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ZSL London Zoo: Step into the ‘Land of the Lions’

| Holidays, Kids, Things to do | 24/03/2016

ZSL London Zoo Land of the Lions © ZSL London Zoo
ZSL London Zoo Land of the Lions © ZSL London Zoo

What’s on London was given access this week to the amazing new Land of the Lions enclosure at ZSL London Zoo.  The latest addition to one of the capital’s most popular attractions opens its doors to the public tomorrow (25th March) and they’re in for a treat.

The enclosure – costing £5.2 million – transports visitors from the heart of London to the vibrant and exotic setting of Gujarat state, home to the Asiatic lions.  It’s breathtaking, from the time you enter to the moment you stand just a few feet away from the majestic animals.

And Land of the Lions is more than just another enclosure: it’s a piece of conservation, with great importance attached to saving the species from extinction.  ZSL’s Asiatic Lions Campaign raised the funds to create it and continues to carry out vital work in the wild to protect this endangered species.

Gateway to India

ZSL London Zoo Land of the Lions © ZSL London Zoo

© ZSL London Zoo

ZSL’s designers visited Gujarat state for inspiration and ideas, and worked with members of London’s Gujarati community to ensure the exhibit lives up to the land it seeks to replicate.

Every detail has been carefully thought through.  From the posters, the small market place and the fallen temple architecture, India is transplanted to central London.

Visitors enter the new enclosure through a grand stone archway, before picking up their ‘park pass’ at the Gir Forest Tourist Information Centre.

From here they can explore the Sasan Gir Train Station, to get their first glimpse of the lions.

Rickshaws, bicycles, sacks of spices, maps, rangers’ huts and even a life-size truck – researched, sourced and shipped from India – are dotted around.  This helps highlight the close proximity in which Asiatic lions and humans coexist in their native Indian habitat.

ZSL London Zoo Land of the Lions © ZSL London Zoo

© ZSL London Zoo

Welfare and conservation

There’s also an immersive aspect to the new enclosure.  Visitors can become part of the story, helping forest rangers deal with a lion-related emergency.  Here they have the chance to lend a hand to the veterinary team coming to the lions’ rescue.

And those in search of an adrenaline-rush can hop onto a bike and rely on pedal-power alone to see if they can outrun an Asiatic lion – albeit an imaginary one – using the preferred mode of transport of the conservation rangers working in the wild.

Although there’s a great deal of focus on the visitor experience, ZSL says that the lions’ welfare comes first.

ZSL London Zoo Land of the Lions © ZSL London Zoo

© ZSL London Zoo

To help them feel at home, a number of Hanuman langur monkeys have been brought over from India.  Visitors discover their presence on the overhead walkway, from where they can also gaze down upon the lions’ forest home.

And it really is some home.  There will always be critics of animals being kept in captivity, but with Asiatic lions dwindling to fewer than 500 in a small patch of the Gir Forest, the efforts made by ZSL’s Asiatic Lions Campaign to save the species are significant.

Together with creating a wonderful, insightful and beautiful experience in the heart of London, this is undoubtedly an achievement.

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