Once I had the opportunity to spend time with the gentleman who looked after the chimpanzees in Central Park Zoo in Manhattan. He had worked closely with the famous signing chimps.
Another time I had a long interview with the Head Keeper of gorillas at Howletts Wildlife Park.
Both of these people talked very clearly about the individuality of the creatures that they cared for. They really knew the beautiful animals and had very humble relationships with them.
My husband once met an elephant face to face. No words were exchanged, but it was plain to see that it was a meaningful moment for both of them. There was some understanding between them as beings sharing time and space.
Since I started to work at Mudchute Park and Farm I have walked past many beautiful animals every day. Gradually I have developed a sense of them as individuals. I began to watch them as I have watched tigers in the zoo and got to know them in the same way I know my cats.
When I asked the Farm staff questions about the animals they spoke in a quite matter of fact way about the creatures they cared for as individuals. They told me how the animals’ bodies and minds worked, what they liked and what they didn’t like, how they communicated and cared for each other.
I realised that these were things that most visitors to Mudchute Farm did not get to hear about the personalities and sentience of other species and knew that it was exactly these things that would have fascinated my own children most of all. I have never read anything, especially for children, that explained about animals in ways that were as genuinely interesting as these conversations and which were not sentimental or anthropomorphic.
So I started doing some drawings and collecting information to put together a book about these wonderful creatures.
The drawings are not very exact at all. They are playful and lighthearted. I focus more on the world that the creatures experience rather than talking about different breeds or histories of them. There is excellent factual information on the Mudchute website including links to more detailed work about specific breeds.
Special thanks to Margaret Tracey for her dedication to the production of this book funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Also to Farmer Tom for his enthusiasm, his work and patience with my lack understanding about farming (my experience being mainly based on 60 years of listening to The Archers) for sharing his views on eating the meat of animals that were well reared, local and organically fed and listening to my Vegetarian, and increasingly, Vegan perspective.
I have shared my life with lots of non-human sentient beings who were mostly cats but included the very wonderful Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Mrs Parker. It is these friendships well as more environmental and political convictions that have influenced this book.
Penny Wilson 2020