Something very remarkable has happened since our last visit.
On the 4th August 2017 Huan Huan became the proud mother of the first panda born in France. Bald, blind and very pink, he weighed in at just four ounces.
His parents, who have been happily munching bamboo in Beauval for the last seven years, are the only Giant Pandas in France. Huan Huan was born in 2008 in China. Huan means joy. Her cub Mini Yuan Zi, is named after his father Yuan Zi who was also born in 2008 in China. Zi means son of. His mother was Yuan Yuan. Her name means very round head.
Mini Yuan Zi’s godmother is none other than Madame Brigitte Macron, wife of Emmanuel Macron, President of France. She has visited Beauval several times and has seen Huan Huan and Yuan Zi. The cub will be named in an official ceremony chaired by Mrs. Macron.
Reluctant, as ever, to leave the zoo, no-one ever seems to asks you to, until the very last minute we wandered up to the Lion Reserve, just in case and were blown away by the astonishing sight of the whole Pride basking in the evening sun. We watched and watched and then watched some more. Bliss.
We decided the lions were the highlight of the day. As it turned out it vied with another one, the cherry on the cake so to speak.
Watching the latest videos of Mini Yuan Zi on the big screen near the Exit someone behind us said (we think – our command of French leaves a lot to be desired) – ‘beautiful isn’t he’?
Before we had time to agree an elegantly dressed lady with a Toto lookalike dog – disappeared around the corner. She unlocked splendid gates to what we assumed to be her home. We are fairly sure it was none other than Mme Françoise Delord, who founded Beauval almost forty years ago. We don’t have many heroes. For the joy Beauval gives us, she is one of them.
After drama school, aged twenty, waiting to be accepted at the Comédie Française she took a job at Bobino Music Hall in Paris hosting music legends such as Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens. Denise Lebrun and Edith Piaf have also performed there. The artistic, romantic, bohemian life of this sophisticated Parisienne was light years away from animal droppings.
The next bit of the story is not clear (unfortunately her autobiography Instinct has not been translated into English) but it seems that sometime in the 1970s Françoise Delord entered a competition in a magazine and won two African birds which is unusual to say the least. She promptly bought a cage in a pet shop. Next day she went back and bought two more birds, then more. And more. Her fate was sealed. Good at DIY, she built an aviary in her Paris apartment.
Soon it was not possible to remain there so she, her husband Jacques Delord, their children, Delphine and Rudolph and three hundred birds moved near Jacques’ parents near the picturesque old town of Saint-Aignan, Loir-et-Cher.
Told of a nearby piece of land for sale Madame Delord decided to open a bird sanctuary. Within a very short time, her three hundred became two thousand.
By 1980, now divorced, after jumping through many financial hoops, over many hurdles, dodging many obstacles the indomitable Françoise Delord said she ‘gave birth to my third child, the zoo.’
Beauval became a proper zoo when the primates arrived.
In 1991 Mme Delord bought Gorby and Raissa, two rare white tigers from a zoo in America. Their offspring now have offspring of their own.
Over the intervening years have come orangutans, chimpanzees, snakes, crocodiles, an aviary for six hundred tropical birds, giraffes, zebras, springboks, gnus and white rhinos. One rhino has had a son named Kanty.
Then the koalas arrived. One has had young.
After them came kangaroos, elephants, tortoises, iguanas, okapis, panthers, piranhas and gorillas.
In 2007 came the penguins. Three years later tapirs, antelopes and muntjacs.
2012 was marked by the long awaited Giant Pandas from China.
2014 brought the astonishing spectacle Masters of the Air. No understatement, it’s worth visiting Beauval for that alone.
Then came the Californian sea-lions. There are now nine adults and four young born in Beauval.
2016 saw the opening of the Hippopotamus Reserve. It has splendid underwater viewing as does the Manatee Basin. The first baby manatee, Sylvester, was born in 2001. It was not long before he had company. In 2003 the world’s first captive born manatee twins were born.
In 2017 came The Land of Lions.
When she presented music legends in Bobino Music Hall in Paris Mme Delord could not have imagined that one day she would present France with ten thousand animals including one adorable baby panda in one of the most important zoos in the world.
She says: “I would do the same thing again.”
We say thank you Madame Delord.