LIONS OF THE UK
As one of the world's most iconic animals the lion was quick to become a popular and seemingly permanent addition to any zoological garden in Menagerie. Awe-inspiring and ferocious the public appetite endured through years of wild animal capture replacing any of the lions that may have been lost in the early stages of these collections.
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. 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 information on above and right show information on the lion keeping of days gone by even explaining issues of the time
The Safari Concept
The first major zoo revolution was set all around lions. Everyone sees the 'Safari Park' as different from zoos and for lions they offered an amazing opportunity, to keep them in large groups.
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. These were the 'older strain' of zoo lions and were the lions that Jimmy Chipperfield sought to replace with his new line of Safari lions. 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)
•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. However with 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.
Seen above left is a postcard from Longleat Safari Park showing the new strain of Safari Park lions that Jimmy Chipperfield brought in, with their lean figures and long faces. Over time these characteristics have been blended in with original strain lions to create the different characteristics. Above right shows the Lion Reserve at Woburn Safari Park in 2013.
Over time this new group of lions quickly over populated the UK and took over places from the older strain lions with the older collections such as Belle Vue Zoo taking on these new and very readily available lions. However over the years not all of the Safari Parks have been successful, Lambton and Stapleford Reserves both closed after not long in operation and Windsor Safari Park operated by the Smart family closed in 1992.
The Time For Rescues
Over the last four decades since the zoo licensing act came into place in 1981, which quickly saw the end of the last of the pop up 60's zoos, conditions in zoos have soured since. In Eastern Europe however some of the zoos have remained the same with very little money or conservation output going into the upkeep of these places.
Born Free have long been praised for rescuing animals in squalid conditions but zoos have long played their part. In February 2010 thirteen lions were rescued from Oradea Zoo in Romania and arrived at Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Doncaster. At the time this was the largest big cat rescue ever seen in Europe. To compliment this rescue Yorkshire Wildlife Park have built one of the finest lion enclosures in which to keep them, three large enclosures separated by moats and cleverly landscaped fences.
In 2012 African Lion brothers Clarence and Brutus arrived at Wingham Wildlife Park from their temporary holding at the Tonga Terre D’accueil Rescue Centre near Lyon where they were rescued from a French circus.
These lions will not be used for breeding due to their uncertain heritage but they will be given top class care for the rest of their lives in conditions a world apart from where they were from.
The pictures above show Yorkshire Wildlife Park's world class 'Lion Country' enclosure built to hold their thirteen rescued lions from Romania.
The Modern Zoo
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 designs and 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.
Africa Alive!'s 'Kingdom Of The Lion' opened in 2005 is home to a small family group of African Lion headed by resident male Zero who was born at Woburn Safari Park.
The park near Kessingland in Suffolk also raises money regularly for Lion Guardians, an organisation working with lions and the local people in bases across East Africa.
'Lions Of The Serengeti' at the Zoological Society of London's Whipsnade Zoo is home to a small family group of lions with the older lions born at West Midland Safari Park.
The enclosure is designed to immerse the visitors into life in the Serengeti with a simple theme portraying an African tribal homestead.
One of the newest enclosures for African Lions in the UK is the West Midland Safari Park's new reserve 'Realm Of The Lions' opened in 2013.
The Reserve not only includes a refurbished outside environment but a brand new state-of-the-art indoor housing area designed to hold a pride of lions with a large shared area and separation dens.
Where does Safina fit in?
Safina was born at Linton Zoological Gardens on the 30th November 2005, her parents 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 is definitely a descendant of the original Chipperfield lions from when the safari concept began.
Safina, her companion Zuri and offspring Nabulaa and Kali live in their enclosure 'Lion Paradise'. A well landscaped natural half acre of land with many high vantage points including a house and secure outside isolation area.
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. So far they have sponsored three Lion Guardians via the Lion Guardians organisation every year.
Here at the Safina Lion Conservation Fund we believe in the work that zoos do by housing lions in well landscaped and large enclosures as ambassadors of their wild cousins to raise money and awareness for their wild cousins educating the public worldwide about the threats that they face.
Many zoos throughout the United Kingdom work with conservation efforts over the African Continent to save the last lions in the wild, we believe that their influence and their help is much better to have than to not and that conservation organisations working with zoological collections together is incredibly important to combat the biggest dilemma for species survival for millenia. These lions of the UK inspired the creation of this charity and we work to ensure that we fulfil our mission and charitable objects in their name.