'The station isn't a destination, it's a plot twist'

'The station isn't a destination, it's a plot twist'

For the first time in 30 years I was back at Fota Wildlife Park. How can so much time have elapsed between visits? I didn’t have a traumatic experience the first time.

As it was a school tour, probably the biggest trauma was the standard one of the 80s: having precisely one pound for sweets/spending money and wondering how to make it last. Pro-tip: Milky Moos for 40p and they had stickers.

This time was by car but the last time we came by train. It is without doubt the best train station in Ireland. You get off the train and you are in the zoo, like how it might be in Europe or an Enid Blyton book.

That’s not how trains always work in this country. The station isn’t a destination, it’s a plot twist. You get off the train and must answer a riddle and if you get it wrong, an imp takes your soul.

There are no imps at Fota but chances are you’ll meet a lemur. I remember them from the last time. I always feel like lemurs used to work on the estate and retired there because it was easier than finding them a flat in town.

Apparently there are a few individual animals who were there when I was there last and are still there – some penguins and also a Siamang Gibbon called Clyde. He doesn’t look like he recognises me. There are also Lar Gibbons there. Lar Gibbons is the most GAA name I’ve ever heard.

It should have a league trophy named after it in Laois. Speaking of GAA, you also have the cheetahs, the hurlers of the animal world. If you’re from Cork, the picture of a cheetah draped louchely across the front of the Examiner a few times a year is as persistent a cultural memory as Tanora.

In fact as a cat, the cheetah seems intrinsically Corkish. Graceful and fast and a pure natural but also a suspicion that for its natural talents it really should have won more All-Irelands in the modern era.

Whether it’s because of Brian Cody and his own cats, or for environmental reasons, it’s gone all professional for the cheetahs now at Fota. There is a pulley system to force them to do a bit of work for their food.

They chase the meat up and down the paddock before catching it.

As humans we are terrible for ascribing human emotions to animals but I really think the cheetahs were saying: REALLY? IS THIS NECESSARY? But it’s for good reason. Cheetahs won’t work for their food if they don’t have to. A philosophy I totally applaud. But they do need the exercise otherwise a cheetah will turn into a chootah.

The Asian lions are next on the cat list. We couldn’t get a glimpse of the newly named cubs. But one adult was lounging around not helping with nappies anyway. I won’t even mention the cubs’ names so miffed am I that once again no one suggests Colm as a name.

I really would like it if, for once, an ordinary name won the competition. Just once I want a new baby tiger or gorilla or tapir called Kevin or Trevor. The lion’s not going to care whether he’s called after ‘the African for sunrise’ or not.

Towards the end of the visit, I nearly made a show myself. An area was under reconstruction and was fenced off. I was so used to gazing through fences was I that I found myself absent-mindedly trying to catch sight of what was inside. The males in the troop regarded me suspiciously with their distinctive hi-vis coats and brandished a breakfast roll.

It rained while we there. Heavy warm rain. Like the rain in a rain-scene in a film set in a rainforest. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be stuck in the rain in more. I won’t leave it so long the next time.

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