Sunday, 26 September 2010


This afternoon we visited a rare species conservation centre that I didn't know existed - yet its only 40 mins drive from where we live.  It isn't well publicised.  Its a small centre, just 2 acres of land, but beautifully laid out and maintained.  The grounds are landscaped using plants from Australia and Africa and there are tree house viewing points, rope suspended bridges etc., and everything is clean and 'inviting'.   Its a privately owned centre/zoo and according to the Head Gardener (who proudly showed us around and pointed out his favourite plants) the owner lives in London and doesn't have a garden there - so likes this place to be kept pristine for his own enjoyment when he's in Kent (!!)

Unfortunately, from end September the centre will not be open to the public on a daily basis.  They plan to specialise in wildcat conservation.  So some of the animals had been moved out in readiness and we couldn't see bears or gibbons.  But the animals we did see were in great surroundings, looked healthy and happy and were keen to pose for the camera!   I'll be keeping an eye on their website to see what they do after September.  The plan is to offer 'special' days for photographers and artists, and corporate days etc.

Here's one of their Fishing Cats.  He looked rather like a domestic moggy, rubbing up against the fence - till he saw my camera and lashed out hissing and spitting .... served as a timely reminder that these animals are not pets!!  This was taken through glass so is a bit hazy

The sign on the cage warned that though these little guys are attention seekers, they will bite.  So being careful not to get fingers close to the bars I aimed my camera.   I forgot about my camera strap which was blowing in the breeze close to the fence.  It got grabbed by one of the monkeys who thrust his whole head and neck through the wire.  If you look at the second photo you'll see the link size is pretty big compared to the head size of the monkey.   We had a stand off for a few minutes until he relaxed his jaw and I could retrieve the strap.  For a while I had visions of pulling the little guy through the fence and taking him home with me :o)

And these Fennec Foxes are just too cute for words - they are tiny

I already have lots of photos of snow leopards from my visit to the Wildlife Heritage Foundation (Big Cat Conservation Centre) but I can never get enough of these gorgeous beasties:

Today, for me the stars of the show were the Asian smooth coated otters.    The adult pair was rescued by this centre in 2008 and had to be de-programmed as where they previously lived in Cambodia they had to 'perform' in order to be fed.  Now they are happy enough in their new environment to have produced 3 babies - the first captive birth of this species in Europe for 30 years.  One of the youngsters had to be hand-reared and lives separately from the rest as he was rejected by Mum.  These otters need to burrow and their 'enclosure' had lots of holes ... and lots of mud which they frequently wallowed in (making their swimming pool incredibly brown and grotty).   They were so fast ... most of my pictures had missing heads or tails as I struggled to keep up with them.  Here are a few (I'm still wading through the rest)

Here's one of the youngsters emerging from his burrow.   When their coats are dry they look quite cute and almost fluffy (but just check out the teeth .. I know I've got a few shots where the fangs are clearly in evidence and they are pretty awesome)

Look at the hands here ... I find this really spooky.  Although they are webbed, he has perfect fingers and finger nails 

The never stand still .... photographing them was a case of aim and click and see what you manage to get .. they are so fast

and I got several shots of the otters doing Meerkat impressions (!!)  It drove me to check on Google to see whether there could possibly be a relationship between Meerkats and Otters.  I think the answer is No, although this similarity has been commented on many times, particularly this habit of standing up and surveying the territory.

I have lots more photos and I guess some of them will be far better, but I need to sort through them all first.  Back to the drawing board tomorrow though.

oh... nearly forgot the best bit :o)

It doesn't seem to be geared up so much for childrens visits as many zoos/wildlife parks are .. and I loved this sign:


pett paintings said...

Wow Sue great photos! what a treasure to find the photographs certainly convey a very healthy and well run place...I suspect you will become a regular visitor :-)

sue said...

Hi Kay, that was quick, I'm still sitting at my computer trawling thru photos.

We only spent a couple of hours here as it started pouring with rain but its a beautiful place.

I just hope when they have re-invented themselves it will still be viable to visit. The Wildlife Heritage Foundation tends to work out at about £70 a day for photographers or artists (although you do get up-close to the big cats and so the photo opportunities are better)

Chrissy said...

Hi Sue, I love the photo's very much, I have tried so many times to get some good otter images so I know how diffciult they can be to capture. Nice shots of everything :-)

K. T. Sparks said...

Sue those are some beautiful animals! I liked the cute little fox myself! Those big ears are so adorable! The sign at the end was a good but funny warning to people. Isn't it weird how adults need to be reminded about wild animals? You asked about the photo on my blog of the cowboy and horse on the top of the horse trailer...yes they are real and you would not believe the act they put on at rodeos! I added the like to them for you to see on my original blog post. I think you would enjoy a bit of it.

sue said...

Thanks ladies .. I've just finished sorting through the photos and have kept about 10% of the ones I took - they'll be added to the ever increasing list of 'to do' pictures!

Thanks KT .. I've followed the link and commented on your blog (I think). The one-armed bandit is pretty amazing isn't he!

K. T. Sparks said...

Sue you aren't being morbid! We have to learn from others mistakes to protect ourselves. He climbed an electric pole thinking the power was off and it wasn't, was electrocuted and died before he was revived. I believe that story is in his bio on his web site. I know you don't get to see any rodeo things and I also post things like this for my girlfriend in Aberdeen, Scotland. She wanted to know what the Indian PowWow was I posted it for her and her husband to see.

Steve Drew said...

I LOVE the pics, Sue!! Beautiful and very inspirational. The first monkey picture is amazing! -Steve

sue said...

Thanks Steve

I have so many reference pics now ... but not enough time to do them all justice :o)

Peter Williams said...

WoW! I've been looking forward to see what you got.....lovely photo's and I'm very jealous!

sue said...

Thanks Peter

I have a selection of big cat pics
lions, tigers, cheetah and snow leopard if you're ever looking for anything specific just shout and I may be able to help, I'm happy to share - I'll be doing a few close up face studies myself for upcoming exhibitions.

Peter Williams said...

That's very kind Sue and I will definitely be in touch some time. Thanks

Karen said...

How wonderful to have a place like this so close and to know the animals are well cared for. We have a small centre near us which is in apalling condition and in my opinion should be closed down. Dirty, overgrown enclosures, scummy water and rats running around under the birds feeders. After seeing it about 2 years ago I have refused to go back, it was upsetting to see animals in those conditions.

Karen said...

Also meant to ask if you have been to the British Wildlife Centre at Lingfield, Surrey? I can thoroughly recommend it. I did a very reasonably priced photography day there in 2008 and went inside the enclosures of the foxes, scottish wildcats and otters and was able to get good photos of many other species too. Of course they are British species only so no big cats but still a wonderful place. (Check their opening times before visiting as they don't open to the public all the time)

and there is a blog too

sue said...

Hi Karen.
Thanks for the link. I haven't been to Lingfield but will certainly check it out. We have a couple of 'wildlife centres' close to us that I've visited by wouldn't return to - the biggest problem was that they have a lot of British nocturnal creatures which isn't much good when they open in daylight hours only !!