Have you ever wondered what happens at night at the zoo? Once all guests go home, the keepers finish for the day and there’s really no one left but the animals…Well a very special invitation gave me the opportunity to not only visit ZSL London Zoo after hours but to actually spend the night in the lion’s den…
Located right in the heart of the Land of the Lions is the Gir Lion Lodge, a cute mini village of wooden huts that provide your accommodation for the evening.
A fellow fan of unique experiences and one-of-kind accommodation, I asked Lauren to come along with me and step into the lion’s den!
Our home for the night was the Sun Bird lodge…
Ok it’s not five star but it was super cute and the bed was actually very comfortable… just be prepared for some animal noises in the middle of the night. It’s far from basic as there’s an ensuite bathroom, tea and coffee making facilities, mirror and a hair dryer. I loved the touch of giving us towels fashioned into swans!
Some of you admired my bag on Facebook and Instagram – I couldn’t resist taking this penguin bag along with me. I was actually given it from back in my days of working at Penguin publishers. After settling in, it was time for our experience to really begin! Though you can check in before, the experience really starts at 6pm when everyone has left the zoo and our small group had the place all to our selves!
There’s something really fun about beginning a night at the zoo with a glass of prosecco and toasting what was to be a really fun and unique evening. Our guides for the evening explained to us that most people know about African lions but the Asiatic lions are a subspecies that isn’t so well know. In fact there’s only a very small population of them that can be found in India’s Gir Forest and though very similar to their African counterpart there are some key differences.
The Land of the Lions has been turned into a truly immersive and interactive experience… starting with the recreation of Sasan Gir high street, the village on the edge of the national park. Here you’ll find a train station and guard hut which has been taken over by naughty meerkats, there’s an information office where guests can see videos of the actual Gir Forest and a barbers for the lions to get their manes trimmed!
Waste has been kept at a minimum and plenty of recycling and upcycling of existing zoo buildings has been done in order to create the exhibition.
The effect makes you feel as if you’ve been transported to India as there are so many fantastic details. Of course it would be an exaggeration to say we actually felt like we were in India, but it was still easy to forget that we were in London as it certainly felt like a different world.
With accurate National Park jeeps the guides weave a story that your group is here to help forest rangers deal with a lion emergency in the Gir Forest. Now I know you’re probably thinking…well that sounds fun for kids…but actually the are adults only night for the Gir Lion experience. Half our group was made up of children and I did wonder how it would be tailored to adults but the guide told me there are more adult jokes and less games on those nights.
Then it was time to see the king of the jungle! Bhanu, Hindi for ‘the sun’, is the male lion, he’s six years old and apparently loves to chatter!
There are three females, seven year old Rubi is the oldest but the shyest and she was born right here at London Zoo. Heidi and Indi are the younger sisters and both were also born right here in London.
Now I know zoos aren’t for everyone so I think it’s important to mention the work that ZSL is doing for the preservation of the Asiatic lion which are scarce in population. ZSL is works with local partners to support Asiatic lion conservation in the Gir Forest with training and equipment to rescue and help injured lions. ZSL also work to train the staff at Sakkarburg Zoo in Gujarat and train the staff in best practices and breeding. ZSL London Zoo itself is dedicated to conservation and education and you can rest assured that the animals here are in safe, ethical environment.
Growing up on the outskirts of London, I have fond memories of visiting London Zoo as a child. One such memory is the penguin enclosure…they’ve long since moved digs but the original penguin pool is a listed structure and one of the most famous in the Zoo. Dating back to 1828, the zoo actually has twelve listed buildings created by many famous architects.
Next we were taken to see the Pgymy hippos and given the name I was expecting teeny tiny creatures the size of piglets. However, a pgymy hippos is still 300 kilos! There are actually very rare and only found in West Africa as opposed to the common hippo which can be found throughout Africa. Thug and Nicky are the resident Pygmies and despite their names, it’s Nicky that calls the shots!
If you’re anything like me than your frame of reference for animals will be the Lion King and any Warthog is Pumba! I got up close and personal with them at Giraffe Manor and here at ZSL London you can feed the cute / ugly creatures!
Feeding time for the animals over and it was feeding time for the humans!! Honestly, I have to say I was disappointed by the dinner which was in an upstairs room in a non-descript building. I had expected tables to be set up outside in the Lion’s enclosure and I don’t know if health and safety prevents this but either way I felt more could have been done to create an interactive experience during our meal. No complaints about the food itself though I’d also like to point out that theres no alcohol back in the lodge which scuppered our plans to take a bottle of wine back with us.
With our meal over, we were taken to see some of the nocturnal animals including the aardvarks and porcupines before heading back to the lodge for bed. Despite animal noises through the night and birds crowing at 4am, we managed to get a decent night sleep and headed for breakfast in the zoo restaurant at 8am.
With the zoo opening at 10am, we were the very first inside and we were able to catch a glimpse of the lions long before the weekend crowds started pouring in.
There was one animal that Lauren and I really couldn’t wait to see!
Penguin beach is a recreation of South American beach and home to a colony of Humboldt penguins. It’s also the biggest penguin pool in England so there’s plenty of the adorable creatures waddling around and swimming in the pool.
Another great thing about the Gir Lion Lodge experience is that you can really go behind the scenes where visitors aren’t usually allowed and we were led into the kitchen to see the animals’ food be prepared for the day. You can imagine the vast quantity of food needed to feed all those animals and that was just the vegetarian kitchen.
Before leaving the zoo we were taken to see the latest exhibition with the Gibbon’s treetop habitat only opening that day! These swinging apes are actually real cuties and are some of the closest relatives to humans.
With 1oam swiftly arriving it was time for the zoo to open and our exclusive access was coming to an end. I have to say that I think that the Gir Lion Lodge Experience at ZSL London Zoo was overall an awesome opportunity for both adults and children alike – sleeping close to the animals and beating the crowds is just not something you’d otherwise experience.
WATCH A VIDEO OF MY EXPERIENCE!!
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We were guests of ZSL London Zoo for the Gir Lion Lodge Experience