Does a zoo count?
Saturday June 13
It was evening time when Eddie and I arrived at our local zoo at Kessingland, which is confusingly called Africa Alive. They stay open late once every summer, and it turned out to be a crowd-puller. The big numbers got the big mammals all excited, so we began with a lion chase: round and round the spacious, well-proportioned pen, the big male chasing his three three-quarter-grown cubs with immense purpose.
Two of the vast white rhinos were sparring, and Eddie posed in front of them in his Save The Rhino tee-shirt. They share a large enclosure with giraffes, blesbok (a chunky white-faced antelope) and ostriches. The giraffes were as excited as the rest and they started performing laps in their stately stiff-legged canter. One slipped on the slick grass and fell: I’ve never seen a giraffe look embarrassed before.
I suspect most of us have reservations about zoos, but it’s all in the way you look at them. You can see the creatures as less beings held in subjugation for our amusement, to: or as wonders we are privileged to gaze on and be inspired by. Perhaps it’s all about the grownup in charge.
It’s worth remembering that the scimitar-horned oryx and the European bison both went extinct in the wild. Since then, animals bred in captivity have been introduced to their ancestral home. Nor are these two alone.
The great pioneer of the zoo as a conservation organisation rather than a circus for public entertainment was Gerald Durrell, a great hero of mine. Last year I had the pleasure of writing the foreword to the Slightly Foxed edition of his masterpiece, My Family and Other Animals. In the autumn I’ll be staying at the zoo he founded on Jersey while I give a talk about his work; I’ve been promised a bed near the lemurs.
When Eddie and I got back at home we fed the horses in fading light. The sky was filled with a party of 20 swifts. It was a good way to finish the day.
Sunday June 16
No such thing as bad weather. Only bad clothing. It was raining with quiet persistence but Eddie and I were keen to do our wild thing, so we got togged up. In good clothing: waterproof trousers, waterproof tops. We walked off round the sodden marsh, secure in the knowledge that dripping armpit high vegetation couldn’t dampen anything about us, least of all our spirits.
“Let’s’ sit on the bench.”
“No! I’ll get a wet bum.”
“Not in these trousers, Eddie.”
So we sat in the rain and listened and looked and made a list of birds. Listing birds is a rather splendidly pointless thing to do, at least in this random and undisciplined way. It’s a way of making an occasion of it, and also of making sure you celebrate sparrows and pigeons. It’s about biodiversity: nothing less.
I’ll leave Eddie to bring you the list itself, for he contributed to it with great élan. The main thing was the sitting. In this climate we tend to think of the sun as the life-bringer. We accept that rain plays its part, but we always rather resent it.
So Eddie and went rainbathing. We had a touch of the rain. We suffered from rainstroke. We sat there like plants and welcomed the rain as something to keep us alive and make us grow. And all the time there was some spectacular singing from a trio of blackbirds and a particularly talented sedge warbler. Try this to get the idea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huvAXBtMTAc
Do you know the sing from Ladysmith Black Mambabzo? Rainrainrain. Beautiful rain…
Here it is