Published: 00:00, 10 July 2003
A SPECIAL group of young people and their families enjoyed a rare chance to feed elephants and get up close with baby gorillas.
As part of a treat arranged by the Kent Messenger Group and Howletts Wild Animal Park, four children chosen for their bravery or talent explored the Bekesbourne-based park on Sunday and learned about exotic creatures from the experts who look after them.
Zoe Keating, 10, of Roach Street, Strood, won a drawing and colouring competition at her school, Elaine Primary, with a drawing of a gorilla and its baby.
Accompanied by her mother Lisa, father John and cousin Hayley Wright, she came within inches of two 18-month-old gorillas and marvelled at the tiny six-month-old being fed by its mother.
For six-year-old Elliot Calvert-Mindell, of Tenterden Drive, Canterbury, and his mother Kate, grandmother Jo and 11-month-old sister Olivia, visiting Howletts was an opportunity to have some fun after the trauma of the family home being demolished by a gas explosion last month.
Lauren Styles, 13, of Well Road, Maidstone, was nominated for a Pride of Maidstone award for the courage she showed during a serious back operation in 2000 aimed at improving her scoliosis, or curvature of the spine.
Although she will undergo further treatment, Lauren was bouncing with excitement as she and mother Karen and father Peter delighted in throwing fruit and vegetables to the African elephants.
Jack Lofting, seven, of Heron's Way, Hythe, was left disabled after suffering childhood meningitis. His sister Emily, 10, received a Try Angle award nomination for her dedication to helping mother Jo care for him.
They and grandmother Sue Goddard are regular visitors to Howletts but relished the chance to return. Mrs Goddard said: "We love it here. It's one of my favourite days out."
The group's tour ended at the black and white ruffed lemur enclosure before retiring for a complimentary lunch and a free afternoon to explore the park.