The magnificent Royal Bengal Tiger. Sadly, only 3,000 tigers survive in the wild today. Just 3,000. Image courtesy of anekoho / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
‘I’m not a cat person because I’ve never been bitten by a radioactive cat,’ said Ed Byrne, speaking at last night’s ZSL London Zoo ‘Roar with Laughter’ charity comedy gig. The event was hosted at Hammersmith Apollo Theatre in London, with top comedians Phill Jupitus, Andy Parsons, Jon Richardson, Sarah Kendall, Richard Herring, Ed Byrne, Lucy Porter and Greg Burns who all generously donated their time to make us roar with laughter and help ZSL to save the tiger.
The fundraiser for tigers was a lovely night out with Emily and Drew. We enjoyed the comedians and wearing our free tiger masks! I had booked the tickets weeks ago to celebrate the end of a challenging year of beekeeping. The London Zoo comedy was a poignant reminder that honeybees are not the only creatures who are disappearing.
So this week’s post is dedicated to two stripy species in need of SOS! Tigers and bees – sorry, no lions.
Save our stripes
The tiger is my favourite wild cat, so it makes me sad that these beautiful animals are endangered and may soon vanish from our forests. Only 3,000 tigers survive in the wild today and just 300 wild Sumatran tigers remain in Indonesia. Tiger populations are threatened by deforestation as humans push further into tiger territory, which has shrunk to an estimated 7% of its former size. Tigers also face threats from poaching for medicine, magic and souvenirs.
I met this lovely Sumatran tiger at ZSL London Zoo earlier this year. While I would dearly love to see tigers living free in the wild, sometimes the wild is not there.
ZSL is raising money to help save the Sumatran tiger through conservation activities in natural habitats as well as building a new Tiger Territory at London Zoo. The exhibit is due to open in spring 2013 and will cost £3.6 million to build.
If you would like to find out more about ZSL’s field conservation work in key tiger ranges including Russia, Bangladesh and Indonesia, the new Tiger Territory and how to help support the tiger SOS, visit ZSL Sumatran tiger campaign.
‘With just 300 Sumatran tigers left in the wild,’ says ZSL ‘[We want] to take action to ensure this vulnerable sub-species does not face the same fate as the Bali, Caspian and Javan tigers, now lost to the world forever.’
Bee lovely and help save the bees
A lovely bee that I saw munching on pink flowers in Regent’s Park this summer.
Loss of habitat and human activities also threaten the honeybee as well as many other bee species and insect pollinators. So I was very pleased to hear that Neal’s Yard Remedies (NYR) has re-launched the Bee Lovely Campaign to raise awareness for the plight of the bee. The campaign urges people to sign the petition to ban the use of powerful pesticides, neonictinoids (neonics), in the UK.
‘Using new technology, neonics penetrate the plant and attack the nervous system of insects that feed off them – posing a deadly threat to all pollinators. Neonics are 7000 times more toxic than DDT, a chemical pesticide the UK government banned in 1984,’ says NYR in their press release for the campaign.
The petition will be taken to Downing Street when it reaches 100,000 signatures. Last year it was signed by over 92,000 people worldwide, so please ‘bee lovely’ and spread the word! Supporters can sign the petition at NYR stores nationwide or online, click here. The petition closing date is 30 November 2012.
Tiger-bee! Orangey and stripy!
The campaign also features a beautiful range of bee-inspired products that blend organic honey with divine orange and mandarin essential oils. The Bee Lovely range includes: Bee Lovely Busy Bee Balm, Bee Lovely Bath & Shower Gel, Bee Lovely Handwash and Bee Lovely Body Lotion. A beautiful book about bees accompanies the Bee Lovely Campaign when you buy a product in store!
To find out more about NYR’s Bee Lovely Campaign, click here. I will be posting NYR’s blogger badge on my blog, so please share it too!
‘Stick together and don’t split up,’ warned specialist keeper Mick Tiley, as we entered the penguin enclosure. ‘The penguins get suspicious if you split up.’
The penguins cautiously eyed our group as we walked slowly round Penguin Beach and started to scrub the sides of their spacious pool. Waddling up to investigate, a couple of nosy blackfooted penguins decided to help out.
Being accepted by the penguins was only one of the highlights of ZSL London Zoo’s ‘Keeper for a Day’. I fed a tiger, got licked by a giraffe, pawed by a spider monkey and climbed on by lemurs. This amazing scheme offers ordinary members of the public, like me, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a zookeeper for the day. As part of a party of five, we were assigned to an experienced keeper, kitted out in overalls and given various tasks from mucking out enclosures, preparing food and devising enrichment activities.
'Nice welly. Cath Kidston?'
I have wanted to be a zookeeper since I was nine, so going behind the scenes and meeting my favourite animals was a dream come true! Sitting in the sand playing with penguins, I wondered, does it get any better than this?
Our group was led by Mick Tiley, specialist keeper, who has worked at London Zoo for over 30 years. Mick shows groups round several times a month and I soon realised how privileged we were to have him as our guide. It was clear that Mick loves his job and has a wealth of knowledge about the animals, which he was keen to share.
‘I lose very few people,’ said Mick, as we shovelled zebra poo and laid out fresh hay and sand in their stables. He was pleased by our willingness to get stuck in. ‘Some people are given the day as a gift and arrive with no idea what to expect.’
I certainly didn’t expect this…
Feeding the giraffes slices of white bread for their mid-morning treat, Mick told us, ‘They don’t like brown bread’. The giraffes were incredibly polite and waited patiently as we tore off bits of bread, daintily wrapping their long tongues round each morsel.
'They are so cute from a reasonable distance'
The ‘Keeper for a Day’ experience helps ZSL London Zoo to fund conservation programmes in Britain and over 50 countries worldwide. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is a charity devoted to the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats.
However, this was a behind-the-scenes adventure for me. Have you seen those staff-only entry signs? We went past all those points! At ZSL London Zoo Aquarium, Mick took us through a door only for zookeepers and down a narrow walkway eerily lit by tanks of mysterious sea beasties. Giddy with excitement, my fish-fear was forgotten until I saw we were standing above a tank with a yellow warning sign for dangerous animals.
Piranha don't swim round the tank like other fish. They hang there, watching, waiting...
‘Some species of piranha are vegetarian,’ said Mick, explaining that putting our hands in would not result in a feeding frenzy – unless it was the dry season when they get aggressive. These were not the veggie-eating sort and I didn’t fancy a fish manicure.
It was feeding time and we were handed a bag of squiggling worms and crickets to feed the piranha. Scooping out a generous handful and throwing them in the pool, they were gone in 60 seconds. As a beekeeper, I felt I should be on the side of the insects. So when a couple of worms fell on the floor, I didn’t say anything and let them escape the massacre.
Our next task was to prepare lunch for the bearded pigs from Indonesia, who enjoy a healthy five-a-day bucket of fruit and veg. The keepers’ kitchen had whiteboards on the walls showing personalised menu plans and particular dining preferences of the animals. There were quite a few fussy eaters, I noticed.
Me Love Gorillas
No training, no banana!
As we chopped apples, oranges, carrots, potatoes and bananas, I was starting to get hungry and worried that there would be no training and no banana for me. Fortunately, that rule doesn’t apply to higher mammals. The day’s experience included a generous free lunch in the ZSL staff canteen with a delicious hot and cold buffet on offer, although I was more excited that we were sitting to eat with real zookeepers!
A dinner fit for a keeper. So happy.
Mick had no chance to rest and eat while we interrogated him for insider information. One of our group asked, ‘Do you think animals should be kept in captivity?’ Mick’s answer gave us food for thought. ‘Of course, we would all love to see animals living in the wild and many of our breeding programmes are about conserving species in their natural habitat,’ he said. ‘Unfortunately, in many cases the wild isn’t there.’ As a beekeeper, I understood this only too well. Loss of natural habitat is a major cause of insect pollinator decline – no forage, no bees – and it seems that humans are increasingly encroaching on the habitats of other species too.
'The wild? Are you nuts? That is the worst idea I have ever heard!'
The zoo was now getting busy with visitors and our afternoon ‘enrichment’ activities were attracting attention, and some envy, from onlookers. While the zoo isn’t the wild, the keepers like to encourage the animals’ natural behaviours such as climbing, digging, foraging and problem solving. This is called ‘enrichment’. An assortment of handmade objects such as feeding apparatus and challenging toys are used to encourage exploration, while herbs, spices and even perfumes help to stimulate scent marking. ‘The tigers go silly for chili,’ said Mick.
The spider monkeys were not so easy to please. As we held out our hands with an offering of pumpkin seeds, they were more interested in what we were wearing. ‘Don’t get too close,’ warned Mick. ‘They will untie your shoe laces.’
'Here come the people! Oh, I love the people!'
'It's fun people fun time!'
'If you have any poo, fling it now'
Mick teaches the spider monkeys to tell time.
The Sumatran tigers had no time for such foolishness as they paced up and down their caged interior enclosure like a domestic cat waiting to be fed. Standing behind the yellow line, we gave them chunks of raw meat using metal tongs. Sumatran tigers are smaller than the Siberian tigers at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, said the tigers’ keeper. They looked huge to me and, as the smallest member of the group, I noticed the male tiger fixed me with his eyes.
The tigers' keeper didn't like my beekeeping wellies...
The tigers didn't seem to mind. Come closer...
'You look delicious'
To be so close to these powerful, magnificent animals was a privilege. They were not tame tigers, but neither were they afraid of us. This makes them even more dangerous than tigers in the wild, explained their keeper.
The Sumatran tiger’s status in the wild is ‘critically endangered’ and their numbers have dropped dramatically below 300 individuals. ZSL has plans to introduce a new breeding programme in 2013.
We were exhausted but we didn’t want the day to end. There was one last animal to visit – the ring-tailed lemurs of Madagascar. The task was an ‘enrichment’ feed to encourage the lemurs to forage. However, as I sat with a lemur on my lap and fed it from my hand, I wondered who was receiving the enrichment.
A lemur is sitting on my lap. A LEMUR IS SITTING ON MY LAP!
'Welcome, giant pansies'
'Please feel free to bask in my glow'
The lemurs had soft little hands that they used to satisfy their curiosity about us before carefully picking out their favourite pieces of fruit. We sat there for a while enjoying being in their company.
It was a day that I will never forget – rewarding and educational, exciting and fun. I got a goody bag with ZSL London Zoo ‘Keeper for a Day’ certificate and t-shirt too! I will be scheming like a spider monkey to do it again next year.
Thank you to my mum and dad for giving this amazing gift for Christmas.