Thursday, 24 July 2014

A day at Barcelona Zoo

When The Boy and I went to Barcelona recently, it was inevitable that we would visit Barcelona Zoo. We only had one whole day to explore Barcelona, so had planned to do a quick visit of the zoo, but we ended up spending about five hours there.

Being another city zoo, it's hard not to draw parallels to London Zoo, from the similar entrance gate (as modelled by The Boy,above), to the setting in a large park.

As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by a free-roaming peacock, which we later discovered was one of many. Although it was nice to see them walking freely, this particular one was being terrorised by a small Spanish child or two.

One of the first exhibits we visited was the gorilla house. Having walked through the museum-style exhibit about the gorillas of Barcelona Zoo, including lots of information about Snowflake, the only known albino gorilla ever to have existed (photo of a photo below), we were surprised to find ourselves back outside without having seen an actual gorilla. Perhaps they no longer have gorillas, we thought, and continued on our whirlwind tour. Later in the day, we found the gorillas, right over the other side of the zoo..a slightly odd set-up, and we weren't the only visitors who seemed confused by this, but a trip to the gift shop revealed that Snowflake (no longer aboard this mortal earth) is the zoo's celebrity animal, hence the reason for the exhibition.
One of the things that Barcelona Zoo does well, and London Zoo could learn from (it was really hard not to make comparisons) is the announcement of animal talks and shows on a zoo-wide tanoy system a few minutes before they start. This is how we found ourselves seated in an auditorium, waiting for the dolphin show.

"Show" is a controversial word in captive zoology anyway, and marine animal shows have caused a lot of controversy over the last couple of years, so I was a bit hesitant about watching a dolphin show, but I think it's always important to make your own mind up about these things.
The show consisted of two dolphins taking it in turn to perform tricks such as jumping over a rope in the middle of the pool. Although there is an argument that it is important to keep intelligent animals such as dolphins mentally stimulated, I am against animals performing tricks for the public, regardless of the animal's mental capabilities. This, combined with the fact that it wasn't possible to see the dolphins at any time of day except when they were performing (and therefore it wasn't possible to see their enclosure, or even if they had an enclosure other than the one used for the show) left me feeling a little uncomfortable.

After the show we continued out tour of the zoo. The Boy was very exited about seeing the Komodo dragons, and even more excited when he learned there were baby ones in the reptile house.

My absolute favourite animal of the day was this bear. I don't think I've ever seen a bear in real life before, and he/she was absolutely adorable. In the picture above, a silly woman was leaning over into the enclosure and encouraging him to reach out for her. Eventually he got fed up of being tormented and sat back down, before going for a paddle in his river. I dragged The Boy back to visit him three times throughout the day, and it still wasn't enough!

This was just a snapshot of our day. We saw so many more animals, including lions, tigers, zebras, rhinos, hippos, pygmy hippos, elephants, cheetahs, giraffes, jaguars, as many primates as you could possibly think of, even an elusive red panda. In fact the only animals we could think of that were missing from the collection were giant pandas and okapi.

Overall the zoo uses space - something of a commodity for city zoos - very well, with the majority of enclosures large and well-designed. The lion and tiger enclosures, however, got me down. Side by side, each enclosure consisted of a few rocks and a bit of glass. There seemed to be no stimulation for the animals, and not a lot of shelter.

Conclusion: Overall, Barcelona Zoo is a great zoo with plenty of animals to see, and is worth a visit. The majority of the animals are well cared for, with decent enclosures. A couple of the enclosures are questionable, such as the lion and tiger terraces, which seemed to have little stimulation, and the dolphin shows are still a major minus in my opinion.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Abseiling down Earl's Court

Yesterday was the day of my sponsored abseil down the outside of the iconic Earl's Court. (If you missed it, something adventurous + something iconically London + something that helps London = my idea of heaven).

The information that I had been sent before hand stated that dressing up for the abseil was very much encouraged, provided the costume didn't interfere with the safety harness and helmet. Mainly out of laziness, I declined the opportunity to dress up, instead opting for my lion t-shirt from London Zoo and black trousers (they were new yesterday morning, if that counts as "making an effort"?).

Walking through Earl's Court station, I was beginning to feel like I had made a massive faux pas by not donning a costume. The outfits that we passed! Every superhero that I could name, and several I couldn't. And was that an actual SCYTHE that just walked past. Surely abseiling with something so dangerous attached throws up all sorts of health and safety issues?

Imagine my relief when we arrived outside Earl's Court and saw that Comic Con, the biggest gathering of comic book, fantasy and superhero fanatics known to mankind, was also taking place at Earl's Court that day, which explained the costumes.

When my turn came round, I got harnessed up and a group of four of us headed to the roof. Until this point, I'd been focused on the getting down, and hadn't really thought about how we'd get up to the roof - a behind the scenes lift soon solved that.
Once on the roof, the views were amazing. We were looking over (and abseiling down) the main facade of Earl's Court, on the main road, directly opposite the station. But the panoramic view let us see from Chelsea football club, all the way round to Wembley Stadium, with the rest of London's iconic structures in between. It's unusual to catch a great view of London from so far West, and interesting to see structures such as the Natural History Museum and Royal Albert Hall thrown into the foreground for once, instead of lost amongst the metal and glass further East.

We spent a good 45 minutes enjoying the view whilst the group in front of us did their thing. So far so good, it seemed to be going well, and I was excited for my turn. The first person to go from our group was a lady who was very scared of heights, but she seemed to set off successfully (once a person stepped over the edge, they disappeared almost immediately from our rooftop view.
Next up was a girl about my age. She hadn't admitted to being too nervous beforehand, but as she climbed up the ladder to the platform of doom, it was clear that she was shaking a lot. Part of the correct abseiling position is having your legs completely straight, but she was shaking so much, it took her a few minutes before her knees would actually straighten. Couple that with the next guy who stepped off and promptly chest-slammed into the building, winding himself, and by the time my go came around, I was feeling quite nervous.    
The worst thing was not the height. I was more than happy looking straight down at the ground 70ft below. The worst thing was putting my trust into the rope. As I leaned back over the edge, the rope was slack, and I had no idea how far back I would have to lean until it became taught, and no way to control my speed until that happened. On the first attempt, I freaked out when I leaned back and pulled myself back upright. Big mistake, as on my second attempt of leaning back, the rope was now looser than the first time, making it even scarier.

Once I'd stepped over the edge, I was on my way and it was all over relatively quickly and painlessly, although my legs were still like jelly for over an hour afterwards!

Massive thanks to everyone who sponsored me! The lions and I all appreciate it!