Port Lympne – African Experience Safari in Kent

In May, we went to Port Lympne Wildlife Park for my birthday. Port Lympne is one of the two Aspinall Foundation parks, the other being Howletts. The Aspinall Foundation is a conservation charity that focuses on saving animals that are endangered from extinction.

Port Lympne is particularly famous for its African Experience Safari that imitates the Serengeti in Africa. It is the closest you can get to an African animal safari without the grand plus price tag. Since the animals are carefully chosen to be grazers (it wouldn’t do for animals to be eating each other on a family outing!) the lions were kept far from the safari section of the park.

Whilst it’s safari experience is not as hardcore as Longleat Safari Park (if you live near Bath or even if you live in the opposite side of England, I recommend going to Longleat) which allows you to drive through tiger, lion and wolves enclosures, it is one of the best animal parks in Kent which is where I live. You see giraffes, rhinos and a variety of hoof animals such as elands, waterbucks etc. If you are lucky, you may see some African hunting dogs in an enclosure that the truck drives pass.

male common eland

The common eland was found in several separate herds throughout the park. This is the largest antelope in Africa, with males weighing up to a tonne. Both sexes have spiralled horns that are around 60cm in length. Horns are used by males during the mating season to fight each other and are used by females to defend their young. The one I photographed here is a male, you can tell by the flap of skin hanging from the neck which is also known as a dewlap. Below is a pair of these antelopes chilling on the grass.

male common eland2

Giraffes! No African experience would be complete without these giants. The pair that was standing together was rubbing their necks against each other. What this means, I am not very sure as giraffes living in a park may behave quite different to those in the wild. Wild giraffes do not fond very strong bonds and when they do, they are usually between mother and calf. Unlike the common eland, horns are used in courtship and in mock fighting between young males. Giraffe tongues are ridiculously long and reach lengths of 45cm!

Cute giraffes

Halfway through the safari, you stop at a café where they have a cute meerkat display.

The look out meerkat

To be honest, I was quite proud of this photo as I had only started using a DSLR camera a few days before I went to Port Lympne and for this portrait, I managed to get a nice soft background, making the meerkat stand out quite nicely. This one was the lookout kat, there were several others running around through tunnels.

The defassa waterbuck is, not surprisingly, found near water in Central Africa. It is classified as near threatened by the ICUN Red List (2011) which states that the population trend appears to be decreasing. This is a shame as you can see from the photo below that male waterbucks have beautiful curved horns and white ‘eyeliner’ that makes them look slightly feminine!

The herd in the background of this photo is not actually female defassa waterbuck; I could not take a good shot of any. They are, in fact, red lechwe which are antelope found in wetlands. Legs are longer in this breed to help it move around quicker in its natural habitat. Interestingly, there are two albino lechwe in this herd. I saw some others around the park as they had a lot of this type of antelope. I guess albinos are rarer in the wild as their noticeable coat may make them more vulnerable to being preyed upon. Here, where there are no predators, the albino gene has been allowed to pass along and these albinos have grown up in safety.

Defassa waterbuck and red lechwe

 

Port Lympne Part 2 – Crazy Cats

Previously, I wrote a post about Port Lympne, paying particular attention to it’s African Safari Experience. This time, I would like to talk about their collection of big (and small!) cats. We leave the open fields of roaming herd animals and enter a typical zoo/wildlife park environment. Animals are placed in enclosures which are designed to give them a fair amount of room to move. I apologise for the poor photos once again. When I go again next year, I will definitely compare my photos and I hope to see some improvement in my DSLR wielding abilities!

I really liked the Pallas cat enclosure. It was in two parts and opened top, allowing the single Pallas cat to see the sky and watch birds fly by. From my bad photo you can kind of see its shaggy coat. This cat originated from the cold climates of Mongolia, Russia and other areas of Central Asia. I think most would agree that the most unique feature of this small cat is its eyes. Instead of slits, Pallas cats have round pupils rather similar to ours.

Pallas Cat

Bengal Tiger

The Bengal tiger is pretty enough but spent most of its time stalking the perimeter. This delighted guests as it was a good position to take photos. It is common knowledge that these majestic creatures are at risk of becoming extinct from hunting for medicine. People in Asia still use tiger body parts in traditional medicine which is damaging the populations. There is no scientific evidence that states tigers can cure diseases and whilst many people are trying hard to save these animals, the numbers are still declining.

Margay Cat

The other two small cats are the margay cat (above) and the fishing cat (below). The former is a treetop cat and is a strong climber. The margay cat has a long tail for balance and can be found in Central and South America. The fishing cat, as the name suggests, is not afraid of water. It lives in swamp land in Asia and catches fish using its claws. The fishing cat occasionally submerges its whole body in water when catching food or avoiding a predator.

Fishing Cat

Barbary Lion

Finally, the Barbary lion! This beast has been extinct in the wild since early 1900s. They used to inhabit Morocco and other areas in North Africa but unlike other lions, this sub-species did not form prides due to lack of food sources. They were also the ones used in gladiator fights by Romans. Now you can only see them in places like Port Lympne.

Oh, and this one is a photo of a rather beautiful little chap, Mr Chaffinch, who was visiting the park. If you’ve been on my photo blog, you’ve probably already seen him but for those of you who haven’t… he sat on a branch and posed proudly. I was sure he was enjoying the attention! This one was a male as females are dull brown in colour.

Mr. Chaffinch

You’d think that a trip to a safari and a nice collection of cats would make a great day out, Port Lympne has even more to offer.

Port Lympne Part 3 – Monkey Business!

As promised, this is the final post for Port Lympne and it is about some of the primates you will find in the park.   I do not think that the collection of primates at this park is as impressive as that of its twin park Howletts but Port Lympne has some rather spacey pens and colonies of Baboons that were a delight to look at. First, let’s have a look at a species that is quite similar to us on a molecular level.

Silverback gorilla

I believe this might be a male gorilla, as they have silverbacks. Their arms are slightly longer which contributes to the way they move. You usually find one dominant male with a herd of females. Other males tend to be solitary although they sometimes hang out together. I didn’t see any other gorillas around but I did see some rabbits sharing this gorilla’s pen.

These majestic animals are critically endangered and the factors that contribute to this worrying status are the usual deforestation, bushmeat trade and more disturbingly, the Ebola virus. Compared to other mammals which have high and fast birth rates to make up for drops in numbers, gorillas are quite similar to humans. Females take 10 or so years to reach sexual maturity and males do not reach theirs till 13+ years. Well, when you think about how long it takes men to become mature (something like 30+ years)… anyway, the many years it takes before a baby gorilla is able to have babies of their own means that it is even more important that steps are taken to stop the population numbers from dropping.

The next animal was one that really enjoyed posing. I can’t tell whether this Javan gibbon is a female or male but the gibbon sure knew how to strike a pose. If this one could have an occupation, I am pretty sure it would be modelling. And singing, as I hear that they have quite the voice. Gibbons do not have any visible tails but these ones are very adept climbers as they have long arms and strong fingers.

Javan gibbon's front pose

Javan gibbon's cool pose

Between the two parks, the Aspinall Foundation holds about fifty percent of the world’s captive Javan gibbons. The parks also have a breeding program which I believe holds promise as this species is sadly endangered and very little of their natural habitat are intact. Some people will pay money to own a gibbon as a pet which also contributes to their decline. Like gorillas, gibbons have a slow breeding rate which has trouble catching up with the population decline. Extinction can become a reality if no action is taken, which is why the Aspinall Foundation owns a centre in Java where rescued gibbons are rehabilitated into the wild.

Part of the Guinea baboon's large enclosure

This photo here only shows a small part of the Guinea baboon habitat. Port Lympne had done a superb job with the Guinea Baboons. These primates had been given enough room that any passer-by could observe all the group dynamics that occur in such numbers.  I noticed but did not have the chance to photograph one particularly scruffy baboon being chased by other baboons from different groups. Every time that scruffy one entered a different group of baboon’s territory, the poor thing would be chased out. Despite this one being singled out, Guinea Baboons are highly sociable animals that chill out in large groups for company and for protection. There is a lot of communication going on and within a group, subgroups emerge when foraging for edible items. They are able to communicate using sounds and body language. Compared to the gorilla and the Javan gibbon, these baboons are not in immediate danger of extinction. However, their habitat is still declining. On a positive note, due to their ability to eat many kinds of foods, being omnivorous, they are better able to cope with the changes to their habitat.

2 adult baboons and a juvenile

These baboons are ground based animals when awake which is why you see them sitting around. I had an image of a male baboon doing something quite inappropriate and due to its unsuitability, you get an image of this baby scratching his back instead.

Baby baboon scratching

This concludes the Port Lympne experience. There were other primates but my photos were either inadequate or I did not have any for that animal. Maybe next year…  I highly recommend going for a visit if you have not yet been yourself. There are lots to see and do and I would rank it as one of the top family day outs you can experience in Kent.

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