Wednesday, 8 July 2009
Prunes and tigers
Today, I’m like a prune. I have wrinkles on my wrinkles. I took son for a swim at a Leisure Centre at the McDonald Highland Resort in Aviemore. The cost for non-residents was £15. I explained to the receptionist that I only wanted a swim, not to take out membership. Her smile was frayed with impatience. Then, “There’s a wave machine.” She made a token effort to sell it to me and then raised an eyebrow that articulated exactly what was going on in her mind – “like I could give a shit, you wanker.”
My son was hopping up and down in anticipation of a dip. I handed over the cash and asked the receptionist if they provided staff with masks along with the uniform. She didn’t hear me. Probably because I’m a feartie and only asked it in my own head.
I was determined that we should get our money’s worth and we were in the water for ages. The wave machine was great fun and there was a slide that the wee fella pronounced the best he’d ever been on. Two hours later - the prune effect was achieved.
Yesterday was awesome. We went to the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig. They specialise in animals that are suited to the weather conditions locally and those whose numbers are in decline. Indeed many of the animals in situ are either extinct or approaching extinction in the wild. There are yaks, european bison, red panda, eagle owls, lynx, beaver, reindeer and loads more.
There is an area where you are able to get out of your car and walk about to look at the animals. There is also a stretch that you drive through and this is where many of the grazers are given space to roam. Driving through the main reserve we passed the Bactrian Camels, the Yaks, European Bison, red deer... and then we parked by the roadside to watch a small group of Przewalski’s Horses.
They are strikingly similar to the horses depicted in European neolithic cave paintings. Fossil evidence in Scotland indicates that wild horses survived here up to 3000 years ago but after the last Ice Age, the horses’ range became smaller and smaller until its last wild population was in Mongolia.
The Przewalski is presently being reintroduced to two main sites in Mongolia and they have re-established themselves well. Przewalski’s horses differ from domestic horses in a number of ways. Their skull is heavier and they have a thicker jaw as well as an upright black mane and no forelock. They are stocky with relatively short legs and a yellowish brown coat with black lower legs and a black tail. Just in case you were wondering.
And we can testify that they are also nosey feckers. We had the window down so I could try and take some photographs. One of the horses took this as an invitation to have a wee look at us – splendid specimens I could hear him say. I managed to get the window up just before it had a nibble at the wee fella’s hair. I have the horse saliva staining the length of my car window to prove it.
Headline act at Kincraig is undoubtedly the Amur tiger pair and their 3 cubs. They used to be known as Siberian tigers but apparently their numbers have retreated to a smaller area of the region; you guessed it, known as Amur. These are the largest tigers on the planet and to be mere feet (through thick glass) from ma and pa while the cubs (born on the 11th May this year) clambered all over each other was a thrill and a privilege. Pa Tiger was HUGE. Awesome is a word that is over used nowadays, but in terms of being able to watch these tigers so closely it is absolutely appropriate.
The WWF website says - In the 1940s the Amur tiger was on the brink of extinction, with no more than 40 tigers remaining in the wild. Thanks to vigorous anti-poaching and other conservation efforts by the Russians with support from many partners, including WWF, the Amur tiger population recovered and has remained stable throughout the last decade or so.
But poaching of tigers and its prey, increased logging and construction of roads, forest fires and inadequate law enforcement are threats that affect the survival of the species.
Another delight was the troupe of Snow Monkeys who have recently arrived. They were the most physically active attraction on the park and contentedly carried on with their lives in full view of the hairless bipeds on the other side of the viewing glass. Could’ve watched them for hours.
The wee fella was trying to work out the gender of several of the monkeys walking past. One large male turned away from us to present a close-up view of his hairless pink arse and a large pair of equally pink and hairless cojones...and this is why actors are always saying your should never work with kids or animals...
- Well he’s...my son began to say with the voice of a TV announcer.
- Don’t go there, I said quietly, trying to head him off at the pass.
- He’s definitely male, announced my son to the crowd around us.
- Yes and just leave it at that. I spoke quietly.
- ‘Cos I can see his big pink balls.
I should just have given in to the inevitable.
Oh – and for the record, two hours writing time yesterday and 1.5 today.