If there’s an animal lover in your family or circle of friends, finding a suitable birthday gift often revolves around pet shops or similar outlets where their hobby or lifestyle can be properly catered for. Whether your son is considering a career as a vet, your sister is mad about horses or dogs, or your friend has a thing for snakes and other reptiles, there’s a wealth of animal care products and accessories out there that will undoubtedly be greatly appreciated as gifts.
That said, true animal lovers don’t really care too much for ‘stuff’ – it’s the experience of interacting with their furry (feathery? slippery?) friends that’s important to them. So, why don’t you give them that instead?
Here are 5 thoughtful ideas available at UK experience day specialist Into the Blue that may just make the perfect present for a great day out with the animals.
Meerkats, Servals and Lemurs
Believe it or not, meerkats have been around for a lot longer than the ubiquitous TV advert for a certain comparison website. They’re cute, very curious and just a tiny bit eccentric – and you can meet them right here in the UK even though they’re not a native species.
The session will be hosted by an experienced Meerkat keeper who will tell you all about their natural habitat, lifestyle and how they are looked after. You’ll encounter some of the rather tame creatures in their enclosure, and help with feeding too. Just be careful, Meerkats are very easy to fall in love with!
While you’re there, meet the Lemurs, little black and white mammals with big dark eyes and tiny hands. Often confused with Meerkats, they’re actually an entirely unrelated species and only live wild in Madagascar, though they don’t mind sharing lodgings over here.
Finally, Servals are a medium sized African wildcat that looks a bit like a leopard. They’re fast hunters in the wild, but more inquisitive and cheeky in captivity.
Sea life watching
For sea life lovers, head to the northeastern coast of Scotland and take a Dolphin Cruise in the Moray Firth near Inverness, which is famous for its resident colony of bottlenose dolphins. Guided by an experienced skipper, you’ll be able to admire these sleek and graceful marine mammals in their natural habitat, only a short distance away. If you’re lucky, these friendly sea creatures may even come and say hello. If the weather is on side, you may get a chance to listen to the dolphin’s underwater sounds with the use of a hydrophone.
Dolphins aren’t the only animals whose home is the Moray Firth – there’s every chance you may be able to glimpse Harbour Porpoises, Common and Grey Seals too, as well as a vast variety of sea birds that nest on the coastlines.
Fans of reptiles will be thrilled at a chance to meet crocodiles, snakes, lizards and geckos in the flesh – and even go swimming with them – at a specialist reptile centre. It’s a real privilege to be able to get so close to these exotic breeds and understand the skill involved in looking after these wonderful creatures.
Admire the hooded King Cobra, the iridescent skin of the Spitting Cobra, and the forked tongue of the Rattlesnake in their vivariums. If you’re bold, book a Swimming with a Gator tour!
For the full Crocodile Keeper experience, you’ll be able to watch and maybe even help the crocs feed on live locusts, crickets, roaches and mice pinkies, and assist with training and cleaning jobs too.
Dog lovers of all ages will revel in this countryside experience. Want to find out what a Border Collie really loves doing? Then team up with a four-legged friend and try your hand at being a shepherd. Your experience will start with an introduction of sheepdogs, their history, breeding and the sheepdog training that produces the highly intelligent and energetic Border Collies we know today.
Once you have the basics, it’s time to go into the great outdoors and start learning the techniques for directing and instructing the dogs, including key calls, signs and whistles. Have a go at rounding up a small flock of sheep in the middle of a field, with the help of your trusty Collie sheepdog. As bonding experiences with a canine companion go, you can’t get better than this.
Birds of prey
Falconry is a sport that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. On this bird of prey experience day, you will meet the falconers and admire the working relationship between these majestic birds of prey – eagles, hawks, owls, falcons – as you watch them swoop to land on a gloved hand.
Learn about animal husbandry, care and training for these magnificent feathered animals. You’ll be thrilled to see the incredible flying and hunting techniques of these birds as you watch the display. What’s more, there’ll be opportunities to meet individual birds close up, perhaps handling them on a glove yourself.