Paradise Wildlife Park – Tea with the Tigers
Tea with the Tigers isn’t something I’d usually recommend.
It’s the kind of activity that sounds like it might result in a nasty stomach ache – for the tigers who’ve just made you their latest meal.
But at Paradise Wildlife Park the whole experience is much safer all round.
I visited the park, formerly Broxbourne Zoo, in Hertfordshire last year.
The first thing to note about Paradise Wildlife Park is that there is plenty going on there: a large play area for those with children, some of the most beautiful big cats you will ever see, a thriving conservation programme and knowledgeable guides and staff.
The park is most proud of its white lions, which occur very rarely in the wild and are born to tawny coloured parents when both the mother and father carry the recessive gene that causes the white fur.
Some experts estimate this to happen as little as once every 20 to 30 years. They are not albinos, but are in fact leucistic and have normal coloured eyes.
Leucism is a reduction in the pigmentation of the skin. In captivity, white lions are ambassadors for their species, helping to raise important funds for conservation projects overseas.
10 Facts about White Lions
1) White Lions are not albinos, but a genetic rarity unique to one endemic region on the globe: the Timbavati region.
2) The Genetic Marker that makes White Lions unique has not yet been identified by science.
3) The White Lions are currently classified under the general species classification Panthera leo, although this is likely to change after the genetic research undertaken by the Global White Lion Protection Trust reveals important reasons for sub-speciation of this rare phenotype.
4) The earliest recorded sighting of white lions in the Timbavati region was in 1938. However, the oral records of African elders indicate that these unique animals survived in this region for many centuries.
5) The unique white lion gene is carried by certain of the tawny coloured lions in the region, and white cubs occurred in numerous prides in the region.
6) Since their discovery by the West, white lions and those lions carrying the unique gene have been hunted, and forcibly removed from their natural endemic habitat.
7) The last white lion was seen in the wild in 1994, after which time they were technically extinct in the wild.
8) The idea that white lions are genetically inferior to ordinary tawny lions has not been scientifically tested.
9) The idea that White Lions cannot survive in the wild due to perceived lack of camouflage has not been scientifically tested.
10) Currently, there is no law nationally or internationally that protects the White Lions from being wiped off the face of the earth.
Snow leopards are also popular in Paradise.
Unable to continuously roar like a lion, these cats have a number of other vocalisations include hissing, chuffing, growling and wailing.
They have very furry feet and are very reclusive, hard to find animals, mainly preying on wild sheep, goats and small mammals.
They come originally from the Tibetan region of China and the Himalayas.
Their furry feet protect them in the snow and their tails are nearly as long as their body length and they use them to wrap around their faces, like a scarf to keep warm.
When I visited the park, one of the main attractions was Turkana; at that time the only tawny lion left there.
Turkana’s story was a sad one; his twin sister Mana had recently died, and the old cat – I was told – was pining for her.
Mana and Turkana were born at the park on October 9, 1996 to lions Jade and Blanco, and lived there together until she died.
The pair were handreared by keeper Nick Loudon.
Sadly, Turkana has since died as well, after 17 years at the park.
But there has since been some brighter news with the birth of a new white lion cub, Zuri.
The female cub was born to parents Kya and Moto on January 26.
And if that doesn’t get you rushing down to Paradise, check out this video of two of the park’s lionesses chasing an impromptu lunch option.
I don’t think this bird was expecting Tea with the Tigers either…