Zoo Lions of the UK
As one of the World's most iconic animals the lion was quick to become a must have addition to any zoological collection. Awe inspiring and ferocious the public appetite for seeing these incredible animals has endured for centuries.
The first major zoo revolution was set all around lions. Everyone sees the 'Safari Park' as different from zoos and for lions they offered a very unique opportunity, to keep them in larger groups than had ever been seen in zoos before. All Safari Park lions descend from 'Chipperfield Lions'. These lions were brought into the country by Jimmy Chipperfield from all over the World, and were used to fill his first three Safari Parks in the UK, Longleat, Woburn and Blair Drummond in the late 1960's/early 70's when they were founded. A fantastic account of how this all happened is found on the old Glasgow Zoo website where the following extract came from...
"In the late 60s everything changed. Longleat, the first UK safari park, opened in 1969. Overnight, there was a requirement for large numbers of good-looking lions. "I was not happy with the existing zoo lions; many were clearly very inbred," Jimmy Chipperfield told me (pers. com. 1974). "We imported several groups, from Uganda in particular. Within a short time I was able to identify accurately any UK lion because ours were distinctly different from the original UK zoo ones, which tended, amongst other things, to have longer heads," he continued. This sort of observation and captive breeding are not 'scientific' as we know it today, but traditional 'stockmanship'."
The first major lion success story within the zoo industry was at Dublin Zoo. Known for their success since their first litter of cubs in 1857, hundreds of lions have been born there over the last 150 years. Now all those years later they now house the endangered Asiatic Lions. Many other zoological gardens saw success with lions, at the Zoological Society of London, in 1902 the Lion House was apparently holding 'ten lions and seven lionesses' as well as other existing cat species. This was deemed by the 'committee of reorganization' as excessive. Very quickly however it became noticed that lions had become so prolific to breed, space was beginning to run out. In the 1960's animals became incredibly popular and zoos started to pop out from the majority of large towns and cities as well as family run zoos all over the UK. The public appetite for zoos quickly diminished and the majority of these 'pop-up' zoos were closed within a few years of opening.
The lions that Jimmy Chipperfield brought in have over the last forty years or so managed to spread so far, that it is estimated that all lions in the UK descend from these lions. Now that all of the prides have developed over the years they have been the core breeders within the UK resident in the following Safari Parks - Woburn Safari Park, Longleat Safari Park, Knowsley Safari Park, West Midlands Safari Park (The Windsor Lions were moved here when the Park closed) and Blair Drummond Safari Park. Male lions are split and sent to other collections to breed with these females. With all of the male lions being spread around the UK to these groups over time, the females generally staying put these lionesses can be traced back to the Safari opening, just like a wild lionesses would stay in their historic pride lands.
The information to the left shows information on the lion keeping of days gone by even explaining issues of the time. Above can be found an original 1960's postcard from the Lions of Longleat.
THE WORK OF MODERN ZOOS
FEATURING OUR ZOO PARTNER FOLLY FARM
A Safina Connection...
The 'Pride of Pembrokeshire' lion enclosure at Folly combines excellent educational facilities with an incredibly large housing area with four large indoor dens and outside yards with two enclosures that together equate to well over an acre in size which all together makes for a superb area for their six lions to live.
At Safina we work with many zoos across the UK to share conservation and education messages. Over the years zoo standards have changed incredibly and many new enclosures have been built by zoos to give their lions large, stimulating and safe environments to live in.
One of the best examples of these new enclosures in the UK belongs to one of our zoo partners and was built in 2014 at Folly Farm Adventure Park & Zoo in Tenby, Wales. We are very grateful to Tim Morphew, Zoo Manager for allowing us to share these videos and pictures on our website to showcase how an enclosure can work for the lions in their care but also to educate their visitors on the plight of their wild cousins. A good zoo lion enclosure offers the lions multiple spaces inside and out so that they can spend time independently if they want to. Vantage points are very important as lions love to survey their territory as well as a mixture of substrates and some tree cover for shade too. Folly Farm have also built a large public area featuring many educational displays and resources detailing how conservationists work in the field and the skills needed to identify lions and displays about their biology.
Thanks to Animal Management student George Cuevas for allowing us to share this brilliant video tour of the new Lion Pride Lands Exhibit at Paradise Wildlife Park. This well thought out enclosure offers the lions a well designed environment both inside and out, three times the size of their previous enclosure.
The United Kingdom has seen a huge change in the presentation of the zoos around the country. Modern zoos are now centres that focus more on welfare, research, conservation and education than they ever have before. Millions of pounds have been spent on brand new enclosure and donations have been sent over to Africa to raise money for conservation efforts. The bigger collections such as Whipsnade run by the Zoological Society of London run their own conservation and research efforts out on the field whereas the smaller collections raise funds and awareness for organisations already doing important work in the field. The pictures below show some of the largest areas and newest enclosures given over to African Lions within the UK showing the growing standards in the industry over recent years. The SLCF is not associated with all of these zoological collections and is sharing these pictures purely for educational purposes to promote advancing husbandry methods and enclosure design. We must point out that it is not all about cost, there are many points to consider including design, space and cover.
A lioness climbing one of the many ancient trees in the Safari Park's 6 acre woodland reserve that has held lions since it opened in 1971.
Part of the famous 30 plus acre lion reserve at the Safari Park. Quite possibly one of the most iconic lion enclosures in the country.
The new lion house built in 2011 has several indoor rooms which can opened up to make one large space and has a large overnight outside enclosure to keep multiple adults together in a large pride.
The Lions of the Serengeti enclosure was completed in 2005 and features a large enclosure overlooking several antelope enclosures with a large public viewing area. ZSL have supported lion conservation efforts in the Serengeti for many years.
The 'Realm of The Lions' reserve was finished in 2015 along with a brand new house which incorporates a large communal area and outside areas for use overnight.
One of the large landscaped enclosures part of the Yorkshire Wildlife Park's Lion Country which opened in 2011 with a group of 13 lions from Romania's Ordea Zoo.
One of the large landscaped enclosures at Yorkshire Wildlife Park's Lion Country.
The public education area that overlooks the African Lion enclosure at Africa Alive! Africa Alive! have supported the Lion Guardians organisation for several years.
This new enclosure at Paradise Wildlife Park features two areas for the parks group of four lions and focuses on the conservation efforts they support in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
The educational display area at the new Lion Pride Lands at Paradise Wildlife Park featuring information about conservation and lion behaviour.
The large communal area in Paradise Wildlife Park's new Lion Pride Lands. Two large off-show dens in addition are behind this area.
The large outdoor area home to the African lion pride at Africa Alive!
Safina, our namesake was born at Linton Zoological Gardens on the 30th November 2005, her parents descend from the prides at Woburn and Knowsley Safari Parks.
Her parents Riziki and Karla descend from the nearby Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire. Their mothers descend from the Woburn Pride while their fathers descend from Knowsley Safari Park near Liverpool. Over the years these prides have produced individuals that have either stayed as part of their birth pride or gone on to other zoos and safari parks. Safina from her heritage a descendant of the original Chipperfield lions from when the safari concept began. Safina's companion Zuri was born at West Midland Safari Park on the 3rd July 2006, representing a different blood line as the West Midlands lions descend from the lions held at the Windsor Safari Park.
Safina, her companion Zuri and offspring Nabulaa and Kali live in their enclosure 'Lion Paradise'. A well landscaped natural space about a third of an acre in size with many high vantage points from a series of high mounds and fallen logs including a house and secure outside isolation area pictured left. This enclosure has won the BIAZA best landscaped enclosure in a small zoo of the year award when it was built. Like many other zoos Linton Zoo has supported lion conservation regularly for years. They have sponsored Lion Guardians via the Lion Guardians since 2013 and currently support three Lion Guardians by sponsoring their annual salary. Pictured below is the Woburn Pride, 2021.