In the countryside of Kent the lion is taking a stand for his wild counterparts – and Giles Clark is the man to help make it happen.
The star of Tigers About the House, which was screened on BBC2 in 2014, and Ingenious Animals last month on BBC1, has moved around the world to take up the role of director of cats and conservation with the Big Cat Sanctuary at Smarden.
“Cats – I love them all,” he said. “I have always focused on cats. They are the most successful of the carnivore family.
“They are the most engaging, amazing, fascinating animals. I cannot think of a species that is more iconic than a lion. People are fascinated with cats. For whatever reason – fear or otherwise – with the big cats it is what they represent. Their conservation is about people conservation. If you cannot save the tiger or the lion what chance has any other species got?”
Although the move to Kent from head of tigers at Australia Zoo may seem unlikely, he did do work experience at the sanctuary’s sister park, Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire, while at school. It was there that he was inspired to volunteer to work with animals and conservation.
Having joined the Smarden sanctuary in July, he has big plans. He hopes to expand the numbers of animals there and the species, as well as expanding on the building programme. He also wants to help with programmes to release some species back into the wild, including the Scottish wild cat.
“It isn’t just about talking the talk,” he said. “It is really about generating support, creating awareness. Ultimately the animals we have here are ambassadors for their wild counterparts. We need to be making a real contribution.”
Only one third of the remote site is occupied by animals, and that could change, said Giles.
He would also like to be more hands on with arrivals. His expertise was on display in the BBC show, Tigers About the House, where he was filmed raising two tiger cubs in his own home.
He said: “If we save some we may get to keep the planet. They are flagships. I feel that we have a responsibility to look after these animals to the best of our capabilities. The possibilities here are really exciting.”
He also hopes to introduce education programmes for children over the next year.
SEE THE CATS
The Big Cat Sanctuary in Smarden is a conservation charity, set in 34 acres and home to 50 large and small cats and 16 species.
The charity operates within the EEP (European Endangered Species Breeding Programme), which regulates the breeding of the cats. The sanctuary has its hugely popular open days every summer as well as personal big cat experiences which help fund the site and its work. The site works closely with other zoos.
On Saturday, November 19 and Sunday, November 20, it will hold a talk and tour with Giles and Simon Jones, founder and CEO of Helping Rhinos and representative of Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya, with proceeds going towards sponsoring GPS collars for the lions there. It runs from 1pm both days and cost £30. To book, call 01233 771915 or visit whf.org.uk
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