Posted in Animals

My lips are not sealed

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A sloth bear, living at the Safaripark Beekse Bergen in the Netherlands.

Posted in Animals

This bird has eyelashes

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Today I visited the Safaripark Beekse Bergen in the Netherlands. The Abyssinian ground hornbill was one of the first animals I encountered. This large terrestrial bird is found in Northern sub-Saharan Africa. In many African cultures the bird is considered sacred, or at least useful as an exterminator of snakes, mice and grasshoppers.

She was not easy to photograph through the mesh, but it worked out quite well. Notice the long feathers that look like eyelashes? Yes, she is quite a lady.

Posted in Nature, Stories

Crocodile Dutchee

Day 33 of the ‘Post A Day 2011′ challenge: If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?

Once I  had a dream job. A combination of people, wild animals and nature. A mix of education and recreation. Facing challenges and simply having fun. Exploring boundaries and breaking them. And I would LOVE to get it back.

I already lifted a tip of the veil in my post Nature Versus Coding,

“… a Dutch safari park called Beekse Bergen, where I spent a magical time.”

Back then I was a student at the University for Tourism and Recreation in Breda, and I had to write my thesis. My sub conscience whispered ‘Forget the people, survey animals!’, but recreation was what I had been studying. So I searched for ways to combine the two. Old fashioned normal zoos were out of the question: not enough space, not enough comfort, not even remotely resembling real animal life. So I applied for internship at the Safari park Beekse Bergen, the biggest wildlife park in Holland. And was accepted.

For months and months I traveled there: on bike to the station, by train to Tilburg, and then taking the bus to Hilvarenbeek- I would LOVE to hear you pronounce these cities hahaha – a one way trip of almost two hours.  I interviewed over 350 tourists, defying rain, wind, sun, wasps meandering through my fingers – with me acting cool and only becoming hysterical on the inside. And I fell in love with the place.

My thesis was about improving the safari park by exploring ways to get the people out of their cars and safari bus. In my final analysis I advised them to develop more walk- and waterways, so  visitors could lazily stroll around the park in fresh air – all with the highest security of course. We can’t have tigers padding alongside kids, can we. After my survey was finished, they asked me if I could stay on for the season, and of course I yelled YES!!!

Jeeps and Landrovers were used as means of transportation and the manager Frans – ‘Safari 1′- took me with him on his daily rounds. Soon he was tired of stopping the car, getting out to open the sluice gate, getting back behind the wheel and drive to another section of the park, only to get out again to close the gate. And I was NOT allowed to do it, wild animals and such. So he did the only thing possible: he taught me how to drive – sort of! Lazy bum 😉

One day we got an alarm call: a beautiful crowned crane had flown into the lions’ section! So we set out, racing over little hills, through bushes, with me hanging on for dear life. Frans assessed the situation, hastily coordinated his team of men over the radio… and stepped out of the car. About twenty Jeeps were holding the lions at bay, while Frans and others were chasing the not-so-bright crane.

There I was, sitting in a huge Landrover, a bunch of wild lions in the neighborhood, eying me with a too healthy appetite. I forced my heart back down my throat, crawled over to the driver’s seat and started the huge car. Hoping and praying I wouldn’t bump into animals, that the car didn’t give up on me, that I found my way back to safety. Remember, I only had driven for a couple of weeks, and then only for a few minutes each time. I never had real driving lessons. But I made it back to the sluice in one piece, wiping my sweaty palms dry on my pants. Frans petted my back and told me I had done well. The crane was also doing well, silly bird, thinking he could win from those felines!

My job was to manage an educational center with a marvelous hand painted bird exhibition. I also set up a map of information about our animals. And presented a bird of prey show! Boy o boy, was I nervous that first time, standing in front of an audience with a microphone. One day I even got attacked by a caracara. His name was ‘Gerrit’, I’ll never forget that name. In the evening, on the bus home, I sat next to a girl who asked if I was ‘the lady of the birds of prey’? Yes I was. She thought it had been totally cool, playing with the caracara. When I showed her my bloody and scratched legs, she soon hushed. Yeah, Gerrit was a playful dude.

One evening I took a walk with two African elephants and their caretaker. Broer was way ahead of me, leading the animals to their night shelter. But then the second elephant decided to check me out at close range. People, let me tell you these elephants are HUGE. I just stood there, nailed to the ground, staring in horror and awe at the approaching tank and squeaked HELPPPP in a shaky voice. Broer came running back to grab the elephant by her ear and my heart started beating again. Pfew.

On another day, I was asked to help gather the Siberian tiger cubs who were still outside in the wide tiger area, while the adults were inside. At least I hoped so! And I found one, a little one, and carried him back to the night shelter. Its total cuteness, the little mewing sounds it made, the rough feeling of the fur, the trust in his black eyes. I was melting on the spot. Unfortunately a few weeks later the tigress had loosened metal plates in the shelter, and ‘my’ cub was crushed underneath. Those things happen.

Apart from the tigers, Scottish highlanders were one of my favorite animals. They look like Beatles cows! I saw the rare mating of two rhinos. The male was called Oscar. Why on earth would my brain store this information? Beats me, but his name was Oscar. We had alarm calls to save little kids, who’s parents let them pee outside the car! In the middle of the lion section! These cats can change from sleepiness into action within seconds. Monkeys loved to strip Volvo cars. The walks we took with Giles, the tame cheetah. Ah the stories, the stories. I’m glowing from the inside, remembering all the things that happened back then.

Can you now imagine that my absolute dream job is to be Crocodile Dundee? Uhm Crocodile Dutchee? 😉 But nowadays I try to tame wild Avans students. Also a great job and big challenge.