BY CHARLIE STONG
We’ve all enjoyed great days out at the zoo – both as children and adults. But have you ever wondered what the animals get up to when the gates are locked and the sun goes down?
If so, you now have the chance to find out exactly that, thanks to London Zoo’s fantastic new Gir Lion Lodge experience, which allows you to stay overnight at one of the capital’s biggest attractions, falling asleep in your cosy little home to the sounds of the wild.
London Zoo has always been one of our favourite destinations in the capital. Whenever we’re stuck for things to do, which, to be fair isn’t that often in London, we always know the zoo is there, just a bus ride away, to entertain us. But this was to be our best visit of all.
Gir Lion Lodge is situated in extraordinary surroundings inside the Land of the Lions exhibit.
Inspired by the welcoming charm of hotels in the lions’ native Gujarati home in India, the beautifully decorated lodges have a traditional feel and are each themed to a different animal found in the Gir forest.
The nine lodge cabins house either double or twin beds and an en-suite bathroom. Each lodge has a private veranda so that you can sip your bedtime tea or hot chocolate while listening to the sounds of the Zoo at night.
The two-day experience allows visitors to spend one day at ZSL London Zoo and also, if you want, one day at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
We – that’s me, my wife Hayley and our six-year-old daughter, Nellie, arrived at London Zoo at 3pm last Wednesday, although could have arrived as early as 10am.
We spent an hour or so looking around the zoo with the rest of the public, before checking into the cabins and meeting our hosts Perry, Vivienne and Laura at 4.30pm.
But it was at around 5pm, when the gates to the general public closed and the stars began to come out, when things really came alive.
A stay at the Gir Lion Lodge includes three special tours, which all take place when the zoo is closed to the public.
After a welcome drink and a chance to meet not only our hosts but the other visitors who would be sharing the experience with us, we headed out for first the sunset tour, then a torchlight tour, meeting the lions but also penguins, camels, flamingos and their friends.
Between the tours we enjoyed a delicious two-course buffet meal in the zoo’s Terrace Restaurant, and retired to our lodges at around 9.30pm, but not before Nellie had the chance to make up some of the food we would be giving to the animals the next morning – including bamboo canes stuffed with mealworms for the Aye-Ayes.
After a cup of tea we bedded down for the evening, accompanied by the grunts and groans of the zoo’s resident male lion, Bhanu, who was suffering with a rather nasty cough.
We awoke at 7am on the Thursday having survived a night surrounded by some of the scariest, yet most beautiful animals imaginable.
At 8am we headed off for breakfast – a selection of English or continental options, before our final, personal tour, with Perry and Joy, after which the gates were opened at 10am and our dream returned to reality.
We were sad to leave, but our experience staying with the lions at Gir Lion Lodge and our very own, private tours of London Zoo, was one none of us will ever forget and is one we would recommend wholeheartedly.
ZSL London Zoo is an international conservation charity working to create a world where wildlife thrives and money spent on this experience helps support the mission.
For more information about prices and availability visit www.zsl.org