Oh happy day, oh happy day…
Browsing tourism brochures sometimes pays off, and I’ve hit pay dirt this morning… the Dartmoor otter sanctuary is nearby and as an added bonus there’s a butterfly house. Chris folds pretty quickly – there’s only so long you can listen to a steady chant of “otter, otter, otter”.
England meanwhile is set to swelter through another day. The radio updates us on what’s become an unprecedented weather event: the first time temperatures have exceeded 30 degrees for 5 days in a row in over 170 years and the hottest day in over 45 years. Royal Ascot has announced, for the first time ever, that gentleman may remove their jackets and top hats. Unheard of relaxation of standards! Later, Kate Middleton wows in a somwhat sheer white lace dress, revealing a pair of sensational legs, remincent of Diana’s moment of media innocence when she was similarly snapped with the sun behind her in a sheer skirt.
The weather is a mere backdrop though, for the more important business of visiting otters. I really would love to take in the 3 attractions of this area: a rare breeds farm (red squirrels!), the otter sanctuary and the steam train that connects them, but there’s just no time as we’re only here for one day. We settle for otters today and perhaps the 3 attractions next year.
Butterflies greet us. We step into extreme humidity and are immediately rewarded with a host of butterflies flickering about of all sizes and colours. Most fascinating though is the display of pupae and butterflies emerging, pausing to catch their breath as their wings plump up ready for flight. There’s also an amazing dragon, not quite sure what he’s doing here, tortoises and of course the main attraction, otters aplenty.
The sanctuary has otters of all sorts: the small Asian ones which we have at home, native British otters and North American/Canadian otters. They are kept in pairs, supporting the lifelong relationships they form. If there is a creature more playful than an otter I’m not sure that I know about it. They frisk and gambol about offering increasingly urgent “squees” when they know feeding time is approaching.
We follow the keeper around at feeding, listening to her knowledgeable presentation. A couple follows her into the enclosures on an “otter experience”. *Dying* of jealousy. We learn about the difference between the species, international breeding programs, local otter rescue and care and all about their life cycle. These otters are in retirement, having done their bit to perpetuate the species, or been deemed unsuitable for rehabilitation and release.
We learn who’s naughty and nice, and who has to be coaxed to eat and those who don’t know when to stop…it’s the North American otters, btw. Each has their own unique and distinct personality and I’d like to take them all home. Little otter pets, they look very much like fishy, overgrown Burmese cats. Want. Want. Want. I’ve wanted one since I read Ring of Bright Water as a teenager.
Despite great plans to explore Exetor in the afternoon, the excitement has caught up to me and I crash for an unheard of afternoon nap. There’s always tomorrow.