lemurs are much smaller and quieter and inconspicuous with their brown fur. They live living in an enclosure below the others, one full of hawthorn and willow shrubs. Shoots from these are cut to feed the lemur groups, as well as to clear more space for the new inhabitants – a resident female who is about to meet the male who has just finished his quarantine period.

Willow goes to the resident gentle lemurs and to the red-ruffed lemurs up by the lake, who have it threaded through the ropeways of their enclosure to encourage them to climb and forage.

Hawthorn was for the black and whites and ring-tailed lemurs, who have them tucked into the crevices around tree stumps. The ring-tailed finish eating, and sit in the sun, turning their white-furred tummies towards the heat.

24 April 2016

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Bats

2 Finding mum

A baby Rodrigues bat was searching for her mother, approaching every nearby bat, and being brushed off, until at last she found her parent and was wrapped up tight, like the contents of a parcel – her own tiny wings clasped her mother’s body, and her mother’s wings completely enfolded her. Only the four feet hanging from the rope betrayed her presence – two adult ones, two baby ones.

Two other bats flew up separately to hang together from the roof. Their movements across the netted roof were neat and fast. One clawed fingertip reached out, followed by the one on the other side, wings were spread out like an opening umbrella, then the body swung round to hang upright for a quick pee before upending to hang from the feet, wrapping wings round the body for a quiet nap.

There was some work being done nearby, drilling for electric cables for a film crew. Some of the bats were disturbed by this, a baby flew away, followed by his mother and a couple of neighbours. The remainder rustled uneasily and spread their wings ready for flight, but then refolded them and stayed where they were, alert for any further disturbance. Their heads projected from their wings, their bright brown little eyes were open, their ears pricked in a distinctive outline against the sky.

25 April 2016

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Orangutans

7 Jantho

Jiwa, the young male with development difficulties, has found a place in the orangutan group, chiefly as playmate, guardian and mentor to the male baby Jantho. Jantho’s mother, Annette, tolerates Jiwa’s time with her son, although she moves away herself if Jiwa comes too close. The other orangutan mother, Dana, doesn’t like him near her or her baby Kea, of whom she is very protective.

Jiwa was out on one of the islands playing with Jantho when I first arrived, while Annette was having some personal time alone on the other island. The boys rolled around, clung together, pulled apart, getting thoroughly coated with sawdust. Jantho was very lively, hiding in a sack, rolling around in it, peering out, emerging and dragging it behind him over the floor and up the ropes. One of my favourite moments was the sight of him rolling sideways or head over heels, completely enveloped in his sack. Eventually he went to join his mother, who was by then sharing her island with the two gibbons who live here.

Later, Jantho and Jiwa were playing together indoors until Jantho went outside on his own. Jiwa didn’t follow him immediately, so mother Annette came bounding over to glare indignantly across the bridge at her babysitter. She’d been having a peaceful break, snacking delicately, and now she was unexpectedly on duty again, following Jantho around, appropriating his sack and generally supervising him until Jiwa appeared to take over again.

Jiwa demonstrated three different ways to descend a rope. Jantho watched him closely and copied his actions. He learns from, and pesters, Jiwa, for a little later I saw the pair, partially screened by bushes, as Jantho practised with a tiny erection on a patient Jiwa. Jiwa soon grew bored and wandered off, so Annette came again to watch over her baby.

Jantho and Jiwa

Although Jantho doesn’t spend as much time with his mother as Kea does, he is still often in company with Annette and imitates her too. They frequently come to sit on the weighing machine by the window in one of the indoor enclosures, eating their food and watching passersby. Food was the paramount interest and so they occasionally went to hoover the floor in search of more titbits. They moved over it on hands and feet, heads bent to the ground, sniffing and sucking, and inadvertently sweeping the sawdust on the floor with them.

Jantho on the weighing machine

Annette frequently vomited, and Jantho came to help her daintily pick through the mess and scoop it up to swallow again. This happened three times, and the keeper said it was a deliberate action, one that gorillas do too. More appealingly, Annette fished with a straw for termites in a log, and Jantho came to imitate her so she passed her straw to him. He already knows how to pick through the greens that he had taken up to their nest and choose his favourites, but he was easily distracted last thing in the evening by the proffered drink from the kitchen door. Annette took over the greens, clearly not expecting extra food supplies herself.

24-28 April 2016

Jantho feeding Jantho and leek

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8 Youngsters steal the scene

The orangutangs like to make eye contact through the glass of their enclosure. Annette and her young son Jantho came to look at me, and Jantho put his hand on the glass above mine. Next door, Dana had released her baby Kea, who came to the window, responding to a visitor’s tapping by copying him and holding out her hand to touch the glass where his was.

Jantho had grown bored with the game and wandered away, but came over again when he saw Kea in action. He sat right in front of a small boy, holding out his apple piece temptingly, knowing it couldn’t be reached. He moved on to more mischief, hiding behind a pillar to reach through the wire and filch some of Dana’s food. Dana spotted this, and reached her hand through from the other side, fingers spread out to retrieve the food.

Dana and her baby Kea Dana and Kea share their enclosure with Dagu, the dominant adult male.

Dagu

Dana still doesn’t allow her precious youngster to roam far from her. She keeps a firm grip around one of Kea’s wrists or ankles, like a manacle,

Keeping a grip on Kea

even when they were both enclosed in a sack, that Dana had anchored to an upper rope to use it like a hammock.

She used the sack in many ways, frequently to partially conceal herself and her closely held baby, in a composition rather like an orangutan Madonna and child.

Madonna and child

Towards the evening Kea was playing freely, but close to Dana, who was gathering the sack and a heap of shredded paper from the bottom nest, and taking it to the very top one. Here she piled it carefully in a heap, held it in one hand and laid it out neatly.

By the time bedtime came, Dana was laying down on a platform, wrapped in a sack, looking just like an old woman huddled in a cloak. She always seems much wearier than Annette, the other orangutan mother, perhaps as a result of her constant vigilance. But to see her, so loving to her precious hard-come-by child, is a very moving sight.

Dana and Kea 2

Annette and Jantho do spend quality time together too, often curled up in one of their indoor nests. As soon as they went outside one morning when I was there, they were shut out for their quarters to be cleaned. They huddled together, looking miserable, clearly not happy with the exclusion.

None of the orangutans like to be shut out, and Dana sat at the far end of the outside bridge, clutching Kea tightly to her under a sheltering sack and doing a little necessary maternal nit-picking until the door was open.

Dagu came back in as soon as his own quarters were clean and sat by the main screen, his small amber eyes fixed on a pair of children. He stayed there for some time, before sweeping away, wearing sawdust flecks like random jewels in his shaggy fur.

24-28 April 2016

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Birds

Nesting jewels

In the Jewels of the Forest bird enclosure a Nicobar pigeon perched on a high branch beside the bridge. Most of theNicobar pigeon April 2016activity was here, at the head of the dried stream. A fairy bluebird flew past, a shama sat on a low trunk, two chestnut-backed laughing thrushes were rooting in a bamboo thicket and a Pekin robin Pekin robin April 2016flitted through branches on the edge of the clearing. There were more Nicobar pigeons nearby, one roosting on a branch against the wall, another pottering on the ground, its colours dull and its head balding.

Emerald dove April 2016

A pair of emerald doves were nesting in the branches above the bench, while nearby a female fairy bluebird was nearly hidden on her nest on a wall bar. The male fairy bluebird waited on a branch above the clearing, nesting Fairy bluebird male April 2016material in his beak, until it was safe enough for him to deliver it to the female. A food-bearing chestnut-backed laughing thrush Chestnut-backed laughing thrush April 2016also appeared on the ground from the thicket and stood on the stump above the dry stream – the female was nesting on top of a dry trunk between the benches, just her head visible.

A peacock pheasant strode up and down in the clearing. A Pekin robin came to perch up high and sing, his throat visibly swelling with the sound. When he flew into the climbers beyond the bench the male chestnut-backed thrush immediately chased after him. The robin shot out, and so did a fairy bluebird.

Further into the park is the Kirindi Forest, its open dryness a complete contrast to the damp lushness of the Jewels of the Forest. Here a hammerkopf was on the ground by a vertical trunk, beneath one of the bird’s towering nests.

Hammerkopf April 2016

An ibis was thrashing a worm before drowning it in water and eating it.

Ibis April 2016

Scarlet male fodys flitted everywhere, occasionally pausing to look round for a second.

Male Phody April 2016 1 Male Phody April 2016 3 Male Phody April 2016 2

24–28 April 2016

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Meerkats and monkeys

In the cold wet weather the meerkats were mainly indoors, grooming in pairs on one of the shelves,

Meerkats 1 2017

warming in huddles under a heat lamp,

Meerkats 2 2017

peering out of the windows at the rain.

Meerkats 3 2017

On the few occasions when they ventured into the briefly dry outside it was usually to wait as a crowd for their keeper.

Meerkats 4 2017

Whatever they did, they constantly paused to stare around, front, right, left, behind.

Meerkats 5 2017

25 April 2016

Howlers

The reserve area above the back courtyard still has two black howler monkey brothers who are waiting for a new home. One male is more dominant than the other, but both were scared of Safy, the bullying golden howler female in the pair at the First Impressions enclosure. Later on, I spotted her trying to pick a fight with the senior of the three coati females.

26 April 2016

Macaques

The macaque situation has improved since the older dominant male was removed, giving the younger male chance to improve his position. He’s bulked up physically and recently achieved two consecutive dominance calls. He now has more control over the group. Four of the younger group members were racing around their outdoor enclosure, triumphantly clutching empty cardboard boxes.

27 April 2016

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Native species (to Jersey)

A crowned crane stalked majestically over the grass, the manor house a fitting setting beyond.

Crowned crane

More mundane local life took place on the lake below, where water rippled over the gunnera stems. There was a stirring in the nearby iris leaves and a duckling, dark with a white front, shot out to follow the adult mallards who were already dipping into the deeper water.

A wren is nesting in a tree trunk in the gorilla enclosure, and used the indoor bowl of water, often emptying it completely by splashing around in it.

Red squirrel

A red squirrel normally appears in the evening on the fence beside the old maned wolf enclosure, but the path there is being relaid and so the squirrel seems to be visiting the nut feeder up by the walled garden.

24–28 April 2017

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