By Peter Nuttall
15th July 2017, 8:20 pm
Updated: 23rd July 2017, 9:37 pm
IN the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight. But in this case, I wasn’t in the jungle.I was spending the night in a wooden cabin in the middle of London Zoo. The lions were just a few yards away, but neither were they sleeping.
I was with my wife Lizzy and two girls Alice, seven, and Harriet, five. Apart from a dozen other guests and a few security guards, we were the only humans there.
But you couldn’t say we were short of company.
Nearby were 17,000 exotic beasts including tigers, gorillas, penguins. And nearest of all were four Asiatic lions. Settling down for a night’s kip, we could hear them roaring.
Add in a few squawks from nearby tropical birds, howling langur monkeys and bedtime became positively surreal.
We were guests at the Gir Lion Lodge, one of nine delightful but simple cabins inside the zoo’s Land Of The Lions experience.
The lodges feature an en suite, double bed and foldout bed for the kids, with a private veranda.
They opened last year and help fund the zoo’s wildlife work around the world. The surroundings recreate a village in India’s Gir Forest National Park, home to the only remaining wild population of Asiatic lions.
There, with the zoo’s help, their numbers have increased from near-extinction at the turn of the century to about 500 today.
We wandered among replica street food stalls, sari shops, a temple clearing, rickshaws, Bollywood posters, vintage barber’s shop and even a dusty railway station.
But the mane attraction is the zoo’s four Asiatic lions who live in an enclosure cleverly built around the village.
Through a perspex screen we watched a male named Bhanu saunter over to a drinking trough.
Elsewhere in the undergrowth we could spot his three female companions: Sisters Heidi, Indi and Rubi. The lions have 2,500 square metres to roam about in and their low, rumbling roar can be heard up to 5km away.
After the zoo closed we were given a series of private tours by the keepers, who showed us how they feed animals from pygmy hippos to anteaters and warthogs.
Feeding follows an “enrichment process”, where the animals are made to find their food in their enclosure in a way that imitates their actions in the wild.
The kids had great fun hiding food for the anteaters to snuffle out.
Between tours we had a delicious buffet lunch in the terrace restaurant while the kids designed T-shirts with animal pics.
The next day we visited the zoo kitchens, where everything is delivered fresh from Covent Garden.
And the kids got to pose with the hippos’ massive toothbrushes — like something you would sweep a patio with.
For a one-night break, we were overloaded with memorable moments but one in particular stands out.