Inside The Walls, Part II
I was still looking over my shoulder and trying to capture a few more images of the beautiful Arabian Oryx as our guide was motioning our group forward. His arm waving and gesturing so we would all keep up with his speedy pace.
As we walked he explained that despite his numerous requests for a hole to be patched at the badger cage between the enclosure and the concrete base it had not been done. Two Honey Badgers had escaped. I stopped in my tracks. My feet creating a dust cloud from my urgent halt. I was in the middle of the group. The girl behind me almost ran into me. I muttered an apology and followed – concerned. As we walked he explained how vicious badgers could be. He claimed that it wasn’t good news that they had escaped. I thought this was an understatement.
I’m going to be honest. All of this sort of made me want to run the other direction. In reality, it was daylight and badgers probably weren’t running around. However, there were four men searching the cages, reviewing the cages, repairing the cages and talking rapidly in Arabic about the badgers escape. It was intimidating. Was it just me or did this not seem safe? I mean, the badgers could be hiding in a rock over there – right!? Oh well, everyone else seemed okay with it, eventually we moved on and I forgot that there was a badger prowling around.
I suppose I forgot because I kept becoming increasingly fascinated with the trip. The aspiring animal welfare student in our group kept challenging our guide’s knowledge and experience. I would not have been as patient as he was about it. The photographers amongst the group were rushing to keep up and still get enough time to capture the best shots. We whispered about aperture and shutter speed. The young Omani men in the group translated for us when the guide was talking to the employees about the animals. Each enclosure was more interesting than the rest.
We approached an enclosure of young cheetahs. They had been rescued when they were being smuggled across the boarder illegally. They were under 6 months old and seemed to display more urge to play and practice their skills than be tough. They were very interested in us as we stood outside the cage and peered in.
Three of us were allowed to enter their enclosure and it became apparent that the cheetahs were more used to people inside the cage than visitors outside. We stood in their cage looking at the back of them while they stood staring out the fence at the rest of our group. It was quite hilarious because they simply ignored us. One finally decided to pay attention, got brave and mock charged us but collapsed in the sand before getting very close. They were adorable, but they will be serious predatory machines before long. I hope they maintain their spirit and are returned to the wild some day soon.
We moved on in the tour and saw the Sand Cat, Caracal, Arabian Wolf, Sand Fox, and a variety of birds including vultures and falcons.
The birds and animals were stunning. Yet, my biggest shock was walking up to an enclosure labeled with the words “Arabian Leopard.” I looked up from the sign to see the shining eyes of a beautiful creature looking down at me.
I wished I had a hovercraft so I could fly above her and see her whole body. As I wished for this I heard a growl and I turned slightly to my right. The man next to me had somehow upset another leopard. With a powerful roar the animal flew in the air from some invisible crevice in the rock to defend his space and stare down the enemy.
I don’t know what happened between those two and would never condone someone taunting an animal. Honestly, I think the enticement was an accident. As a result of their unexpected interaction I will forever be in awe of the Arabia Leopard’s speed and grace.
His coat was sleek, the way I would imagine a panther. When I look at a tiger I imagine them feeling coarse, but soft and furry like a German Shepard. The coat of the leopard gave the allure that it would feel like silk. His coloring was mellow and elegant. His movements were swift and deliberate. The creature was simply stunning to me.
We rushed off from their cages shortly after that to avoid any further disturbances, but I will not forget the surreal exchange we all had that day.
The Arabian Leopard is in serious danger of extinction and it feels like a great privilege to see one. I didn’t get a chance to ask about their breeding program, but I hope we find space in the world to save large predators.
Here in the Arabian Gulf region animal conservation faces the same issues as everywhere else. Lack of funding, social unrest and lack of education are just some of the battles that must be fought here and around the world.
I would consider myself a conservation hobbyist. I am passionate about the issues around animal conservation. I think it is a very important topic. I read endless books about conservation heroes and donate money to causes, but I don’t really know how to be a helpful conservationist.
Conservation is a challenging topic and can be quite complicated. I am happy to see that here in Oman where governmental budget is needed for infrastructure, education and development there is still a concern and plan for conservation and breeding.