At the end of a long week, you’d think the zoo would closed, the keepers would go home, and the animals would settle in for a snooze before a busy weekend. But maybe not, ’cause there’s a very special part of the zoo, the ZSL Gir Lion Lodges allow you to see the zoo when it’s just you..!
A stay at a ZSL Gir Lion Lodge allows you to enter the zoo from 4.30pm, but the experience itself starts at 6, when the zoo has closed for the night. I dashed to meet Angie one very warm and sunny Friday and as soon as we checked into our lodge, we toasted with cool glasses of prosecco to our exciting evening ahead!
Over our glasses of fizz we met our guides for evening, who explained the Gir Lion Experience! Many people know about African lions, but did you know that there are Asiatic lions, too? There aren’t that many of them but those you can find are living in the Gir Forest in India.
As you enjoy your bubbles, you can explore Gir Village, which is just outside the lion enclosure and has been fully made up to immerse you in this very special Indian village. From rows and rows of flip flips, shoes and fabrics…
To fruit stalls!
Once glasses are drained, you’re taken past the train station and up to see some of the other jungle inhabitants – monkeys!
With every little detail taken care of (and in our case, even the weather!) you’d definitely be forgiven for thinking you’d left London for the evening!
It’s hard to visit this little village without seeing one of the houses, and so feel free to pop into the Patel household which happens to have some very special neighbours…
The house has been positioned close enough to the lions to replicate exactly how close their house would be to wild lions in Sasan Gir. Safe to say – they’re close!
In this pride of 4, there are three females and one male, Bhanu! Lions are supremely sleepy creatures and love to spend hours and hours on end sleeping, so yo might have to have a little search to see them! Fortunately for us, one of the females was up and about when we arrived!
After looking at these beautiful animals, one of our guides brought us back to the Gir Forest to tell us all about what life is like for these Asiatic lions. I loved that there was a replica National Park jeep, complete with its own little lion!
I was so interested to hear about Gir National Park’s attitude to preserving the relationship between lions and humans in the area. They operate a three strike policy in case of any issues between lions and the human population, and at the end of their third strike, the lion is put into a breeding program and taken away from the area, allowing it to continue its life, just in a different place.
I was so pleased to hear all about the preservation work ZSL is doing, and that the ZSL Gir Lion Lodges contribute to. They send team members from London to the Gir National Forest to help train locals, provide equipment and help injured lions. Not just that, but they’re also helping the staff at Sakkarburg Zoo in Gujarat to learn about best practices in animal breeding and care.
Before our evening tour, there was just enough time to nip back to our cute wooden lodges to drop some more belongings and refresh a little before our evening activities!
Each lodge comes complete with a little patio that’s perfect for a cup of tea!
ZSL isn’t just for animal lovers, if you’re an architecture lover, you’ll be pleased to know there are 12 listed buildings in the zoo! One is the historic penguin enclosure with its slides which are meant to look like plane propellers (as our guide pointed out – we’re slightly unsure why as a penguin is a flightless bird!)
As you walk past these fluffy fellows…
…you’re off to see the Pygymy Hippos! Angie and I were both expecting an animal about the size of a micro pig but er, these are slightly bigger… Coming in at an average 300kg I think they’re slightly above micro status, don’t you think?!
Pygymy hippos are solitary creatures, but ones who like to know there is someone nearby. With that in mind ZSL keep their hippos in two slightly separate areas, but rotate them every so often to allow them to smell each other’s scent.
Wandering through the zoo on a warm summer evening, past the wild dogs…
…you’ll soon come to Pumba’s enclosure! Er, I mean the warthogs! As you feed them watch them dart around at impressively quick speeds and watch other people on boat rides down the river looking in at the animals.
Having fed the animals, and worked up an appetite on our walk round the zoo it was time for dinner! I think we both wished that dinner had been a little closer to the lions, or at least in the area around the ZSL Gir Lion Lodges, but sadly the setting wasn’t that special.
One other thing to note is that there’s also no alcohol in the lodges, though you can order some drinks with your dinner.
One thing that I thought was great was being able to see the nocturnal animals. Normally since the zoo is open in the day, I’m not sure how much of them you would get to see, but it was great being able to feed the aardvarks and give them a little enrichment. Enrichment is a way of giving animals the kind of experiences they would have in the wild, so not just feeding them, but making sure they scavenge for their food, for example.
With a dark night closing in, it was time for us daylight animals to head back to our lodges and sleep! Be warned, if you’re a light sleeper I’d pack ear plugs as the macaws around the corner are probably going to wake you up in the middle of the night!
Waking up the next morning, it’s a great time to try and catch a glimpse of the lions before breakfast!
After breakfast, well, this was possibly the part I was most excited about…
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love penguins. I used to love visiting them at Edinburgh Zoo as a child (you have to see the penguin parade – trust me!) and it’s one of my dreams to visit Boulder Beach in South Africa.
And you bet I was going to take advantage of having these amazing creatures so close to my home for the night – especially when no one else was in the zoo yet!
London Zoo plays home to cute little Humboldt penguins, who are native to South America, meaning their enclosure has been recreated with rocky beaches rather than icebergs.
After tearing myself away from my favourites, it was time to hear all about feeding the animals, and be taken into the keeper only side of the zoo.
Before we knew it, the doors were opened at our special access to the zoo had ended. If you’ve booked the ZSL Gir Lion Lodge experience you can still have a whole day in the zoo – but just not on your own!
We were guests of ZSL to experience the Gir Lion Lodges.