A sleepover with lions is the hottest ticket in the capital, as ZSL London Zoo’s Land of the Lions opened its doors last year for its overnight Gir Lion Lodge Experience – running six nights a week all year.
Land of the Lions, the zoo’s largest project to date, first welcomed visitors at Easter 2016 after being unveiled by HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh – 40 years after Her Majesty opened its predecessor, The New Lion Terraces.
The zoo’s newest and most breath-taking exhibit transports visitors from the heart of London to India’s vibrant Sasan Gir, the last stronghold of the Asiatic Lion. From February, guests can once again bed down for the night in the Gir Lion Lodge, a suite of nine lodges nestled within the exhibit, decorated to mirror the welcoming charm of hotels in the lion’s native habitat.
Asiatic lions had been almost wiped out in India but conservation efforts by the western state of Gujarat over the past 50 years have saved them from extinction, though as few as 500 are thought be left in the wild in Gujarat's Gir Forest.
Zookeepers, conservationists and architects collaborated to design Land of the Lions to meet every need of London’s pride of four Asiatic lions.
Inspired by the landscape of the Gir Forest, visitors experience a bustling Indian ‘village’, a ruined temple with 180° view of the lions’ habitat, and glimpses of the lions’ den from a ‘villagers hut’, where the Asiatic lions, which can sleep 16 hours a day, enjoy their cat-naps.
Hanuman langur monkeys also wander the exhibit, cleverly separated from the lions, who are contained by 5m high fencing with an overhang.
Senior project manager Robin Fitzgerald: “You have to create those conditions, but not make it look like a mesh enclosure. So you can see them, you can smell them and really feel like you are amongst them.”
Zaun Group company Binns Fencing is better known for its high security fencing, though it has recently finished the new lion enclosure at Longleat, which featured on the BBC's Animal Park last August.
Three special walkways cover the 2,500 sq m exhibit – half the size of a football pitch – which is five times the size of the previous enclosure.
They are fitted with high security 358 steel mesh by fencing installer Binns, giving millions of people the best chance to get up-close to the big cats from a safe vantage point.
As well as their pride in London, ZSL is also working with local organisations in the Gir to help protect the vital population surviving in the wild.
Gir Lion Lodge offers a unique opportunity to learn more about these majestic animals. Nine lodges are available on six nights a week from February to December, with designated family-friendly nights and adult only nights.
The experience includes exclusive after-hours tours of the zoo at sunset, after-dark and in the morning, dinner and breakfast as well as access to the Zoo on the days before and after the visit.