Windsor Safari Park
If you're browsing this page then you must have a good reason to do so!
I, presume that it's not just our pretty faces or that you were looking for whale meat in sushi bar?
Well then, you must be interested in either, Windsor Safari Park, or more importantly, the animals that we were once privileged to worked with. Which brings us nicely, to the first two shots of the Windsor Safari Park, "Pool Side" page.
Ask yourself this... why, oh why! would any one, be daft enough to stick their head in that awesome killer whale's mouth, full of 100 very sharp teeth, for a measly £16.98 a week?
Even in those far off days of the seventies, this wage was a pittance. I can remember that I lived on Bachelors packet soup and bread for my first week at the Park, until the other lads showed me the ropes.
This generally meant sucking up to the cashier in the Cafeteria, and raiding the "Animal" kitchens, for any fruit or veg.
It is true we did live rent free, and I was lucky enough to be billeted in a 1940's trailer with carrier bags stuffed in a gaping rip in the roof to keep the rain out, no lock on the door, no light, and no electricity. I was very lucky really, being a fledgling animal keeper, and wanting to be around animals, I was also given the opportunity of having them around me at night to keep me company, rats! That is. I did get used to them scurrying around. Though I drew the line, when one wanted to get in bed with me one night.
Can you imagine, trying to fry eggs over a plate full of candles, believe me it can be done, but if you are mad enough to try it, it will take you about three quarters of an hour to do so, and I really did feel "very" lucky when I saw some of the other guys' accommodation.
So why the hard luck story? It's to give you, the browser an idea of what it "really" took back then, to work with animals at the Park. The Park, the dolphinariam and my life were inhabited with wonderful, dedicated people that took poor pay, poor accommodation and dangerous working conditions in their stride. We the people of the Park did this for the same reasons that you are looking at this page.
"You" have something in common with all of us that worked in that magical place, "We all love animals", and if that is "REALLY" true, no matter the teeth, no electric and Bachelors packet soup. Such a small price to pay for such a full heart of wonderment and memories.
Please do read our "Forum" pages, to see who we were and what we're about, join in, we would love to have you. After all you're an animal lover too, aren't you?
Did you know that Tez has uploaded many of his best photos from the golden era of Windsor Safari Park?
• View the photos in full size, see Tez's comments
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• Start your own gallery!
For weeks we had been observing Honey very closely as she was pregnant. Unfortunately, back in 79 she had lost her first baby at birth, and this time we had left nothing to chance. Like four expectant fathers, the pool was paced every day and night, we would become concerned, agitated and fussed over every little thing that was happening in and around the pool.
Every night during the last few days of the pregnancy, almost every guy that worked in the Dolphinariam, and a lot that didn't, would casually wander in to the office "just to see like, I was just passing!". each pretending not to be concerned at all, and trying very hard not to look too soft.
We had a big crowd in on that show, about eight hundred in all. We politely explained that we would now have to stop the show, but if anyone wanted to stay and see a dolphin giving birth, they would be welcome to share the experience with us, we said that as there was no show we would refund any that wanted. To our delight most of the audience "did" want to see the miracle of life unfold before them. Surprisingly about six families "did" demand there £1.00 refund, one dad of two even told us that it was an outrage that he had come all this way etc; etc; Totally unbelievable.
<< Honey and Dinky on the 11th of September 1981
The birth took just under an hour, and one of the crew gave a running commentary on what was happening in the pool. At 12.55, the baby, "Dinky" entered our world, we had warned the audience that it is indeed very rare to have a "live" birth, we were trying to prepare them if it all went wrong.
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Cheers and whoops of joy went up and everyone crowded around the poolside to peek a glimpse. Dinky had arrived, and was alive, and five dolphin guys shook hands and beamed with laughter, dam if we had had cigars, we would of smoked them, we did crack open the bottle of champers we were keeping though and all save the night "duty crew" got very, very, very drunk that night.
The press and TV came running for a good story and they got one, and we revelled in the publicity, it was marred a little, as the next day London zoo announced that their panda was regent, we thought this to be sour grapes, just trying to keep their takings up, and nothing was ever heard of it again. No surprises there then?
Knowing that a baby dolphin had been born was one thing, but for us guys it was wonderful, not just because we loved our animals, but also it gave us a very real chance to observe our animals close up in a very rare situation.
After all we were not just animal lovers but "animal keepers" with a keen interest in animal behaviours and we saw things that few humans ever get the chance to see.
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We had trained all of our animals to seek out and bring to the Pad (Stage) any thing that they found in the pool.
Just imagine an innocent thing like a crisp packet blowing around in the wind. To us this was a danger, if swallowed by one of our charges, it could be fatal.
This was true of any thing "foreign" that ended up in the water. Now dolphins being crafty critters would at times bring to one of us a stone that they had found, for example, and we would reward them always, with a juicy fish morsel, and so the danger was removed.
Now, there we are in the middle of the show and one of them didn't want to do some show behaviour. We would give the discipline hand signal and not give them a fish.
Like I said crafty critters, they then would go down to there little stash of stones and bring one to the surface, whereby the presenter would have no choice but to give them a fish for bringing back something that could be dangerous, and thus, firmly giving us, the dolphin equivalent of two fingers.
We left Honey in the pool with Dinky over night and the next day allowed Angie into the pool with some anxiety on our part, not fully knowing the outcome. To our surprise the first thing that Angie did was to swim over to Honey and nuzzle her gently, we presumed that this was a comfort or reassurance gesture? The second thing astonished all of us. She started to clear the bottom of the pool for anything that looked remotely as though it shouldn't be there, and instead of bringing it to us, she put all that she found down the main filter inlet at the bottom of the pool, where it was sucked away never to be seen again. The big surprise if you think about this is, that Angie could have had exchanged these items for a reward, but she knew, as well as us, what a danger these seeming innocent stones could be to the baby, and she, obviously wanted them gone for good. One by one, we let a dolphin join Honey and Dinky in the main pool, each in turn amazed us with behaviours we had never witnessed before. They schooled around the pool flanking and protecting Dinky, they fused and looked after him like uncles and aunts, they, including the males, showed great tenderness and carried out their watch over him continuously and constantly.
Dinky and Winnie, our killer whale, were never in the same pool at any time, yet even she showed affection and would take fish from us and then push it through the bars of the pool gate for the dolphins, somehow she too showed concern, totally at odds with how we see killers in the wild! We learnt more than just "Animal behaviour" during that time in the dolphinariam, we learnt that animals, care, show kindness and have affection and love. So how is it then that we humans keep finding it so difficult to do?
Now this is just very silly, who would believe that dolphins, in this case Honey (always showing off to the camera) and Lulu, trying to keep the wet off when it's raining. "You're already wet lady's" OK for all you clever folk out there.... This shot was taken back in 1974, and if you look closely you can see that it actually was raining, but how did we get honey to hold the umbrella while the shot was being taken? If you think you know why not tell us your thoughts in our "FORUM" pages, we would love to have your comments on this picture, and just about anything else on our web site. We promise you will meet lots of really nice folk that would be glad to chat.
In the spring of 75 when I joined the dolphinariam crew, Gary Smart the park director had put a ban on anyone attempting to get in the pool with Ramu our killer whale (Orcinus Orca).
Prior to my arrival there had been an incident with him and the previous trainer Doug Cartridge. No one much wanted to talk to be about it as, being a "Rookie" no one knew if I could be trusted not to talk to the press about the incident. Eventually I got to hear rumors that Doug had had his leg broken by Ramu while doing a show ride. It made me realise quite early in my now job that this was not a "fluffy bunny" line of work, and it also made me realise just how close-knit and dedicated the park staff where. No one as far as I know ever did tell the press, this would have brought the wrong kind of publicity to the park and dolphinariam.
As time went by I was slowly eased into presenting the show. But was not allowed to work Ramu until I had had several months of show presenting behind me.
Gary would often call in to the dolphinariam to see how I was progressing, among other things. One day in-between shows Gary and I were talking on the Pad (Stage) and Ramu was just fooling about in front of us when he rolled over onto his back and floated there with his belly exposed.
"You know" said Gary, "when he does that I have always thought it a good idea to end the whale show by walking out onto Ramu, as he is now, and take a bow". We both agreed that, that really would be a spectacular way to end the show.
Gary's enthusiasm for "showmanship" was infectious, and I always took note on such points, I guess it's in the blood when you come from a traditional circus family?
Terry Bobrowicz on whale of a surf board >>
At about this time a professional trainer (something I was not) was hired for the dolphinariam his name was Wayne. He was a pipe smoking New Zealander and had a good deal of experience from dolphinariam around the world. And needless to say Gary started to come up to the dolphinariam several times each day just to keep an eye on things. He had decided to put the whale ride back into the show again and for safety he alone would do the water and ride work with Ramu.
After some time when he thought it safe again, he allowed Wayne and me to do the same. The first time he put me in the water with Ramu I can truthfully say, that I thought it would be a real great idea to work for Tescos instead. Gary was an ex paratrooper and had a "Gung ho" attitude to danger and he soon made it clear that I should be more frightened of him than the whale. "Gert, yah bloody great wimp, just dive in man, just F****** well do it.
On that day unsuspected by Gary I adopted his "Gung ho" approach and it served me well in all sorts of situations ever since. Its not being brave it just feels better to face adversity than be frightened of it. As time went by Gary tried several times to nail that "walk out and bow" behaviour, but he just never had time to give it what was needed. As time went by Wayne and I took up where Gary left off. It was a difficult behaviour to train as when Ramu was upside down in the water, so was his blow hole, and although killers can hold their breath for 20 minutes or so, Ramu was inclined to be impatient and Wayne or I would end up in the water.
One day during a training session, Ramu rolled over belly up, parallel to the pad, and I gingerly stepped on him to see if he would take my weight and he did and then started to move forward. Wayne blow his training whistle and with that Ramu took off!!
<< Ramu and Tez were a great double act
<< plenty of stripey toothpaste there Tez please !!
As he did I grabbed his pictorial fins, either side of me to steady myself and to our complete astonishment I was doing a tour of the pool, he ditched me about three quarters of the way round and started fooling about as usual.
As time went by Wayne and I refined this new behaviour into a full blown ride and the climax would be, to let go of his fins and ride him as a surfer would a board.
As far as I know this was a first for our dolphinariam, no one until then, had seen it before, and it was included regularly in the shows. Although the "Surfboard ride" was a success in itself, I was always a little disappointed, it would have been nice just to do the "walk out and bow" as Gary had intended, after all, he showed me how, and he deserved a lot more credit than he ever got. He was a tough Para, and had tough discipline, but he made the Park, and the men that worked it, into a very special place.
But was also value for money - what a character! >>
passengers by day, cargo by night!
Transporting dolphins and killer whales (or any animal come to that) from one place to an other sounds simple, but in fact it involves a lot of work and preparation, not just getting the animals ready to travel long distances, but the logistics too, think about transporting a dolphin from one Dolphinariam to another.
If the animal gets sick, or the stress kills it. Imagine the complex logistics of getting Ho Way (peanuts) from Windsor by lorry to the airport having a vet full equipped for just about any emergency. and all the water needed to keep the animal wet. it travels in a stretcher out of the water. then you fly it to Hong Kong. and you CANNOT be delayed and any stop over, then a second lorry to the new pool, with new trainers and new surroundings. transport sounds simple............ it's not!
And add to this what would happen if the Conservationists or the press got a story of us mean folk killing animals coz we keep transporting them around.
And they're right. animals did die.
I have done four killer transports and dozens of dolphin and seal transports. and every one scared the be-jebbers out of me.
so the pics are of us on the plane at Gatwick, on the lorry, handling the stretchers and putting them in the Windsor pool.
the animals we were bringing in were Lady and Prince "The Royals".
Tez: "Now in the shot (right) you can see me looking gormless AND standing around with my hands in my pockets. Err! No change there, then. The guy to the right is David, now this guy carried a lot of "Ocean" knowledge about dolphins and whales, but his specialty was "sharks" not with my dolphins thanks Dave.
"Center of pic is our beloved Curator, ladies and gentleman may I present "Frances Rendell" now his knowledge of Orcas and the like is nothing short of awesome. He really does know his stuff and was the fist guy in the UK to train a Killer."
Tez: "Now in the shot of us unloading the "stretchers" we have on the left yet another awesome legend of Windsor Safari Park during the 70's Sas
To give you some idea on just one of the things that made him a legend, in the pic notice that Doc Taylor (The Zoo Vet) and "Bruce Walton" are trying to lift a 300lbs dolphin and the crate half full of water. On the other end however Sas is doing one of his famous power lifts while all the other staff stand around watching. No change there then, either!
<< Sas doing one of his famous power lifts
<< a golden era of Windsor Safari Park staff for sure
Now the shot below is one of my favorite pic's of the Park because it is a veritable pictorial "who's, who" of the staff. On the far left supporting a mop of golden hair is our "Sas" again.
If you know your "Rocker History" you might like to know that he was also a Hell Angel from the Windsor chapter, if you don't know about such things then you really don't want to know.
Next in line we have Dough from the big cats reserve to his left we have "Bertty Basset" he got that name because he was the "Go for" of the Park and could do just about any thing behind the scenes.
In blue and red we have "Frances" again. Next to him we have "Dough Aldrich" he came to the park in 75 from a big game reserve out in Africa. He was the Parks assistant curator for the rest of the 70's Bruce Walton is next the Dolphinariam number one, and may I add, a great presenter of our shows, he could have an audience eating out of his hand within minutes of starting a show.
Just above yours truly (who's struggling in the freezing cold water) we have Duncan "Splash" Paul another notable member of the Dolphinariam. He had a great down to earth way about him and was one of the best commentators we ever had.
Lastly, but definately not least we have young "Nick the Escort" every summer he would some how end up working as the "fish boy" in the Dolphinariam kitchen. Then one day he just didn't go away for the winter and ended up as full timer. ("Escort" car by the way).
Should you swim with Dolphins? blog by Dolphinariums within the E.U
The number of people who want to swim with dolphins is at an all time high. Fuelled by a spate of TV programmes showing TV personalities getting in the water with them, and revealing how friendly dolphins can be, many people now have the desire to do the same.
An understandable love for dolphins may encourage people to want to get close to them. This desire may stem from the belief that close contact with these special animals can provide, at the very least, a release from day-to-day stresses and boredom and, at the other extreme, some sort of miracle cure for physical and mental illness, and disability. Such beliefs have helped encourage the growth of interaction programmes by both commercial interests and alternative therapists.
The recent popularity for swimming with dolphins, appealing as it first seems, is spawning a whole new industry. Recent news reports have shown dolphins taken from the wild and kept in captivity, purely for the "swimming with dolphins" experience, and for the money they generate for their owners.
A dolphinarium is an aquarium for dolphins. The dolphins are usually kept in a large pool, though occasionally they may be kept in pens in the open sea, either for research or for public performances. Some dolphinariums consist of one pool where dolphins perform for the public, others are part of larger parks, such as marine mammal parks, zoos or theme parks, keeping other animals and having other attractions as well.
the UK hasn't seen a dolphinarium for many years. Flamingo Land dolphinarium in Yorkshire the last of its genre, closed on March 8th 1993. However there is no present legislation to prohibit the opening of a dolphinarium in the UK and again exploit dolphins and the natural desire people have to see such magnificent oceanic mammals.
In 1985 after concerns raised about the care of cetaceans in the UK by various animal and environmental groups the then Department of the Environment, now part of DEFRA, commissioned biologists Dr Margaret Klinowska and Dr Susan Brown to research and review the keeping of these animals in UK zoos and aquaria.
Klinowska and Brown's report 'A Review Of Dolphinaria' was published in 1986 with various recommendations to be implemented by those holding captive cetaceans by no later than 1993. The authors did have the authority to recommend that cetaceans should not be held in captive care if their research supported such a position. However it did not and they maintained that these animals could be successfully kept in animal collections provided they were given the right conditions.
One of these conditions was related to pool dimensions. Whilst some facilities complied with pool size and area none reached or exceeded the minimum depth standards for the species held; for bottle-nose dolphins this depth was approximately 6 metres (20 feet). Ironically Marineland Morecambe one of the first facilities to display these animals had a main pool which was 5.53 metres (18 feet) deep with Flamingoland's main pool having a depth of 4.6 metres (15 feet).
The subject of conservation and zoo's is a complex one and rather than getting into a debate about its prose and cons, I will let an extract from my book, yet to be published (2014) speak for me.
I do not believe I am unique and know that all animal keepers, where ever they are in the world, regardless of what animals they keep, will find some common ground in what I have written. I will leave it to the judgement of the reader to make up their own mind, as to whether animal keepers in zoos are really as bad as some would believe.”
“Killer Whales, Tigers, Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll - An Animal Keepers Story.”
“Then I noticed Ramu who was watching me intently with his great black-grey eye and it almost seemed that he was studying me and my every movement with his fixed cold deep penetrating gaze, that just for a second or two sent a shiver down my spine. It was an unusual feeling one that I had never experienced before, something unexplainable that had no reasoning, something that resisted even words. Inexplicably I felt as though that great leviathan knew everything he ever needed or wanted to know about me, with that one look he made me feel exposed, vulnerable as though naked, a look that triggered feelings within me that I had no rational explanation for and it was something I really didn't understand at all. In a flickering of a moment, he, Ramu had somehow seen me, not just a man standing on the poolside but something more than that, something deeper, maybe my feelings, thoughts and possibly even the being that I was too.
I wonderer whether it was a feeling that all men felt when facing an orca for the first time, did he really have some incomprehensible knowledge of me, of all men, that was deeper than just an observation? His size, power and teeth all required respect but in that moment I knew instinctively that Ramu's mind was always going to be the greatest danger I would have to face and that if I did stay on the park, if I was going to work with him, get to know him better. Then always, Ramu would be the master of any future relationship we two might ever have had and although I didn't realise it then, that one small flickering thought was to be the cornerstone of a bond that over time, would grow between us and change me, my thoughts and my life forever.
I don't know how or why I should have stumbled across such a thought but I did understand, as though an echo from something lost, something primeval, that the key to understanding Ramu, maybe even all whales, wasn't what we, us humans were thinking, but instead what it was, that was in “his” mind, how he thought of us, we the creatures that had taken him from his family and were keeping him in our pool. Size, teeth, fear or even species had little to do with any of it. His feelings, his understanding and an empathy for his emotions, was were the key to understanding Ramu lay.
It was perfectly true that Ramu was an angry and dangerous being. He was angry at the loss of his freedom and he was angry with us that had taken it from him, those that had denied him of everything he knew, understood and loved.
As I stood there with him on that first day, it took no effort at all to know that he was fully aware of the situation he had unwontedly found himself in. I had never seen nor been so close to a whale before, but instinctively I understood his anger, his sadness and that he knew, that he was never going to fulfil his true destiny in the wide open seas of the wild, still holding his adolescent memories, knowing he was never going to be master of his own pod, have a family, guide his young, hunt in a pack nor swim amid the great white icebergs of the cold northern oceans. Was it any wonder then, that he had such a fearsome reputation, such anger, with every right to feel that way.
Having seen the way he had behaved with Charlie and having listened to the things I was being told about him, I knew it would be wise to be cautious of him but with that one look, in that fleeting moment, my instinctive feelings of fear began to be replaced with those of sadness. Knowing this and thinking such thoughts didn't make Ramu any the less dangerous than the being he was, but rightly or wrongly for me at least, from that moment onwards Ramu was never just a captive whale in a pool, for me he was an entity, an emotion, he was a soul that was lost and I felt his pain. What I was completely unaware of, as he held me briefly in his gaze, was that if I did stay to take up the challenges of my new job at the park, that endeavour would pale into insignificance compared to the incomprehensible unique adventure, of discovering that incredible being they had named Ramu.”
Windsor Safari Park