Our first visit to Haute Touche parc animalier (wildlife park) was in August 2006, shortly after we’d moved to France. We combined a trip there with a visit to a prospective fish supplier at nearby Le Blanc in Indre.
This year’s visit had a fishy connection too. This time we dropped into Vigean’s warehouse at Clion first to stock up on bags of hemp for our fishing clients. Vigean also process and sell nut, vegetable and flower oils, and it has a wonderful shop of organic products where we had a good browse. But more about that in another blog.
Then on to the animals. Haute Touche is France’s largest animal park. It’s a safari park crossed with a zoo. You drive the first 4 km from the entrance gate (where I paid €33 entrance for two adults and two children, a good bit more than five years ago!) past enclosures of rare varieties of goats and deer before you get to the parking. We had our sandwiches in the car while we waited for it to stop raining, then set off, cameras in hand and raincoats in bags.
There had been a sort of treasure trail for kids to follow, we remembered, so we called to the small shop to ask if there was still something similar. Caiti did the talking. The shop assistant had to ask her to repeat the question more slowly since she hadn’t caught what Caiti had said. That was quite a marker of how French my kids have become since our last visit! The upshot was that the quiz no longer existed. The shop now hires bikes and binoculars out at a furious rate, so I guess the free treasure trail went by the wayside in favour of earning more income.
The first animals we saw were, rather mundanely for us, llamas and alpacas! However, not far away were their wild ancestors – guanacos and vicunas respectively. That was much more interesting, especially as one of the guanacos only had one eye. Spooky.
Four alpacas were wandering loose, intentionally, which was a surprise. I wouldn’t leave an alpaca to mix freely with people, especially kids. My mild-mannered Plunkett kicked Brendan’s front teeth out last year. Alpacas have a powerful kick and it would be very easy for a toddler to get to close to an alpaca’s back end, something they don’t like. Also, one of the alpacas was in very bad need of having his teeth filed. That was pretty unimpressive.
Milling around the alpacas were pygmy goats, zillions of them. We’d seen a sign announcing goats for sale at the shop. Caiti had read it at €6, which was tempting. It was, in fact, €60, not such an inviting prospect. Besides, I don’t think a goat would have sat quietly on anyone’s lap on the way home.
You do a lot of walking at Haute Touche. It’s well spread out over 500 hectares, but despite that, a few of the enclosures seemed on the small side. In my opinion, the tiger didn’t have much space and neither did the very large pack of dhôles, which were Ruadhri’s favourite animals of the day. As you can see, they are very fox-like. They alternatively growled and whimpered at us. There were a couple of youngsters but they never ventured very close to the wire netting.
We had an interesting encounter with an ostrich. Remember yesterday’s photo? The male ostrich trotted up to the fence to look at us, then threw himself onto his hocks and began waving his wings up and down and his head from side to side. I’ve been to plenty of zoos in my life and a couple of years ago, I took the kids to an ostrich farm with hundreds of ostriches in it. I’d never seen one acting like that before. We eventually worked out it was Caiti’s coat that was causing this behaviour. When she took it off, the ostrich went back to normal. Some quick research on the Net revealed that this is ostrich mating behaviour! He’d taken a shine to Caiti’s black jacket.
We wanted to see the lemurs being fed at 1.30 so charged from one side of the park to the other, just in time. It began with a lot of talking which I soon switched off from, being tired, but then the keeper brought out the tray of food to cut up. He explained how they fed their lemurs fruit and vegetables. In the wild, they’d eat leaves rather than vegs, but those are the best substitute for when they’re in captivity. He told us how the lemurs prefer sugary things, and how they’d eat the banana first, then the apple and then they’d suck the juice out of the little lumps of orange he’d cut up for them before spitting the peel out. Only then would they reluctantly start on the vegetables, very much like children. And sure enough, George and Georgette started with banana, moved onto apple and then finished with the orange, tipping their heads back so the juice could run down their throats. They didn’t touch the veg while we were watching.
We had a revitalising coffee break at the café before continuing. During this break, Caiti and I spotted this swallow’s nest above the exit sign in the toilets …
… and Chris and Rors found a display of antlers. Antlers weigh a ton, believe me. I feel sorry for deer.
There was one puzzling exhibit. One enclosure had two signs on it. One was for lynx and one was for racoons. We could see two furry grey things curled up in a shelter, but couldn’t work out what they were. It’s noteworthy that the sign for racoons gave their main predator as lynx! Seriously. I hope they hadn’t put the two species in together!
My only grumble was that it wasn’t easy to see the meerkats (suricates). The vegetation had grown up high around the fencing, and the wooden panelling with small holes for observing them was hard to see through.
It was a great day out. We saw some fascinating creatures and only bought a few rubbishy souvenirs on our way out. And the icing on the cake was a visit to McDo’s on the drive home, due to an unexpected detour!
To answer yesterday’s questions: I’ve dealt with the ostrich and the antlers : Ruadhri and Caiti were looking at the meerkats and the animal with the long horns was a wasuti.