For our 25th wedding anniversary last October my wife bought me a Photographic Day with Big Cats at the Wildlife Heritage Foundation near Ashford in Kent www.whf.org.uk . Living in West Wales and with winter ahead I decided to wait for better weather, as I did not want snow to prevent me from travelling.
In late February I decided it was time to book a date for my trip - armed with my voucher I visited www.wildarena.com and looked at the available dates and selected Sunday 25th March 2012. With everything confirmed I booked a hotel and it was soon time for the trip.
Up early on Saturday 24th March for the long drive to Kent, with a stop in the services near Reading for breakfast. Arriving in Ashford around 11am on a beautiful sunny day I decided to visit the picturesque Leeds Castle and take some shots.
From there I went to check on the location of the Wildlife Heritage Foundation, so that I would know where I was going the following day. From there I went on to Hythe to visit an elderly auntie. By 6pm I was booked into my hotel in Kennington on the outskirts of Ashford and looking forward to the big cat encounter ahead. A meal and a couple of pints of the local ale and it was time for bed.
Sunday morning arrived and it was up early for breakfast, and then the short drive to the WHF where I was greeted by a member of staff from Wild Arena and a member of staff from the WHF. After a safety briefing we were off out into the grounds to meet the selection of big cats at the centre. Being on an organised photo shoot we were allowed inside the main safety barriers, giving us better access to the big cats. The first cats we encountered were the pumas or mountain lions.
From there it was on to the trio of majestic male lions
The Wildlife Heritage Foundation is a UK based charity working hard to ensure that the big cat species of the world are protected from extinction. Based in Kent UK they are an active partner in the European Endangered Species Breeding Programmes (EEP), as well as setting up education programmes for the people that share the habitats of these wonderful cats. The WHF is also raising awareness and funding for big cat projects around the world. The centre is not open to the public but visits and photo days can be booked in advance.
Before lunch we visited the 8 month old Sumatran Tiger Cubs Toba and Kubu who were in an enclosure with their mum Puna. Thankfully they were in a very playful mood.
During the day we got close and personal with Themba the white lion
as well as Amur Leopards,
Petra the Eurasian Lynx,
Malawi the Serval,
Ranschan the Snow Leopard,
and my favourite Murphy the Cheetah
It was a thoroughly enjoyable day, with great company from fellow photographers, the Wild Arena Guide and the WHF staff member who introduced us to all the magnificent cats. My trip was booked by my wife through Virgin Experience Days and organised by Wild Arena, but if you fancy a photo day book it through the WHF as they will get all the money from your booking - and it is cheaper. Virgin and Wild Arena took a cut of the price my wife paid - we didn't know any different when booking.