Tuesday 7 April 2009

If you were wondering, they're lorikeets at Paradise Park

This month, there is a 4 page spread in the Astronomy Now magazine about Galaxy Zoo 2. Sadly, it's not available online, but it's worth a read (you should be able to get it at some newsagents or supermarkets). It begins with the wonderful Carl Sagan quote: "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be discovered." We start off with the basics of galaxy classification and how Kevin and Chris turned our "problem" of too much data into the public project we now know and love. It then discusses the red spirals, switching-off of star formation and the effects of the environment, and goes on to "odd" features and whether perhaps the Hubble classification should be a continuum rather than discrete "E" and "S" classifications. There's a lot of information in the article, not all of which is on the forum yet. Tantalising hints again . . . !

There is a nice box about the work of one of our new astronomers, Ben Hoyle, and another box about how one zooaholic became addicted, with the following picture:

This is a huge cage named "Flight of the Rainbows" in a conservation zoo named Paradise Park in Hayle, Cornwall. I've been goodness knows how many times in over 20 years, and it never fails to produce that big daft grin on my face. The birds are lorikeets, and they are adorable! They live in a huge flock and scream to high heaven, and love perching on people. You can go and buy a little tub of glucose and cod liver oil for 50p and they'll come and sit on you and often shriek in your ear, climb in your hair, etc. When I was about 16, one of them got very attached to this particular jumper and spent a good hour or so climbing around in it. (Yes, they can be a bit messy, so take a spare shirt and a lot of tissue paper . . .) They have the most amazing tongues, like thick pipe-cleaners with a bit of grey-blue fluff on the end!
Paradise Park is also home to otters, pretty much my favourite wild animal, which used to be very endangered by miserable sadists hunting them (remember Tarka the Otter and Ring of Bright Water?):

Do you remember the red panda who escaped from his zoo in Birmingham? A couple of them live at Paradise Park, too. They have the sweetest faces, but don't turn them to the public very often. I got a shot of the most amazing tail, though . . .
(I knew my cat Cassie reminded me of something . . .)
One of their features is flying displays. There are birds of prey every day - I'll never forget watching a lanner falcon fly; my childhood memory supplies me with a speed of over 100 m.p.h. stated by the devoted keeper and demonstrator. Or their beloved old barn owl, Barnaby. Sometimes children in the audience can try on the glove and have the bird sit on their hand. The only problem is how devastating it is for little ones not to be chosen! More recently they've added demonstrations of parrots flying, and the stories about them - their natural habitats and behaviour, or their mistreatment (or well-meaning lack of luck) with their former owners. They've trained cockatoos to collect pound coins from visitors' hands. Believe me, it is well worth paying £1 to have a cockatoo come and pick it out of your hand with its beak!

There is also a play area called the Jungle Barn, a sweet little steam train (yes, I did go on it aged 26), a nice pub just outside the park (and they stamp your hand with a parrot or monkey so you can go back in again), a flamingo-filled garden, and a farm with goats and pigs. Again, you can buy a bag of food to feed them. (They get a set amount of food every day so presumably feed them whatever people don't buy.) Just before you get to the farm, there is a nice hot washbasin on the left, and a reminder to wash your hands after doing this. And on the right is a shed full of rodents - rabbits, chinchillas etc. The chinchillas have a long, long drainpipe spanning not only all around the shed, but out of the shed and into another little hutch across the path. You never know when a chinchilla might zoom above your head while you amble innocently along, perhaps laughing at the ginger pigs or the goat who ate a hole in your jacket pocket to get at the paper bag! They really zoom, so you can see they need the racing track. I dread to think what happens if two collide - CERN springs to mind - but I expect they hear each other's footsteps . . .

Anyway, it's a wonderful day out, and easy to find. It's also doing a great job with conservation. One of its projects is the World Parrot Trust. A third of all parrot species worldwide are threatened; I remember a heartbreaking statistic from when I was little, showing a beautiful bird with the label "Only 15 left". They're threatened both by the destruction of their habitat and by poaching. Birds are a good indicator of how the environment is doing generally; if they're flourishing, probably the plants and insects and other, less noticeable wildlife is, too. And on a more personable (but less fair or scientific) level, parrots are so intelligent and sweet! The World Parrot Trust is an international effort, with a great many projects under way. So if you ever happen to get a card or letter from me, it might well have a parrot or two for decoration - which will most probably have come from the Paradise Park shop!

No comments: