For the love of the animals. Why wildlife is at the heart of my business and my top 5 animals experiences from my travels

For the love of the animals. Why wildlife is at the heart of my business and my top 5 animals experiences from my travels

Animals, animals, animals

It's where it all began and a space I really want to get back to. Let me take you back to where and why it all started.

If you don't know, my husband and I moved to Singapore back in 2011. Not that we were married then, in fact we'd never even lived together! But we took the plunge to move across the world to have the biggest adventure of our lives. Boy, it didn't disappoint.

Singapore is a tiny island state, situated on the very tip of Malaysia with a bridge that connects it to the mainland. It's a very wealthy country, future focused, everything works, everything is slick and shiny. However there is also a contrast with heritage and old world charm where the shop houses have been preserved and the hawker markets are at the heart of every community.

Landing at Changi airport was an assault on all of the senses as the humidity hits you as soon as you step out of the air-conditioning and the sights, smells and sounds all around.

I'd never travelled east, so this was a whole new experience for me and so far out of my comfort zone I wasn't sure what we were doing to be honest. All I knew was that I needed this, this time to explore and be daring and really live. Whatever happened, we had told ourselves it was only for a year and we could always go home again. My husband had a job secured so we'd be able to survive and everything else we just had to play by ear.

It didn't take long to settle in, make some friends and we started travelling as soon as we could. Another beautiful thing about Singapore is that it is perfectly placed to visit tropical destinations simply for a weekend jaunt. You can leave work on a Friday afternoon and be sipping sundowners on the beach by sunset, having flown to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, get the idea. Everything was in touching distance via an incredibly efficient airport and affordable travel. And don't get me started on how cheap luxury accommodation is!

So here we are living THE life, a life I never in my wildest dreams I thought I would be living at 29 years old. When you're in this situation you make the most of it, trust me. You don't live apologetically, you embrace all of the opportunities and you get over the fact that so few people get these chances in life. In fact it felt like it would be a complete waste if we didn't indulge, it was why we'd come across the world after all.

Never having been people who just like to sit on beaches our travels needed more than tropical paradises. They needed adventure, exploration and experiences we'd never have at home. Tropical climates come with rainforests and jungles, islands, mountains and remote villages. 

Asia presents the traveller with some of the best opportunities to experience wildlife in either its native habitat or in a conservation setting. Not zoos or wildlife parks, but as close to wild as you are going to get.

It was the experiences we had during this time that inspired me to create illustrations and books to celebrate it all, and introduce them to first our son and then as many other new babies and children as possible. It's easy to be creative when you have a passion, and for me that passion has always been animals and wildlife. Living in Asia simply gave me a great outlet for that passion and provided me with opportunities I'd never have had at home to meet some of my all time favourites up close.

So here's my top 5 wildlife experiences that inspired The Little Black & White Book Project and my desire to introduce as many animals to little people as possible!

My top 5 animal experiences from my time in Asia


Did you know orangu-tans are only found in this part of the world? On the islands of Borneo and Sumatra? We visited the sanctuary in Sarawak where orangu-tans live in a protected part of the forest but can come in close to the rehab center for extra food top ups and for the staff to keep an eye on them. They also resuce and release oran-utans in need which sadly is a regular occurance with deforestation and habitat loss.

We were lucky enough to observe a mother and her baby who had come to the trees near the board walk to get her fill of extra fruit and veg for the day. You're of course not guaranteed to see any orang-utans whilst you're there but by visiting you are supporting the sanctuary and all they do.

This is one of the most special encounters for me as orang-utans are up there in my all time favourites and had been on my bucket list for a long time.

If you are going to visit orang-utans in the 'wild' please make sure you research the organisation offering you the experience to make sure it is all about conservation, protection and what is best for the animals, not the tourists.


For my 30th birthday my husband organised for us to go on a trip to turtle island, a conservation project on an island just off the coast of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu. We took a short boat ride from the main harbour to a tiny island with basic but comfortable accommodation and a main hut where we ate and could read and learn about the conservation efforts in this area.

There has historically has been a huge problem with poachers stealing turtle eggs from the numerous islands in the area, many of them uninhabited so there is no one there to stop them despite it being illegal. In this area, the conservationists train the local people to become rangers and pay them a fair wage to protect rather than sell the eggs. 

On turtle island where we were staying, tourists have the opportunity to learn about green turtles, how they are under threat and how we can help them. The most beautiful part of the trip though is the unique and privileged chance to see a green turtle laying her eggs in the sand.

This obviously isn't guaranteed, we again were very lucky that one decided to show up on the night we were there. The rangers watch over her until we are invited to come and safely observe the laying of the eggs in her nest before we leave her in peace to recover and return to the ocean.

In this project, the rangers then remove the eggs to transfer them to the nursery to give them the best possible chance of survival. We also were able to be part of releasing some new hatchlings into the water the next day to save them the arduous trip across the beach they'd normally have in the wild.

Please do your research before you go anywhere that is offering interaction with turtles in the wild. 

Whale sharks

One of the other benefits to living in Singapore is that the West Coast of Australia is just 4 hours away. In fact, it's quicker to get to Perth from Singapore than it is to get there from Sydney!

We flew in to Perth and picked up some camper vans for a road trip up the west coast. Our route took us all the way up to the Ningaloo Reef which is a world heritage site and home to some impressive under water wildlife.

On the list of must sees was the beautiful gentle giants of the seas the whale shark. We joined a reputable company offering trips to swim with these animals who arranged everything for us. We boarded a boat, grabbed our snorkels and headed to the deep blue. We didn't think much of it at the time but there was a spotter helicopter overhead. We assumed it was for the whale sharks, which is kind of was...but it was also keeping an eye out for great whites, bull sharks and tiger sharks!! Luckily we saw none of those bad boys.

What we did see was a stunning young adult whale shark about 10 meters in length. It couldn't be less bothered about us being there and although it was no effort for it to swim we had to flip our flippers so fast to keep up with it. It gracefully glided as we were allowed to follow at a safe distance, behind it's field of vision and strictly no touching.

Bring in the deep ocean where all you can see is ocean and this amazing creature was very humbling. 

You can see and swim with whale sharks in many places around the world. Please research the company who you choose to go with as the welfare of these wild fish are the most important thing.


In the early part of 2015 we thought we were moving home to England, so we took a few months off to fit in the travels we hadn't squeezed in during our time in Asia. 

One thing on our bucket list was that we really wanted to meet elephants in person. Now, elephants have been part of Thai culture for centuries as working animals. They used to be used as farming animals for their brute strength and stamina. Then they became a part of the tourist trade and many were abused and treated very badly. 

Although this still sadly goes on today many have had the opportunity to retire to elephant sanctuaries to live out their days. It's these that I would recommend visiting as not only will you be supporting the work they do with your tourists dollars they also have the animals best interests at heart and their welfare.

Luckily my brother in law had done a ton of research on the best places to have an elephant experience in Thailand so we went with his recommendation having visited the same place in the previous 12 months. The sanctuary was in the mountains just outside of Chaing Mai.

We were elephant 'keepers' for the day assuming the duties to look after them the way each elephant's keeper does under their supervision. This included feeding, brushing and taking them down to the reviver to bathe. It did include riding the elephants, which is something many people do not agree with. However this is part of the elephants daily routine having been working elephants in their past life and we were strictly supervised to make sure we were seated correctly and causing no detriment to the animal. The elephants were in no way stressed or anxious and we were very much going with their flow rather than the other way around! 

Being so close to these giants, looking into their eyes, speaking softly into their ears, it was such a special memory. One can feel their power but also their intelligence and their emotional capacity. You are fully aware that they are trusting you and know if you are friend or foe. In terms of a connection, this is the most spiritual animal encounter I have ever had with such mutual respect.

As mentioned though the elephant tourist trade is still prevelant in Asia as many working elephants are used for tourist rides. Please, please research carefully and thoroughly and visit a sanctuary if you wish to be up close with these animals. They are so special and deserve our respect and kindness, they are not our play things to tick off a holiday list.

Snow monkeys

A bit like Australia, Japan is so much more accessible when you live in Singapore. Not exactly a quick hop but certainly much closer than flying from Europe. We spent 3 weeks there during Christmas 2014 and travelled around in order to see all of the big bucket list items as well as some of the lesser trodden paths.

One of the absolute highlights has to be the snow monkeys of Nagano, a few hours travel by train from Tokyo. It was crazy snowy and as we travelled further north it got whiter and the snow fell faster. We stayed in a very traditional village and ryokan complete with a saki distillery and amazing sushi restaurant.

Our host at the ryokan was such a character as well as incredibly kind and gave us the best tips for visiting the snow monkey park.

The snow monkeys are wild but they live in a protected area where the natural hot springs have been contained in man made pools for them to lounge in.

In other parts of Japan they do this fully in the wild but here they've had a helping hand due to the population increase in the area and humans encroaching on their habitat.

It was still a magical experience and seeing families including mothers and babies enjoying the hot water was surreal. Due to the volume of visitors they are quite used to humans so you need to respectfully keep your distance and make sure you have no food or drink with you or on show at least. 

Snow monkeys are a type of macaque and they use the natural hot springs primarily to avoid the depths of the winter cold. in the wild, they would use the hot springs in the day and then retreat to the trees at night to sleep, but in the warmer months they'd live in the forests near by.In the park where they are well looked after they tend to hang around all year round.

I'm not sure how stressful the life of a monkey is but apparently the hot springs also help reduce their stress levels and generally give them longevity of life.

Seeing the snow monkeys in winter in Japan, surrounded by thick fluffy snow and steaming hot water was so memorable. Also getting to sample a dip in the revitalising water ourselves in the local onsens helps you see why the monkeys love it so much!

So many animals so little time

It's been great reflecting on the amazing wildlife we were lucky enough to encounter when we were living in Asia. The things we had seen and experienced on our travels certainly helped inspire my range of books and animal illustrations.

I am passionate about sharing a really diverse selection of animals with children and babies in the hope they grow up wanting to protect them and their habitats. After all how many farmyard books or pets do we need to talk about to toddlers?

Let's open up their world and foster that love from as early an age as possible, help them fall in love, be curious, have a sense of adventure and exploration. 

Let's fill their world with variety and intrigue from day one, let's not wait until they're at school in the hope their teacher may talk about it. Let's celebrate our amazing planet and make it part of our everyday conversations so we cherish what we have and make sure we don't lose it with the generations that come after us.

Family adventures

We're now a family of four and we have been living back in the UK longer than we were away in Singapore. What started as going for a year ended in 6 years and when our son was born we decided it was time to return home to build relationships for him with his grandparents. After all the world will be waiting for us but family always comes first.

That's not the end though! As our children grow up and get older they also get more curious and their appetite for adventure and the world grows (thanks CBeebies!) I can't wait to factor in more wildlife encounters and exploration as they grow up to help them have a deeper and unwavering appreciation for our beautiful planet.



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