The Barbary Lion is extinct in the wild.1 It was the lion that battled with Roman gladiators in the Colosseum and was, at least according to Wikipedia, kept in the menagerie at the Tower of London. But the Atlas Mountains, where they once roamed, is no longer home to any of the animals.
Science, being a mysterious and wonderful thing, is attempting a breeding program that may be able to breed back the lions by finding decedents of the original creatures.
I learnt about Barbary lions on a visit to the Port Lympne Animal Park in Kent where there’s a pair of lions housed near one of the cafes.
The Animal Park is owned by wildlife conservation charity The Aspinall Foundation2 and is known for work to breed rare and endangered species for release into the wild. It’s also home to the world’s largest ‘gorillarium’ – which is a word I can only find in relations to Port Lympne – yet watching gorillas & lions in their cages is a strange experience. I know they’re effectively extinct and therefore the charity’s work is invaluable but these animals are still in an enclosure – large as it may be. On balance, though, the work has got to be worth it.
I spent a night in one of Port Lympne’s amazing ‘treehouses’3 which feature unforgettable views across the park and across Romney Marsh with, what I think, was the wind farm in the far distance. A complimentary golf buggy allows you access to the park after the day crowds have gone when, at dusk, some of the animals seems to be more awake. It’s possible to get quite close to some animals and watch them in fairly natural habitats. Many of the 600 acres are devoted to the African Experience where, from the safari vehicles, giraffes & black rhinos can be seen wandering the park.
It’s a brilliant experience to see the conservation work of the park up close. If you’re thinking of somewhere for an unusual night, surrounded by the sounds of safari, then Port Lympne comes highly recommended. The accommodation and the staff were superb and, if the thought of the 35 steps to the treehouse and to see the amazing balcony views is a bit daunting, take the golf buggy around the back.
About BEWA 2016
BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August) is a project aimed to get me writing in a blog style again. The 2016 season featured cycling in the city, fascinating maps, an underground tour of Clapham South Deep-level Shelter. There is a page with the #bewa collection (including those from last year). Fingers crossed I am back next week. I’m sure @curns will mention it.