Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 24/04/2012

Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of Fur

Ring-Tailed Lemur, originally uploaded by

Typical, absolutely typical, Dear Reader as I’ve mentioned before I’m quite used to lugging around a hefty backpack, big lens and tripod and whilst it can get tiring that’s about the only effect it has. Clothing, that’s a different matter… I’ve been laid up all day, unable to move much after having put my back out reaching for my fleece and hat as I was preparing to leave Dartmoor Zoo on Sunday. Luckily the seats in my car have sufficient support which meant I could drive back in little discomfort, and all day yesterday I was taking various painkillers just to keep me upright, again reaching for a jumper last night sent a shooting pain through my back and down one leg that resulted in me spending most of the evening flat on my back in the lounge with a pillow for support. Dosed up again today, as long as I didn’t move a muscle the pain could be contained by various elixirs and pills and I have an appointment with a chiropractor tomorrow who I’m hoping will be able to work miracles. Forget the dangers of wild animals, heavy equipment, foreign diseases… it’s our outfits that are far more dangerous… so beware Dear Reader, make sure your jacket isn’t out to do you some harm.

Following on from yesterday’s blog about my trip to Dartmoor Zoo (see, I said I could spin it out over a number of days) I did get to fulfill something I’d wanted to do for a while, and which has me smiling even now when I think about it, but let me explain the circumstances first. The Operations Manager, George, from the Zoo usually shadows me throughout the day, with the exception when I’m teaching students on the course at the beginning of the day – allowing him to get on with the day to day running of the zoo. Sunday, however,was a little different and having joined us to coax out the reluctant Sovereign allowing the course attendees some great views of this magnificent beast, George was to then join us after lunch when we were to focus on the Big Cats. As we were having lunch in the Jaguar Cafe, the RSPCA made contact with the zoo asking for advice on an exotic animal they had captured which needed the expert eyes and experience of a Zookeeper to deal with the creature. I was lucky enough to be at hand when the large animal travel crate was removed from the back of the RSPCA warden’s vehicle and peering in, sure enough inside was a large (and smelly, he’d been found in a farm’s slurry pit) Beaver. These creatures were hunted into extinction (there’s that word again) over 400 years ago, though as I’ve mentioned on the blog before they were re-introduced into a secret location in Scotland which seems to be paying dividends with two babies having been spotted in the wild. Devon, where Dartmoor Zoo, is the other end of the country from this planned release and was ruled out as a possible source for this individual and unlike various North American birds which often find their ways to this shores, neither the gulf stream or the Westerly winds blowing in from the Americas could have carried such a large land based animal (yes I know they live in the water, but that water is usually landlocked!) over to our fair shores. After a little research, the only possible explanation for his unlikely presence in one of Britain’s most southerly counties, was that the male Beaver was an escapee who had done a bunk in 2008 with two other accomplices and whilst these two had been quickly found and re-housed, he had continued living in secret in the wilds of the county. He certainly didn’t look worse for wear, or suffering from malnutrition despite his 4 lonely years in the wilds, and he was certainly grumpy from being found and contained but this did mean that George had to help coordinate efforts over his welfare and provide me an opportunity I’d dreamed of for a while. Whilst looking at the beast in the crate, George handed me some rubber gloves and a bucket containing scraps of fresh meat which was to be used to try and tempt Sita, the Zoo’s Cheetah, out where we would be able to take some photographs of her. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve fed Sovereign, their Jaguar, but my real favourite at the Zoo has always been their cheetah (one of my photos of Sita is used as the main image on the Zoo’s entrance sign – so perhaps I’m biased a little!) so to be able to feed her was a real thrill. When I say feed, I’m not popping the morsels into her waiting and open mouth, these are wild creatures, the food is used as bait so she’s in a suitable position – it’s also not her main meal and as was the case, she had little interest in the food though she did go and have a good sniff of it before turning away from us and carrying on with her own agenda. Still, I got to feed a cheetah!

The Beaver? Well, the Zoo are looking after him to ensure there wasn’t anything nasty in the slurry pit that may be transmitted if the large rodent was infected, and are still trying to determine his origins (he wasn’t chipped as most animals in such collections are). He won’t be able to stay at the zoo as they don’t currently have the means to house and contain him, so he may well end up with at the collection he is suspected of absconding from originally.

Today’s photos were all taken because of a comment posted on Flickr by a regular viewer of my work. There are a number of people who, like you Dear Reader, take time out of their day each day to look at my work (I’m grateful to you all – it does keep me going (so you could say it’s your fault)) one of whom had declared their love of Lemurs when I’d posted a picture of a Red-Fronted Lemur. With that in mind, I made a beeline (or lemur line if you prefer) for the outdoor enclosure where the iconic Ring-tailed Lemurs that the Zoo house, are allowed to mingle with the public (though at a discreet distance for the animals own sake) to try and get some suitable shot to post for this person. When arrived at their enclosure, clouds were covering the sun and the troup (if that’s the correct collective noun) were all huddled in one furry ball for warmth which allowed me to capture some different looking images; as soon as the sun came out, well – it was like someone had pressed a switch as the animals all immediately turned to the run to soak up its warming rays. Talk about sun worshippers, the Mayans and Incas have nothing on Lemurs.


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