It is years since I went to London Zoo. It is so long ago that my memories of it were going with my uncle and my cousin and sitting in the lion house on some steps (eating jam sandwiches) and watching the poor lions and tigers pace up and down in their small cages. At feeding time (their only excitement in their poor sad lives) they would leap on the lump of meat that the keepers pushed through the bars and we would all ooh and aah at the ferocity of them.
How different things are now! Thank goodness that most zoos now are mainly trying to protect the animals and their habitats.
My (now grown up) cousin who now lives in Holland was visiting me and we decided to visit London Zoo and see how much it had changed. She is especially fond of lions and the new “Land of the Lions” sounded interesting. It was school holidays but the park wasn’t too crowded and we didn’t have to fight through hoards of people to see any of the exhibits.
We decided to head straight to the “Land of Lions” when we arrived. However, that wasn’t as easy as we thought. Along the route was the “Butterfly Paradise”, a plastic larva shaped tunnel where you can walk through a flower garden and numerous beautiful butterflies. We just had to visit that and it was a lovely little exhibit. Then we passed “Penguin Beach” and couldn’t resist stopping there to see the new area that these cute butler impersonating creatures now have as their home. They are in a large pool area and there are glass viewing areas that are ideal to see them cavorting in the water. Dragging ourselves away from there we finally arrived at the “Land of the Lions”. This enclosure has been designed to resemble San Gir in India and covers 2,500 sqm and it contains 4 endangered Asiatic lions. There are 3 walkways that you can follow and each of these gives you a different view of the lion’s habitat. We saw the 3 female lions snoozing in the sun but unfortunately the male lion was obviously a little camera shy that day. (One of the problems with the animals having bigger and better enclosures is that they are not as visually available to the public. Although this can be disappointing I don’t think anyone would want zoos to go back to the tiny cage scenarios!) As you walk around San Gir you really feel that you are in an Indian town. There is an old railway track and shops, stalls, an Indian barber shop and sacred cows (made of plastic) all around the route. It is a beautiful setting for the lions and we spent ages there. The rest of the zoo has seen many changes as well. There is so much to do for children that I am probably going to take my grandson back later this year. You can experience a “Rain Forest Live” session where you can walk amongst sloths, anteaters and small monkeys. There are also talks in the Spider House and numerous fish in the Aquarium. (Both of these are the old, original buildings but I guess insects and fish aren’t too fussy about their environment). The other stunning area is the “Tiger Territory”. We tried for ages to see the tigers amongst the habitat and then, just as we were leaving the mother tiger brought her two cubs out to show us! It was wonderful seeing these tiny little creatures trying to crawl through the undergrowth! To top it off the father tiger then appeared in the distance, obviously just keeping a wary eye on them.
So ZSL London Zoo is a great place for a visit. It isn’t cheap to get in but we were there all day and didn’t see everything so it is worth the cost. I was pleased to see that they no longer have elephants or polar bears at the zoo. The only exhibit that I thought was a little sad was the “Gorilla Kingdom”. There was a new young gorilla and as we all pressed against the glass to view this cute little baby, the father gorilla was obviously agitated and stressed from so many faces peering in at him. Maybe, in the future, zoos will stop having Gorillas on view like this. They seemed to have a nice outside habitat but do we really still need to have an inside area where lots of jeering children are banging on the glass (despite the notices saying not to)?
I have been on safaris in the past and I know it is better to see animals in the wild but I think there is also a need for zoos. London Zoo, on the whole, seems to have the right idea now. No more small cages and emphasis on protection and breeding of endangered species.