TAILS OF A TRAVELLING CAT
Day 2 - Edinburgh Zoo
Greetings, humans! It has stopped Raining! I can venture outside! Our trip today was to Edinburgh Zoo. Now, I am aware that among humans, zoos can be a rather controversial topic. I’m not going to go into an ethical debate over whether we should have zoos or not, but I do think Edinburgh Zoo have some good examples of striking the balance between welfare, conservation and economics. Everything seems to come down to money with you humans.
Sue is a volunteer at the Zoo meaning we enjoyed a very informative personal tour, the quality of which rivals my history lessons (you can compare when I give my talk on Edinburgh Castle in a few days’ time.
The first animals we saw were a flock of pink pelicans which I would have enjoyed chasing, but I restrained myself, I think I would have fitted inside their beaks!
Our next stop involved more birds, the huge flightless rheas of the ratite family. There were three 8 week old chicks being raised by the male of the pair, as is the custom with this species. In general with birds, both parents participate in the rearing of their offspring compared to mammals were it is usually the female, or reptiles where their young are often left to fend entirely for themselves from the moment they are born. That seems somewhat harsh, but who am I to judge a different taxa? The chicks were learning predator avoidance/ confusion behaviour which seemed to involve a lot of zig-zag running. Well, I was confused.
More birds – I like this trip – we went to see the penguins next. As a cat, I was rather put off by their giant pond, but we watched with interest the Gentoo penguins raising their young. As penguin chicks are born without waterproof feathers, metal umbrellas had been put over the nests to keep them dry. There were also three leucistic penguins. This doesn’t mean they are albino, just paler than normal as they have a much lower content of melanin and other pigments in their bodies.
These flightless critters were interesting to watch as they had a habit of stealing stones from each others' nest to add to their own. Strangely enough, no one ever seemed to get into a fight over this, they took the theft of their property quite well actually.
Ah, a mammal! The one-horned rhino (that's the species name, no terrible accident has befallen him) who liked to play with tractor tyres and carry them on his nose. Well, each to their own I suppose.
We also met tapirs (which are huge and related to horses), otters, Gelada baboons and a skunk, which was not smelly as I have been led to believe these animals are by popular culture.
We tried to find my favourite cousins the elusive Scottish wildcat, but they decided to hide like true cats. A very nice enclosure though, very leafy and many places for a feline to hide and climb. We spoke to one of the carnivore keepers about wildcats and learnt that they aren’t interested in cardboard boxes. What? They don’t see a box and immediately attempt to wedge themselves inside it? They’re missing some fun there. We talked about pelage scoring – see the handy identification guide provided by Scottish Wildcat Action – and that hybrids are only used in the breeding programme if their pelage score is above 80% wildcat. Sadly, it seems there are no pure wildcats in Scotland anymore. My cousins are endangered, the poor wee things.
I think my Scottish is coming along nicely.
An interesting note to the pelage score is that the female wildcat at the zoo (there is also a male called Talisker named after the whisky) has a tapered end to her tail, however wildcats are usually considered to have a blunt end, despite this, her pelage score is still high.
We also visited two other cats, the Sumatran tigers (very stripy, I approve) and the Asiatic lions, slightly smaller than their African cousins. We also learnt Sumatran tigers can jump vertically up to 13 feet, good thing the walls are high!
We then came upon an escaped wildcat. Not really, it was stuffed, that bizarre and creepy Victorian pastime. No wonder the poor blighters are so rare. This stuffed cat was a donation to the zoo and formed part of an education display which included big cat skulls and a leopard pelt, seized by customs officials at Heathrow, the person smuggling it arrested and the skin donated to the zoo. This was a sad sight to see, one of my poor cousins, killed for their skin, the bullet wounds still visible in the neck, the claws still on the paws. This beautiful cat and the stuffed wildcat, both victims of the type of humans I will never understand.
Zebra! I’ve been distracted… I like these creatures, they’re stripy like me and their field had a beautiful view of Edinburgh.
One of the last stops was the chimpanzees, a troop of 19. About half of the group had come from a lab testing facility a few years ago, but joined the original group well. There was also a three year old chimp, the group’s only offspring. The similarities to a young human child were striking, so I am told, children are not my area of expertise.
We also visited the squirrel monkeys and capuchins who participate in voluntary behaviour tests to determine their preferences and cognitive abilities including their ability to recognise an individual, track the location of a moving hidden object and select their preferred food. The monkeys were always free to leave the trials if they wanted, but the way I see it, why wouldn’t they participate when there was food on offer?
We tried the wildcats again, but to no avail. But then, loads of them! In the gift shop, a whole shelf of wildcat toys, maybe these are my closest cousins after all, not the flesh and blood wildcats.
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