It’s almost 3 years since Margaret and I were on safari in Tanzania, an experience never to be forgotten and one for which I hope to do again sometime. Well, my aspiration was somewhat met recently, on a visit to West Midlands Safari Park – about a 25km drive west of Birmingham, near the town of Bewdley, in Worstershire. For the most part it is a drive-thru safari park, allowing you and your vehicle to literally rub shoulders with some otherwise shoulder-tearing wildlife. I hadn’t high expectations of the place, given being on safari in the heart of England, just didn’t seem quite right. But, amazingly the park presented a number of surprises with the proximity it gave us to many animals, and namely the Big Cats. In fact, for a number of animals, it put us closer than that we experienced in Tanzania. Take the cheetah for example. In the surrounds of so much wildlife in the Ngorongoro Crater, we came across a lone cheetah, on it’s haunches peering through golden grasses – nearly camouflaged save for the cavalcade of safari jeeps already observing and pointing it out for us. That cheetah was viewed at a distance of about 30 metres away. In West Midland Safari Park, however, we were put within 5 metres of one – as is demonstrated in this shot below.
Of course, not all the animals were allowed to roam freely in the park. Despite you being in your vehicle, several of the larger cats were still within wired enclosures. This proved a bit of a photography challenge, but I was amazed at a couple of the opportunities that presented themselves. Take for example, that of the White Tiger. I was hopeful of just one full body shot of this magnificent cat, without it being obscured by its wire boundary, but to my good fortune, a white tiger sat on a small mound, gazing into the air with the breeze in it’s face. Looking at this photo below you would not think you were in a wildlife park in the middle of England. The colours give it a surreal air.
Of course no experience of a white tiger is complete, without that of a white lion. Must admit, I thought the white lion was the reserve of cartoon fiction, but they do exist. The white lion is native to a small region of South Africa, and is distinctly a blonder shade than that of its central African cousin. We watched a couple of white lions play with one another for a good 10 minutes. Below is a sample of one of many shots I took.
The most comical event of the day, came towards the end of the drive-thru, when passing the enclosure of the Bengal Tiger. This part of the park allowed you to wind your windows down of the car, despite the wired area being no different to that of it’s white cousin. So, as I took a photo of one large Bengal Tiger pacing the perimeter fence, mere feet from the car, we were all quite nonplussed when a splatter of water hit the car in a flick of a ginger tail. Not quite water actually, but urine. The beast had taken a liking to both car and occupants and we officially became a part of it’s territory. My passengers were shocked, astounded, in hysterics. My car, for which I had barely owned for a week, had just been Christened by a Bengal Tiger, in the heart of England. Now, there was a random event, if ever there was to be a random event. Below is the shot I took of the tiger’s profile, moments before it sprayed us.
Stripes, Bengal Tiger, West Midlands Safari Park
The cats of West Midlands Safari Park, weren’t all reserved for the drive through enclosures. They saved, arguably their most magnificent cat for the pedestrian part of the park. This park is a bit fun-fare like and quite tacky. However, it is saved by the reptile house and the Amur Leopard enclosure. The Amur Leopard, a native to eastern Russia and northern Mongolia is a beautiful animal. Very distinctly a leopard, like it’s African cousin which we had seen a number of times in the Serengeti – however, the most noticeable difference was its thick tail.
All in all a great day out at the Safari Park. I would highly recommend a visit. It hasn’t gone so far as to quell that desire to see more of Africa, but it at least gave me some practice photographing some wildlife at a safe distance. For all of the above photos, I used a Canon 5D Mark II SLR with a 70-300mm IS lens.
You can see this and more of the photos taken at West Midlands Safari Park here.