The Falklands and penguins
We didn’t actually storm the beach. Instead we bounced up to a jetty where a pleasant sailor helped us off as the lifeboat pitched about. A jaunty big sign bade us welcome to the Falklands. We had already noted the bright little town of Port Stanley. It seemed to have been built of gaily painted corrugated iron.
Without more ado we set off into the hinterland to see battlefields and discover penguins.
The large green peat fields stretched out on all sides towards the distant mountains. As far as I could see it had all been a battlefield. There were little white crosses here and there marking where soldiers had been blown to bits by lumps of metal travelling at high velocity. We passed a sign saying MINEFIELD. The jolly islander explained that there were still ten trillion landmines strewn all over the island. I reminded myself to limit my inclination to explore.
We were heading for Bluff Cove (not one of the islanders but a real bay full of penguins, famous for its café and part of the battle for control of the island). This involved being bumped around in a four by four as it sped over ruts and bumps. I think he deliberately sought the most uneven terrain. Bouncing visitors about in a four by four was the only entertainment on the island. I thought he might be called Lewis Hamilton but be assured me he was called Jamie.
We passed stone runs from ancient glaciers, peat bogs, streams, ponds and a very strange accumulation at the side of the road. The islanders had started sticking old boots and shoes on sticks. There was quite a collection of them. They called it Boot Hill.
Then the bay came into sight. There was a big brown patch in the middle of the bay that was probably well trodden penguin poo. On this patch were a community of penguins. There were a couple of hundred of them all standing and waddling about like penguins do. It was impressive.
We got out and could go right up to them. Unfortunately you were not supposed to touch. I could just see tourists heading back to their ship with a Gentoo penguin under each arm as a memento of their visit.
The penguins were mainly Gentoo. There were adults and babies. The babies were all fluffy and downy and almost as big as the adults. I noticed that there were groups of adults away at a distance from the colony. They had obviously had enough of the juvenile behaviour and wanted a bit of peace and quiet.
The babies were very cute and tame. They inquisitively waddled right up to you and peered up at you enquiringly as if trying to work out what we were and what the hell we were doing here.
When I’d had my fill of Gentoo I went off to have a look at what else the bay had to offer. There were some beautifully coloured upland geese of offer. They were amazing. There were also a bunch of Skuas. These were large predatory birds who feast on, among other things, baby penguins. I was surprised to see them either sitting happily in the midst of the colony or else strutting around eyeing up the babies with an evil hungry gleam in their eye. They were not seeing those baby Gentoo in the same way I was. What I found remarkable was that all the penguns seemed oblivious to them. These sinister predators wandered around without even a passing peck and sized up the daft babies who waddled and threw themselves down on the ground in gleeful disregard. I imagined that if one of those skuas had gone for one of the little ones there might have been a bit of a rumpus. In the meantime they merely waiting for one of them to become ill or wander too far off. It was a little unsettling – like watching a stalking paedophile at work.
In the centre of the colony were a group of majestic Emperor penguins. Altogether a different proposition to the smaller Gentoos. With their great size and bright orange markings they stood out. They made the Gentoos look quite ordinary. They were magnificent.
There was one baby Emperor that waddled around among the adults and was preened and fussed over by its parent. He was not allowed to wander. He was probably too small. The skuas would have ripped him to pieces given half a chance. The parent knew it and so did the baby. It spent most of its time buried under its parent’s bum where it was safe. You could just see its legs and bottom sticking out.
My heart was melted. Seeing wild animals in the wild is magical. It is so different to zoos.
It made me feel that I wasn’t doing anywhere near enough to protect this planet and all these incredible creatures from the disasters we were wreaking upon them. I resolved to try harder.