Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park

After the SVPCA conference in Lyme Regis ended, I decided to visit a tiny but amazingly well-stocked little zoo about ten minutes away from the town by car. Despite this, the zoo is in Devon, while Lyme is in Dorset. Obviously, although it had escaped my attention, Lyme is very close to the border between the two counties.

Anyway, I arrived too early to get entry to Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, near the town of Axminster in, as we have already established, Devon (albeit almost in Dorset). When it opened, I would have been surprised to see a nice variety of creatures, if I hadn’t already looked up the zoo on its own website and on zootierlist.de, the best guide to European zoos and wildlife parks on the web. I came particularly to see two rarely seen carnivores and a nice mix of unusual rodents; more on those in a bit.

There are several aviaries, each with a nice mix of species, both common-place (e.g. mallards [Anas platyrhynchos] and various breeds of chicken), and less usual (including demoiselle crane [Anthropoides virgo] and Magellan goose [Chloephaga picta]). The first ‘aviary’ (one inhabitant obviously doesn’t fly, I’ll leave that to the reader to figure out) to be seen includes: white stork (Ciconia ciconia), Puna ibis (Plegadis ridgwayi), Javan green peafowl (Pavo muticus muticus), white-cheeked turaco (Tauraco leucotis), marbled teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris), white-cheeked pintail (Anas bahamensis), and parma wallaby (Macropus parma). Another contained oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), speckled pigeon (Columba guinea), grey-headed swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio poliocephalus), little egret (Egretta garzetta), and some sort of quail I was unable to identify (see below if you can help!).



Demoiselle crane
Anthropoides virgo (Linnaeus, 1758)
Gruidae; Gruiformes; Aves; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011



White-cheeked turaco
Tauraco leucotis (Rüppell, 1835)
Musophagidae; Musophagiformes; Aves; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011





Normal (above) and leucistic white-cheeked pintails
Anas bahamensis Linnaeus, 1758
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011



Eurasian oystercatcher
Haematopus ostralegus Linnaeus, 1758
Haematopodidae; Charadriiformes; Aves; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011



Unidentified quail
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011

The park is lacking in herpetofauna, with only some species of commercially available testudine (including Horsfield’s tortoise [Testudo horsfieldii] and painted turtle [Chrysemys picta]), and mainly has a good variety of relatively non-threatening mammals and birds. The order Rodentia is well-represented, with black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), Hokkaido red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris orientis), Siberian chipmunk (Tamias sibiricus), Prevost’s squirrel (Callosciurus prevostii), degu (Octodon degus), Azara’s agouti (Dasyprocta azarae), North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), and crested porcupine (Hystrix cristata). By far my favourite of these is the Hokkaido red squirrel; it is much the same species as the red squirrel found in Europe but the coat colour is different (less red and more brown) and has extremely long ear tufts. They turned out to be extremely tough to photograph because they don’t stay still, so what you see here is the best I could manage.







Hokkaido red squirrel
Sciurus vulgaris orientis Thomas, 1906
Sciuridae; Rodentia; Mammalia; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011

As for carnivorans, the list includes Asiatic short-clawed otter (Aonyx cinerea), North American raccoon (Procyon lotor), ring-tailed coati (Nasua nasua), banded mongoose (Mungos mungo), yellow mongoose (Cynictis penicillata), suricate (Suricata suricatta, you know, the thing everyone else calls ‘meerkat’), and two critters I came all this way to see: common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), and raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides).



Common palm civet
Paradoxurus hermaphroditus (Pallas, 1777)
Viverridae; Carnivora; Mammalia; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011

The common palm civet, or toddy cat, is a widespread small viverrid from south and southeast Asia and is found in many urban areas such as Singapore. It’s a surprise they’re not more well known than they are, for a number of reasons. Firstly, civets (albeit not palm civets but civets proper) are partly responsible for the perfume industry, by producing a pungent musk from glands around the anus. The common palm civets do smell wonderfully musky, a bit foxy or ferret-like, only stronger. Also, the common palm civet is known to be partial to fermenting palm juice, hence its alternate name of ‘toddy cat’. But the species has gained notoriety in recent years for being responsible for kopi luwak. If you think you haven’t heard of that, you’re probably wrong. You may not have known it was a civet that was responsible for this, but palm civets that enjoy eating coffee beans are tracked down somehow and their excreta are sorted and sterilised (hopefully), as the coffee beans have passed through their digestive tract almost unchanged, only the bitter coating from the beans has been digested. The resulting coffee, which is rather expensive, might I add, is apparently excellent-tasting without any of the bitterness otherwise associated with coffee. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never tried kopi luwak, but I’d certainly try it if I was offered it.









Raccoon dogs
Nyctereutes procyonoides (Gray, 1834)
Canidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011

The raccoon dog is another species not seen much in western zoos. It is a species of dog, supposedly rather basal within the Canidae, but could be closely allied with the zorros or South American foxes. It is native to eastern Asia from Far Eastern Russia south through Korea and China into northern Indochina, as well as Japan. It is known as tanuki in that latter nation, and is well known as part of ancient Japanese folklore. One of the things about male Japanese raccoon dogs which I’ve failed to notice is that they have disproportionately large testicles (apparently…), and this is represented in tanuki statues as backpacks flung over their shoulders. There’s even a children’s schoolyard song mentioning this. Tanukis are also known for their shape-shifting ability (I’m still talking mythologically here). Raccoon dogs are otherwised famed for their luxurious fur. Russian dogs were exported from the Far East to eastern Europe and as is the case with many fur-bearers, some escaped and have been spreading throughout continental Europe over the past century. Another reason raccoon dogs should be better known is their domesticity. It’s a myth that the only canid that has been domesticated is the grey wolf (Canis lupus). You may have also heard of domesticated Russian silver foxes (actually a colour morph of the cosmopolitan red fox, Vulpes vulpes), but raccoon dogs are mild-tempered and apparently domesticate well. They even come in alternate colour morphs, including a pure white one, but this probably derives from the selective breeding involved in the fur industry rather than from domesticity. I’ve yet to see raccoon dogs for sale in the pet trade, but it’s only a matter of time, I reckon.

Anyway, here are some photos of some of the other cool creatures at Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park:



European great grey owl
Strix nebulosa lapponica Thunberg, 1798
Strigidae; Strigiformes; Aves; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011



Timneh grey parrot
Psittacus erithacus timneh Fraser, 1844
Psittacidae; Psittaciformes; Aves; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011



Blue eared-pheasant
Crossoptilon auritum (Pallas, 1811)
Phasianidae; Galliformes; Aves; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011



Southern white-faced owls
Ptilopsis granti (Kollibay, 1910)
Strigidae; Strigiformes; Aves; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011



Western roe deer fawn
Capreolus capreolus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Cervidae; Cetartiodactyla; Aves; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011



Sarus crane
Grus antigone (Linnaeus, 1758)
Gruidae; Gruiformes; Aves; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011



Cape Barren goose
Cereopsis novaehollandiae Latham, 1801
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011



Leucistic greater rhea
Rhea americana (Linnaeus, 1758)
Rheidae; Rheiformes; Aves; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011



Tawny owl
Strix aluco Linnaeus, 1758
Strigidae; Strigiformes; Aves; Chordata
Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park, Devon
September 2011

Just one more thing, notice the lack of bars around the tawny owl? Not just good camera work there, I suspect it’s a wild owl not just a feral or escaped one.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the write up. I live in Devon and didn't know about this place so will have to visit sometime.
The Tamar otter and wildlife centre just north of Launceston, Cornwall is worth a visit next time you are in the SW. Not open over winter.

cheers phil

Kitchen Benchtops said...

Impressive!

Martin Pleister said...

The Southern White Faced Owls are suddenly not amused, they only look like that when they interpret something as a huge threat to themselves...

Anonymous said...

thanks for share...