It’s not every day a rhino peers through your bedroom window.
I’m standing in the bedroom, sipping black coffee, watching a rhino watching me. It’s not your average Wednesday morning. It’s Day Two of our stay in Leopard Creek at Port Lympne Hotel and Reserve.
Leopard Creek consists of 5 luxury wooden cabins set in lush landscaped parkland. There are also 2 Wigwams. All have gorgeous sea-facing views over the Kent countryside. And – as befits the name – there are two breathtaking Amur leopards. They roam in a large bespoke enclosure – hills, rocks, space for sprinting. Today, they are both out, playing and basking in the sunshine.
We arrived in the tail end of Storm Eunice. Rain, wind, fallen leaves and branches. There were many humans to be seen, queuing for check-in, parking cars, walking, playing, driving golf buggies. But not so many wild animals. They were being sensible, sheltering from the weather.
Port Lympne doesn’t shut its animals into viewing sections. Each enclosure is specially designed for the animal. High, intricate wooden structures for the monkeys, open hilly grassland and play areas with swings and slides for the gorillas, lots of vegetation for the smaller cats. There is always somewhere to hide. If the animal doesn’t want to be on display (or if it’s raining!) they may decide to stay indoors.
These 600 acres are home to over 900 animals and 75 species of animals. The Hotel and Reserve is run in conjunction with The Aspinall Foundation. This charity’s core aim is to help stop the extinction of endangered animals and release them back into the wild wherever possible. On our hour-long Safari tour, we travel through a Kentish Savannah. Trevor, our tour guide, tells us how he’s having to travel around the opposite direction due to the storms. He points out Rosie the Rhino as we are setting off:
‘ Rosie is a real character. She is my favourite animal, even though she nearly killed me one day. I’ll tell you more about Rosie later…’
We drive past the giraffes, their almost reptilian faces peering out of their shelter. The February weather isn’t very appealing to them, they are staying indoors in their centrally heated house.
As we turn the corner, the drive points out a spot where Rosie the Rhino held everybody up for 2 hours by lying in front of the truck. The keepers tried everything to move her, but Rosie was having none of it. ‘As result we don’t go back to Basecamp that way any more!’, says Trevor.
And how did Rosie nearly kill Trevor? Rosie was a rescue rhino, used to being in an enclosed space. On arriving at Port Lympne, she was put in a large open enclosure. One day, she charged at Trevor as he was driving people on a safari – the keepers realised her behaviour was because she was agoraphobic – the open space scared her.
After our safari, we went through the Wallaby Walkthrough. One of the Wallabies was lying on its side, panting, licking its foot. Its friend stood over it, staring inquisitively at us. Not being experts in Wallaby behaviour, we thought we’d better get it looked at. Typically, as the keeper walked up to it, the wallaby was standing up, but it looked like there could have been a mark on its left foot. It was in the right space now, with the keeper looking at it.
We started chatting to the fundraiser Kate. Kate told us about Howelett’s the sister sanctuary near Canterbury. Kate told us this could be one of our last opportunities to see the herd as they are going to a sanctuary in Kenya in Spring 2022.
‘The UK Government now doesn’t allow elephants to breed in captivity. We have two bull males, they are almost 10 years old. This is the age where they will start roaming further afield. They are getting frisky. Some of our ladies want to breed and they can’t. Elephants in captivity often only live for 18-30 years, one of ours died recently and she was 58 .Elephants in the wild can live for 60 years or more.’ (sort out this quote)
13 elephants on a jumbo jet. Qatar airlines. All the seats will be removed and the animals loaded in crates ‘We are getting them used to the crates. We are putting food in there.
Kate is looking emotional as she’s speaking. The elephants will be hugely missed.
PHOTO OF ELEPHANT TO GO HERE
The next day – seeing the elephants being let out of their house, walking slowly and regally to their field. Two of the elephant children are playing – jumping on each other’s heads, and other parts….
You don’t have to travel as far as Kenya to go on Safari. You can see rhinos, leopards, lions plus many more beautiful creatures in Kent. It’s not cheap but it is a holiday with a conservation consciousness. You’ll make memories to last a lifetime – go and see the elephants while you still can!