Taronga Western Plains Zoo’s much anticipated African Lion Pride Lands is set to impress, as construction of the $9 million exhibit nears completion by the end of the year.
The vast 3.5 hectare exhibit represents the first major change to the circuit in the Zoo’s history. When the exhibit opens in March 2018, visitors can expect a captivating experience with a pride of eight Lions roaming their habitat, visible from a replica African Masai village setting.
“Construction of the African Lion Pride Lands exhibit is coming along very well and, weather permitting, major works are on track for completion by the end of the year,” Taronga Western Plains Zoo Director Steve Hinks said.
“To date, an incredible 39,295 man hours have been dedicated to this project by contractor, David Payne Constructions. Visitor viewing shelters and behind-the-scenes animal night yards have now been finished, and the next big milestones for completion are final fencing work, road works and landscaping.
“Visitors will have noticed this exciting new exhibit really taking shape in the past few months. An impressive moat separating visitor viewing shelters from the Lion’s habitat has now been filled with water, with paths and walkways and an African-inspired goat kraal also complete. The wetlands are being filled with water, following an extensive sheet piling project, and we’re pleased to see birdlife returning,” Mr Hinks said.
The visitor experience at Lion Pride Lands will be particularly special, giving visitors a real insight into, and sensory experience of, being in Africa and the plight of Lions in the wild. A goat herd highlights the coexistence of domestic animals and apex predators such as Lions, commonplace in an African Masai village setting.
Visitors will be able to look across the water to elevated rock structures, replicating a Lion’s natural environment in the wild from which they survey their domain. Large kopjes (rock piles) and elevated viewing areas for both people and Lions are iconic elements of this exhibit and encourage a people-wildlife connection. Once operational, the exhibit will also feature a thrilling safari experience from the safety of a purpose-built vehicle.
Bruce Murdock, Precinct Manager, Wildlife Conservation and Science at the Zoo is looking forward to the opening of Lion Pride Lands in March next year.
“To have a large group of Lions on such a large exhibit is a very exciting prospect for the team at Taronga Western Plains Zoo,” Mr Murdock said.
“The existing pride of eight Lions – mother Maya, father Lazarus, four juvenile cubs and two sub-adult females – will soon start a conditioning program for their transport to their new home in a specially-made crate, planned for early next year.
“We will be allowing at least a few months for the important animal familiarisation process to take place, to ensure every animal is relaxed and confident prior to opening in March 2018.
“The African Lion Pride Lands exhibit is a promising development for Taronga Western Plains Zoo for both Lion conservation and visitor experience. We are planning to increase Lion numbers from an initial group of eight, to up to 16 in the future,” Mr Murdock said.
Lion populations in the wild have experienced a 43% decline in the past 21 years, with their range becoming increasingly fragmented. There are approximately 20,000 lions remaining in the wild today. The Lion Pride Lands exhibit will highlight the important ecological role Lions play as apex predators, and foster the Zoo’s Lion breeding program.
The project is part of the Taronga Centenary Visitor Experience Program, co-funded by Taronga and the NSW Government. This program has been developed to transform visitor experiences and create vital animal habitats at both Taronga Western Plains and Taronga Zoos over the next 10 years.