It has rained the previous night and the air is fresh with the scent of early autumn. A deep-blue peacock walks confidently among the visitors arriving in Korkeasaari. These gorgeous birds have been wandering freely on the island for more than a hundred years.
Something is happening near the Cat Valley: a group of residents from SATO’s rental homes has gathered for a guided tour in the realm of the big cats. Johanna (7) and Brande (5) Eyongmbanda, from Helsinki, have already peeked through a number of windows for a glimpse of the massive felines.
The lion enclosure looks empty, but their guide Virpi Kiviniemi shows the group up the hill from where they can observe one of the pride’s females napping on a platform.
DID YOU KNOW? Korkeasaari’s lions are rare Asiatic lions of which there are only a few hundred left in the wild. They come from a warm climate and enjoy basking in the sun.
They can be loud too: when a male lion roars, it can be heard all the way back in central Helsinki.
“Kids often ask if the lion has a cold, but the roaring means that it is in full health and taking care of its pride,” smiles Virpi.
In the enclosure next door is the rarest of felines: the Amur leopard. Virpi says that work to protect the species has allowed the population to multiply to around a hundred individuals.
DID YOU KNOW? Amur leopards require a lot of space, which is why the male and female have free rein over four enclosures. Right now, they are nowhere to be seen. Amur leopards are excellent at hiding due to their spots.
In the enclosure opposite, an Amur tiger male is lolling on a trampoline built out of fire hoses.
“We got the hoses from the fire department and we built a trampoline to keep the tigers amused. The young male quickly discovered that it’s a great spot to lie and keep an eye on his surroundings,” says Virpi.
DID YOU KNOW? Siberian tigers are from the same area in Eastern Russia as Amur leopards. They are used to the cold and do well in temperatures as low as 40 degrees below zero.
“Each tiger has a unique set of stripes, just like a fingerprint. If a tiger loses its fur, you can see that it has the stripes on its skin as well,” Virpi tells them.
DID YOU KNOW? The Siberian tiger is the heaviest of all the big cats: a male can weigh up to 400 kilograms.
As if on cue, the male starts to move and gives the group a sample of its roar.
“Now you know what a tiger sounds like,” says Virpi.
“Happy Finnish Nature Day!” says Virpi as we move to the lynx enclosure.
DID YOU KNOW? The lynx is the only feline in the Cat Valley that can be found in the wild in Finland. The lynx population has long been threatened, but has now been brought back from the brink – lynx from Korkeasaari have also been returned to the wild.
The final big cat on the tour is the snow leopard, found in the Himalayas.
DID YOU KNOW? The snow leopard can merge with the rocky landscape where it hunts the ibex, taking leaps of even more than ten metres at a time. Its thick tail acts as a rudder when it moves, but also acts as a muffler when it gets cold.
“It just looked at me!” Brande shrieks in front of the snow leopard enclosure.
The leopard is Brande’s favourite out of the Cat Valley’s creatures – he has a toy version at home.
From Cat Valley, their journey continues to the Monkey Castle. The kids want to stop at every enclosure and pond they see on the way. There are owls, butterflies and elks with huge antlers. Or are they reindeer after all? ‘Finnish forest reindeer’ it says on the sign.
Johanna has been taking pictures of the animals non-stop. Her camera holds photos of a turtle, snow leopard, Barbary macaque and one of the otters’ swimming pool. They missed the buffalo this time. They have to come back another day.
SATO annually organises a variety of events for its residents. The day at Korkeasaari was this year’s biggest gathering. In addition to the Helsinki metropolitan area, events take place in other cities where SATO has rental apartments.