As South Africans, we can sometimes be excused for thinking we have a monopoly on animals and game watching. After all, the Kruger National Park is world-famous and synonymous with the Big Five. In our preoccupation with lions, rhinos, elephants and other interesting denizens of the bushveld, we tend to forget that the world has so much more to offer.
Gareth and I visited Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park during our stay in the Cairngorms on a cold but clear day. The Park is unique in my experience as part zoo, part game drive. The animals are all in large enclosures, most of which you explore on foot, but there is also a section through which you drive by car.
The huge paw print gave some warning, but we were amazed by the size of the tiger. This animal is simply enormous! He strode up and down along the fence, right by us, so we could see every rippling muscle. Soft and furry enough that you just want to cuddle him, but then he yawned and those teeth made it clear that this was a predator, an animal that should not be underestimated. Beautiful.
We walked from enclosure to enclosure, taking pictures of animals that I had never even heard of, and still can’t remember the names of. Monkeys, deer of some sort and even a polar bear looking strangely pleased while basking in the sunlight with no snow in sight.
To my great delight, we also saw some feathered friends. I spotted a tiny red-breasted robin, as well as a raven that was, thankfully, neither tapping nor saying “nevermore”, but innocently sitting on a pole gazing out over the landscape. And Harry Potter fans will delight with me in finding a couple of snowy owls, one of which kindly looked straight into the camera for the perfect shot.
We wandered past the wild cats and eagle owls, up the hill for the most breathtaking view over the Scottish landscape.
For the past year or so I have been working on a novel that features a wolf as one of the main characters. But I have never seen a wolf other than on TV, not even in a zoo. To finally come face to face with this magnificent animal, to watch the energy of the pack as they stalked through the woods, was the day’s highlight for me!
Then it was time to get into the car and drive through the Park. We saw many strange antelope and deer, a herd of camels and one particularly photogenic elk.
We loved our visit to the Highland Wildlife Park. It was a wonderful day out in nature, getting to see some amazing animals, and yet another reminder that conservation of all animals is important, no matter which country they hail from.
For more posts in the Winter Escape 2012 series, click here.