Sunday, June 28, 2015

Eye to Eye Lion Encounter at Perth Zoo

Andrew and I bought tickets for a Lion Eye to Eye Encounter at Perth Zoo for Iva and Michael for Christmas and we decided to go along with them. There's a variety of animals to choose from and I am so glad we (well Andrew, good choice Andrew!) chose the lion because it was AMAZING! I'm sure all of the encounters are really good, but the lion one was just so much more close-up than I expected it to be.

With our small group of 6 (Andrew, Iva, Michael and I and two others) we met the lion zoo keeper at the meeting point and went behind the lion exhibit where the lions were waiting to be fed. After a really short safety speech from the keeper (where she told us to keep behind the yellow line (the yellow lion?!)) we made our way through the gate to the feeding enclosure.

Eye to Eye Lion at Perth Zoo

There were two male lions (Nelson and Mandela, both 10, brothers from the same litter) and one female lion (I forgot her name, she was an elderly lady at 16) waiting in 3 separate rooms quite impatiently for their food. They were pacing back and forth, jumping up, scratching at the bottom of the cages (an undesirable behavior they learned from their original zoo home) and growling at us. It was really quite confronting and we all were quite shocked at how close and loud they were!

Once the keeper locked the exit gates to each room, she explained that she only fed them once they behaved for a count of 5 seconds (she called out the 5 seconds to the lions). The two males got it right straight away, but the female had to have a couple of goes because she got impatient and jumped up before the 5 seconds was up. Kind of like training your pet dog to behave for food!

The keeper fed each lion through a rotating metal trap door with their personal diet appropriate weight of horse meat. She explained that the lions have really rough tongues for licking the meat right of the bone, and that it would really hurt (and probably rip your skin off!) if a lion licked you. She also explained that one of the males is particularly wimpy and so he needs simple cuts of meat otherwise it takes him way too long to get the meat off and finish his meal.

Andrew with Nelson and Mandela

Once they were fed the lions were really quiet, so we got a chance to ask some questions and take some photos. The keeper had told us that the male on the left doesn't like it when you get too close to him while he's eating, and I must have accidentally gone too close because he went nuts and started jumping up on the cage and roaring at us, protecting his kill of horse meat viciously!

Jess with the Lioness

We then got to accompany the keeper into the lion's enclosure as she cleaned up a bit. Much to the disappointment of the people looking in (who were understandably expecting lions), we got to walk around the whole exhibit, putting the interesting smells from the soles of our shoes around the place for the lions to investigate later. She showed us some massive lion footprints in the mud, and showed us the heated rocks that encourage the lions to sit up close to the viewing windows. She offered us an opportunity to take photos inside the lion's sleeping quarters, but since they smelled strongly of ammonia (apparently the lions insist on peeing where they sleep) we politely declined.

Paw Print

It was extremely confronting seeing a lion being fed so close up. I guess you always think you know that lions are scary and will eat you from movies and TV, but it was completely different seeing these guys looking you straight in the eyes and roaring and snarling at you less than a meter away.

Michael Iva and Andrew

I've done the Giraffe Encounter (very fun, you get to feed them!) and the Seal Encounter (disappointing, mostly an opportunity for them to sell you photos) at Melbourne zoo, and I think this one was the best. It was very up close (less than 1m to the lions), real (the keeper would be doing it even if we weren't there), had variety (lion feed and enclosure visit) and wasn't a money grab at all (no professional photos, we were encouraged to take our own). We also really appreciated the keeper who was bubbly and talkative and clearly loved her job and the lions. It's a 10/10 in all departments for the Eye to Eye Lion Encounter at Perth Zoo, definitely worth it. 

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