If you’re the type that just can’t get enough of David Attenborough’s natural history TV shows, are fascinated observing farm animals in the countryside and don’t find Aleksandr the Meerkat the least bit cute because he’s simply not real enough, then the latest tourist initiative at ZSL London Zoo may be just your thing. That’s because you can now spend the night at this world-renowned zoo – in the UK capital’s first ever lion safari lodge.
Having opened in May this year, the Gir Lion Lodge offers overnight visitors one of nine vibrantly coloured wood cabins to bed down in surrounded by the zoo’s cornucopia of creatures. Indeed, a pack of Asiatic lions are just a few metres away – at an entirely safe distance, though, it ought to be added.
The lodge’s name is inspired by the Gir National Park in India’s Gujarat region, home to the last 500 wild Asiatic lions in the wild, and is set in the zoo’s Land of the Lions enclosure, itself charmingly modelled on an Indian village, containing more than 1,000 props that had to be shipped over to the UK, such as rickshaws, a crate truck and a chai stall.
Each cabin contains a double bed or twin beds, as well as a pull-out sofa bed for your little tykes (should you decide to spend the night as a family) and an en-suite. However, not all nights are for families; sensibly, some are held for parents and kids and others for grown-ups only, which means couples looking forward to a romantic evening won’t have their unique experience bombarded by a bunch of kids enjoying the time of their little lives – and vice versa.
The event begins, after guests have settled into their cabins, with an experienced zookeeper hosting an early-evening guided tour – and an opportunity to feed the animals – of the Africa section in which the enclosure sits. What better way to experience the zoo than on this torch-lit safari? You’ll hear monkeys chattering from the shadows, catch bats flitting overhead and truly be able to suspend your disbelief, indulge your imagination and kid yourself you’re not in the centre of one of the most bustling cities on Earth, but a magical African land thousands of miles away.
Having said all that, the zoo points out that the likely ‘star of the show’ overnight at Gir Lion Lodge could well be Misha the aardvark. Why? Well, not only is she something of an exotic critter, but also you’ll get to feed her yourself – with grasshopper-and-maggot-rich straw in a toilet roll. No really. It’ll surely make for a once in a lifetime experience! Reason indeed then to give up one night of your stay in the city should you have booked into one of London’s luxury hotels for families.
Don’t worry, though, you won’t be fed yourself like Misha. Instead, you’ll get to dine on a two-course meal served on a long, candlelit table along with all the other guests. And then later, of course, when you settle down to bed in your cabin, you’re advised to leave your window open to get the full effect – the orchestra of the zoo, that is.
What’s that sound there? A stirring snore from a big cat? And what’s that sound from over there? The curious call of a bewitching nocturnal creature? The whole point of the experience is to step out of the norm and, as you drift off to the world of slumber, that’s when it’ll hit you that you’re sharing your bedtime with nature’s beasts. Indeed, if you’re visiting during flamingo mating season you’ll be serenaded by frisky squawks and then, in the morning, by hollers and hoots from the languor monkeys. Delightful!
Sometimes referred to as Regent’s Zoo, ZSL London Zoo has a hugely diverse collection of 756 species, comprising 17,480 individual animals, making it one of the biggest of its kind in the UK. Originally intended as a scientific zoo alone, it opened its reptile house in 1849, its public aquarium in 1853, its insect house in 1881 and its children’s zoo in 1938.
To spend a night at Gir London Lodge costs £378 per couple and £50 per child; those prices include the evening meal, breakfast the following morning and up to three tours of the zoo. Fair dos, that doesn’t sound particularly cheap, but were you to visit the zoo for two consecutive days (which you’ll doing by attending this event, of course) it would actually set you back around £135 for two adults and two children’s tickets – and that wouldn’t include lunch. So, not only is this unique London attraction affordable for those visiting the capital, but will surely make for a magical, magisterial night with the kings of the jungle that you’ll never forget.