The silver backed gorilla is not the big tough guy of popular belief. He is gentle enough to watch a ladybird wander around his finger for half an hour. In fact, the gorilla is one of the most peaceful of primates. They live in groups of up to 20 individuals with only one reproducer, a silver back that can grow up to 250kg making him the largest of the primates.
Watching them being fed without cages or fences or barriers of any kind, was a wonderful experience and it was what we did today.
We drove south, beyond Poitiers, to the small village of Romagne and into La Vallee des Singes.
The park opened in 1998 and this year celebrated its 20th anniversary. There are nearly 30 different species of primate making up more than 350 animals dotted around on islands landscaped and planted up to suit them. The humans wander round the many paths, stopping occasionally when it’s feeding time.
And not forgetting the numerous peacocks and ducks that wander wherever they want.
And they are not always separated from you by a moat. With the lemurs, for instance, they come right up to you. It’s seriously difficult not to pat them, I have to say. They are all very used to humans having been bred in captivity. There’s a European network of animal exchanges which enable the gene pool to remain varied and viable.
The park is rightly proud of its record of births at the facility. Some of them mark the first of their kind in Europe or France.
As you wander around you realise just how much love and care is lavished on the place.
La Vallee des Singes is, easily, one of the best zoos I’ve ever visited. I hate animals in cages so this place is ideal. Even the fact that it rained was not a problem. As it turned out we were having lunch when the heavens decided to stop being sunny and start being very wet. We had started outside but then made the excellent decision to move inside just before the downpour really started.
While watching the gorillas being fed was terrific it was nothing on the lemurs who seem to just ignore the people and run around like lunatics. They also make a lot of noise. According to the guide book this is the way they mark their territory. Caterwauling they call it. I call it extraordinary.
After discussing our highs of the day, Mirinda declared that her favourites had been the Mandrills. They looked so serious and so sad it was hard not to go and give them a big reassuring cuddle.
Sadly, a lot of the species we saw today are on the Critically Endangered list. This is mostly to do with habitat loss, being hunted for so-called ‘bush meat’ and from people wanting them as pets. Think about the capuchin monkey on Friends that Ross ends up with and you can see why they’re endangered. These incredible animals deserve to live their own lives and not to provide entertainment for humans…unless they really, really want to.
There is a lot of talk around this part of France with regard to Futuroscope which might be amazing but, truly, honestly, La Vallee des Singes is just too incredible to miss.
Back at the chateau, we rested up before heading out to a restaurant supposedly in a town called Cisse. It’s actually five kilometres from Cisse, at the edge of an industrial estate with the most appalling signage I think I’ve ever seen. Actually, the signage was so bad that a complete lack of signage would have been an improvement.
Still, eventually we found it though by that stage Mirinda was not in the best of moods. Her mood wasn’t improved when we walked in and the place was empty but for us. Her immediate reaction was to suggest we leave. I managed to get her to sit and the meal was fine. Nothing too fancy but delicious. Her decision to stay was helped massively by the sudden appearance of an amuse bouche which was divine.
They also had some mighty fine wine. And the cheese was serious.
The orange edged cheese bottom left in the photo above is the strongest cheese I have ever tasted. Mirinda insisted I try it even though the woman begged me not to. It smelled very strongly of something long dead and rotting wrapped in smelly socks for a year before being left in a pile of mulch. It was pretty powerful. I ate it anyway.
Which reminds me…my tummy troubles have evaporated. All is well after yesterday’s explosive episodes.
Tomorrow the plan is go to the Abbey of Saint-Sauvin and its World Heritage frescoes. A pity Bob can’t be with us.