Alice Dryden (huskyteer) wrote,
Alice Dryden
huskyteer

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Call of the Wildwood

Things learned at Wildwood:
  • The Latin name of the harvest mouse is Minimys minutus - aww
  • Pine martens will do anything for peanut butter
  • Beavers indicate displeasure by hissing through their nose at you. This is surprisingly scary
Ten humans plus one dog, in three cars, is a heck of a group to gather together and navigate down to Herne, so big thanks to calgor for organising the trip.

This was an evening tour in a group of 20-odd. I'd visited in the daytime, but it was a very different experience to walk the pine forest paths in gathering dusk with the more nocturnal critters coming out to frolic. Three keepers were on hand to talk about the animals and make sure no one strayed ('if you get lost you'll get locked in until morning' not being a particularly terrible threat for those present).

Before things kicked off I spent some time admiring a tank of harvest mice, longtime favourites of mine due to adorable tininess. We then met Ellie the tame fox (said to be 'besotted with men', which reminded me of our late cat Posy), Slinky the stoat (named for the way he goes down stairs), Fudge the pine marten, Boris the wild boar plus his two wives and six children, Richard the red deer, Jeremy the badger and, er, Adolf the beaver (a rather ill-tempered rodent).

Of these, I think the beavers were my favourites; I'd never seen them up close before, and they put on a great display of swimming, diving and slapping the water with their tails. silvante was a sucker for anything mustelid, phoenicia was happy with his hoofed mammals, while orona_red was craving venison burgers and wild boar bacon.

Wildwood specialises in native British creatures, but includes those which have become extinct. In other words, they have wolves.

While we were watching the four badgers snuffle noisily for their supper, noting the way their fur blended in with the grass in the twilight and the white stripes on their heads shone out, a low howl started up from the wolf enclosure. First one voice, then the rest of the pack joined in. It was thrilling and eerie and beautiful, and phoenicia and I had to have a little hug and dance in our excitement. (The keeper told us that they're set off by sirens from passing emergency vehicles.)

The wolves were next on the agenda, and I found a spot on the viewing platform from which I could see their spacious home. By now it was ten o'clock and still light enough to see canine forms just darker than the surrounding gloom trotting intently to and fro among the trees. It was too murky to make out what they were up to in there, but occasional sounds of growling, meat-chewing and bone-crunching broke the spooky silence.

They didn't howl while we were watching them, but when we'd moved on to the otters an aircraft passed low overhead and that electrifying sound started up again.

I would have sneaked back for a look if I'd thought I could elude the keepers, but the tour was almost at an end and there was just time for a look at the lynxes, or rather one lynx ear sticking up over the plants as its owner stalked us, before the finish.

We all hope to return in winter, when the darkness is total and the ground frosty.
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