There is a range of animals and birds to be seen in the Wildlife Park on the Black Isle near Inverness. Children and family groups are catered for and there is wide range of non native animals to be seen. These include merkats, alpacas, zebra, emu and lemurs and being so close to them is very rewarding. However, in contrast, there are a large number of native birds and animals to be seen from the common ones such as mute swan to the rarer ones such as the wildcat. One of the main features of the park is the three or four ponds with their native wildfowl. These include the ducks such as tufted duck, pochard and shelduck. Shelduck are always one of my favourites as they breed in various parts of the Highlands and can be seen all the year round at places such as Udale Bay. Pintail is another of my favourite ducks and are a common winter visitor in the firths although a rare breeding duck. The geese were dominated by the barnacle geese and there were several on nests even close to the pathways with people walking past. The birds were sat on what looked like a very comfortable nests of feathers.
The red deer were, as you might expect, in a large enclosure and down at the far end. However, what helped to see them easier was a large hide with a viewing platform some distance off the ground. There were hinds and on the nearest stag, as you can see in the photograph I took last week, the antlers are covered in velvet. The red deer looked in good condition and quite content as they were feeding. However, as with red deer in the wild, this winter the cold weather has gone on for a long time and the deer are slower than usual in shedding their winter coats. The stag in the photograph shows how “tatty” his coat looks before he moults into his chestnut coat of summer.
The Soay sheep were fascinating, especially as many of the ewes had small lambs, and it is amazing that we still do not really know where this ancient breed originally came from. They so called originated on the island of Soay which is part of the archipelago of St,. Kilda. Nobody exactly knows how they came there although there are theories but the true origin will probably never be explained. Soay is a Norse word for sheep but whether that meant the Vikings put them there or found them there is open to doubt. They could have been deliberately released there so that they could pick up fresh supplies of meat when the raided the Western Isle. It is still, however, all conjecture.
To a certain extent there is also a mystery about the origin of another of another animal at the Park. The “feral” goats, many people prefer them to be called wild goats, had that rather haughty look about them. Their ancestors were probably originally brought over from the continent by Neolithic man and then simply moved around to cater for our needs. Nannies were on the lower lands whilst the wilder billies roamed the nearby hills. They were a vital source of meat and milk for crofters and their milk was particularly valuable at the end of winter when food was short. It was the days before refrigeration or winter crops and the goats were an important part of the agricultural scene. In contrast the rarest animal in the park was the wildcat that, despite its impassive pose, looked almost regal.