© David John - Flickr: DavenJohn

 
 
 
 

How to go on safari without leaving London

Posted at 12:30 pm, September 7, 2014 in Fun London, Outdoor London
safari pig

Call off that trip to Kenya. Never mind the Maasai Mara. There’s no need to leave town if you like to gawp at wildlife. Let Alice White be your guide as we track down the wild-ish animals of London. Safari shots Scott Wishart

Cat Cafe ©David Tett

Cats

Felis catus
A cagey yet eminently loveable species. Most approachable on hot days or after they’ve had a big meal. Masters at playing it cool.

It’s true: if you’re looking for animals, the Inner-M25 Nature Reserve (aka Greater London) has all you need. Big cats, for example. Not big as in lions and tigers, big as in chubby furballs who lounge around our city’s pubs.

Let’s begin our safari, then, near Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and see if we can catch a glimpse of Ray Brown – current pub cat at Carey Street’s Seven Stars (Tom Paine was the previous resident puffball). You’ll know him by his ruff. Yes, ruff. The get-up is a nod to the pub’s Elizabethan heritage, but really it’s just the same excuse everyone uses for dressing up a cat like a Danish bishop.

The ‘pub cat’ genus is thriving in London: there’s Purdy, holding down his role as ‘minor annoyance’ at the Gunmakers near Marylebone High Street; the carefree and entirely oblivious cat at Lower Marsh’s chilled-out Scooterworks bar and café, who will happily wander through your game of Scrabble; and techno-cat Pluto at Battersea Arts Centre, who has a social media presence to rival that of any human. You can follow him on Twitter: @Pluto_BAC.

For more top cats, head along to Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium on Bethnal Green Road, home to 11 felines of which Time Out’s favourite is Wookie, the sleeping giant. Go online (you can find cats on the internet too, apparently) and book for next month at ladydinahs.com.

Want to go ‘big’ big? London Zoo has two Sumatran tigers (a species on the critically endangered list). Too big? How about their six-month-old triplets, Cinta, Budi and Nakal? ‘Nakal’ means ‘trouble’ in Indonesian – that’s about as cute as it gets.

Amazing animal fact! There used to be a zebra living in the Tower of London. It was said to be ‘particularly fond’ of ale and would frequently visit the soldiers’ canteen for a cheeky drink.

 

dog fancy dress

Dogs

Canis familiaris
Man’s best friend. Characteristics include yappiness, defecating in public and the ability to win ITV talent contests.

In London, the home for all things canine is to be found in SW8. At Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, you can drop in daily from 10.30am to 5pm (free entry, though a donation is suggested). Battersea graduate Hazel is the sweet pet at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park and can be spotted starring in the Christmas panto – or just hanging out with Sir Ian McKellen (seriously, they’re mates).

Venture south for a glimpse of ‘Roof Dog’, the massive Rottweiler who patrols the top of The Windmill on Blenheim Gardens in Brixton. Once you’ve seen him you can buy your ‘I Believe in Roof Dog’ T-shirt at the bar.

You know that feeling you get when you’re hungover and need something to love you? No, not that feeling, the one where you want a short-term pet? Well, sign up to Borrow My Doggy which allows London owners to loan out their pets.

Lastly, the Queen has all those corgis kicking around at Buckingham Palace. But I’m afraid they’re not for you – even though you have already kind of paid for them. Oh, and just so you know, the Isle of Dogs is a lot less fruitful than it sounds.

Brian Pigeon

Birds

Aves
Flying things that, despite Hitchcock’s worst fears, are unlikely to rise up and take over the world.

Cast your eyes skywards (the place where the Amazon drones are going to soar): you might spot one of the wild, green, long-tailed parakeets that live around south-west London, with a particular affinity for Kingston and Twickenham. There are several theories as to where they came from – but let’s hope they really are descended from the pair that Jimi Hendrix released. Wormwood Scrubs (the nature reserve, not the prison – parakeets are rarely jailed for crimes they didn’t commit) has one of the largest roosts in London. It also plays host to a variety of other birdlife including the great spotted woodpecker.

The peacocks in Holland Park strut around with the arrogance of supermodels. Flamingoes, on the other hand, are like easy-going surfer millennials; at Kensington Roof Gardens you can hang out with Bill, Ben, Splosh and Becks who are in the pink and roam about blissfully unaware of ‘Made in Chelsea’.

Pigeons are nobody’s feathered friends, hence the birds of prey that are now employed as professional bullies to scare them off. Paternoster Square, near St Paul’s, has one, while Rufus is guardian of the grass at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon. However, the real stars of the London raptor scene are Misty and Bert, two peregrine falcons who, like most of us, enjoy hanging out around Tate Modern. The RSPB has a base in front of the gallery, by the Millennium Bridge (until early September), with telescopes to help you spot the pair hunting/satisfy your avian bloodlust.

Rat

Rats

Rattus
You’re never more than a few metres away from these little fellas – as with Pret a Manger or a photo of Amy Winehouse in a north London bar toilet.

You can get up close and personal with a gang of rats – with no fear of things getting a bit Room 101 – at The London Dungeon. These South Bank nibblers reside in a custom-made house, and say what you like, but they’ve probably got it better than you do. Then, if it’s performing rodents you’re into, get tickets to ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night- Time’ at the Gielgud Theatre, where there’s high-quality stagecraft from a classically trained (maybe?) rat actor every night. You don’t get that on the Serengeti.

Deer © Kay Lockett
© Kay Lockett

Deer

Cervidae
A classier version of a cow. Like if a cow went to Ascot.

If it’s rutting you’re looking for, have you considered a Club 18-30 holiday in Magaluf? No? How about Richmond Park then? There are 630 red and fallow deer in the south-west London nature reserve – roaming freely, rutting wildly (clashing heads in displays of cervine machismo) when it gets to mating season in the autumn.

Less is more in Clissold Park, where there’s a herd of seven – one buck and six does, which is some progressive board of directors. There are also fine examples to marvel at in enclosures at Maryon Wilson Park in Charlton and Golders Hill Park in Golders Green.

Now, brace yourself: Belmont Farm in Mill Hill has a gorgeous orphan deer. He goes by the number-one orphan animal (and stripper) name Bambi, and will no doubt star in a beautiful story. If you want to jump to the end of that beautiful story, Get Stuffed, the taxidermy shop on Essex Road in Islington is the place to hire a stuffed stag.

The Pig Idea

Pigs

Sus domesticus
A famously clean animal that nevertheless rolls around in muck all day.Pigs make the most sexually attractive Muppets and the tastiest breakfast foods.

Wiggle and Piggle are the adorable names that have been given to the kunekune pigs at Battersea Park Children’s Zoo. These Kiwi porkers have the ugliest yet most endearing faces and have even been trained to sit like the clever animals people say they are. The kunekune pigs on show at Spitalfields City Farm are called Holmes and Watson, but sadly, they have yet to solve a single mystery.

Hackney City Farm is a small hideaway in east London that is home to some of the biggest pigs you’ll ever see – including a 450-pound Tamworth sow called Pepper. For rarer pedigree breeds, head down the road to Stepney City Farm, where they have a Berkshire and a Gloucester Old Spot. Both sound delicious.

 Amazing animal fact! The last reported sighting of a wild seahorse in London was in 2011. It was caught swimming through the Thames in Greenwich.

Meercat

Meerkats

Suricata suricatta
A fashionable kind of mongoose. Not just for inexplicably selling car insurance. Alpha male Jimmy is king of the pack at Battersea Children’s Zoo. Sure, Jimmy isn’t a typical meerkat name, but bear in mind that London Zoo has one called Liam. You can even adopt one of these little rascals online (shop.zsl.org), and they’ll conveniently remain at the zoo. You may want to donate to the one called Ringo, who probably spent all his Thomas the Tank Engine voiceover money on mealworms.

Sensational Butterflies

Butterflies

Lepidoptera
Bugs that get away with being bugs because they’re beautiful. Bored of butterflies landing on your nose? Your life is obviously too good. The rest of us can visit the Sensational Butterflies currently in residence at the Natural History Museum’s special exhibition.

Too mainstream? Want edgier butterflies? Head to the Clissold Park Butterfly Dome for regular tours from May to September. Or else just cover yourself in sugar water and hang around Camley Street Natural Park in KIng’s Cross.

Heathrow Animal turtle

Turtles

Chelonii
Just imagine a wooden loaf of bread with legs that lives for hundreds of years. Be patient, and you might chance across a terrapin in Regent’s Canal. They are rare, though (the jury’s still out on whether they’re teenage, mutant and/or heroes), so for more dependable sightings visit the green sea turtles at the London Aquarium on the South Bank. You can also see all sorts of wet pets at the aquarium in south London’s Horniman Museum. They have yellow-footed tortoises and European pond turtles… but they’re not in the aquarium, they’re either stuffed or in jars. But really, how alive are the breathing ones anyway? These are just as good.

Amazing animal fact! Obi the German Shepherd is the only dog to be awarded an OBE. He is the police dog that fractured his skull during the 2011 London riots.

Alpacas kissing.

Alpacas

Vicugna pacos
Basically hipster donkeys with shrunken heads. In the capital, these South American creatures are most commonly found roaming the pastures of London’s city farms. Hounslow Urban Farm welcomed a baby, Noah, in January, while Vauxhall City Farm has alpacas called Tom, Ben and Jerry (Ben and Jerry like each other, as do Tom and Jerry, but Tom and Ben don’t have anything to talk about when Jerry’s not around). Newham City Farm, Crystal Palace Park Farm and Belmont Farm ‘alpaca’ punch, with Belmont’s Bob and Marley needing regular walkies (find details of the next alpaca walk at www.belmontfarm.co.uk).

Not an alpaca, but close enough for this tour, Gargles the billy goat at Stepney City Farm is particularly stinky at the moment because he’s desperately trying to get a girlfriend. He’s almost as pongy as Lynx Africa.

Pooka the rabbit, ©Rob Greig

Rabbits

Leporidae
Floppy balls of static that manage to be cute despite eating their own poo and banging anything that moves. Rabbits are sweet, but since you’re not allowed to test anything on them – make-up, weapons, reverse psychology – they really have very little to offer apart from cuddles. So make the most of petting them at Mudchute Park and Farm, Lee Valley Park Farms, the small but enjoyable Freightliners Farm in the heart of Islington or at several other city farms around London.

Amazing animal fact! The oldest living cat in London is Misty, who is 28 and currently resides in Uxbridge.

Bjork Biophilia

Humans

Homo sapiens
A species that either descended from monkeys or was created by God. Some examples of humans include Björk, Peter Falk, Robbie Fowler and your mum. Humans are pretty awesome: they wander around and eat and get grumpy and have sex with each other and sit upright at bars – it’s so adorable. Peoplewatching is a hobby you can pursue pretty much anywhere – at home in front of a mirror, for instance. If you want wilder examples, there are big hairy bears at the King’s Arms on Poland Street, cheeky monkeys among the traders at Greenwich Market and sharks in the City. Happy hunting.

See 25 brilliant photos of London animals and London’s top ten animal statues.

Alice’s costume provided by Angels Fancy Dress.

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