Doing battle with daily dragons

Monday, April 11, 2005

Wild Kingdom

Just a little wildlife update: We had a pheasant in the garden yesterday evening. His name is Pete. This is why you should never let boys name animals.

We’ve heard him doing his rusty door hinge/car slamming on breaks impression for the last few weeks, but I had yet to actually get a look at him until he wandered into the garden last night, looking handsome, yet vacant at the same time. Pheasant plumage is beautiful up close. A luminous rusty orange, a black iridescent head and fabulous red mask. Most people only get to see them briefly in the headlights of their car before they become colorful roadkill, (They are not the cleverest of birds.) but it was wonderful to see one close up and moving around like a stately Lord of the Backyard.

There’s some fascinating wildlife here in the Shires. Although this is due mostly to nearby Whipsnade Zoo. There are 3 species that roam our hills freely that you might not expect to encounter in rural England.

- Chinese Water Deer or “Munkjacks”
- Wallabies
- Elephants

Okay, the elephants aren’t actually free range or anything. The good folks at the zoo like to take them on walks in the Ashridge forest. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be a visiting hiker encountering an elephant in the English wilderness.

“Look, Emma, there’s a Blue Tit sitting over there on that branch! See him? Right between the AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

The wallabies and munkjacks are escapees from the animal penitentiary. Apparently both species managed to elude authorities and now have flourishing colonies on the surrounding hills. It’s very odd indeed to be driving through the Chilterns and catching sight of a bouncing wallaby out of the corner of your eye.

I know some people get their knickers in a huge twist about zoos. And obviously, the welfare of animals needs to be first and foremost, but my feeling is that they are an extreme boon for the conservation movement. It’s all well and good to tell our children that despoiling the habitat of the tiger is wrong, but until they actually SEE the magnificence of such an animal, the tiger is merely theoretical; a picture in National Geographic or just so much moving light on a David Attenbourgh special. It’s harder to look such a beast directly in the eyes and say,“Your survival doesn’t matter.”

Preachy bit over.