By Alannah James
Imagine standing in the heart of a lion’s den while up to 12 lions roam the grounds around you.
This is exactly what Monarto Zoo plan to introduce in the next five years as part of their Master Plan.
Instead of ‘shark cage’ diving, the zoo plans to deliver its own hair-raising experience using lions – on dry ground instead of underwater.
Zoos SA chief executive, Elaine Bensted, says this unique attraction would bring a whole new level of sights, smells and sounds to visitors at Monarto Zoo.
“The ‘Predator Experience’ (design featured in headline image) will allow visitors to emerge from a tunnel into the middle of the 10 hectare lion enclosure,” Elaine says.
“Zoos SA is in the process of seeking a variety of funding sources for this development and once secured the project will commence,” she adds.
Monarto Zoo remains a top attraction for both domestic and international visitors and is the most visited attraction not only in the Murraylands, but in regional South Australia.
Moving forward, Elaine says the focus will be to create “valuable visitor experiences while connecting people with nature in an exciting and immersive environment”.
The newly announced ‘Wild Africa’ precinct is just one way Monarto Zoo plans to create more valuable visitor experiences.
‘Wild Africa’ will take visitors on a personal safari through the 500 hectares adjacent to the lion enclosure.
Elaine compares the rare walk through experience to an African safari.
“They will be immersed in the sights, smells and sounds as they travel across the open plains through herds of animals seemingly free to roam nearly 500 hectares,” she explains.
“An off-road safari in ‘Wild Africa’ at sunset will be an unforgettable experience.”
The ‘Wild Africa’ experience will also offer visitors the chance to stay overnight and sleep to the sounds of lions and hyenas calling in the night.
Unlike other Australian zoos, Monarto Zoo is spans 1,500 hectares and is home to more than 500 animals and 50 species.
“We already market Monarto Zoo as one of the largest open-range zoos in the world and when you are in ‘Wild Africa’ you can fit every other zoo in Australia in that area and still have land left-over,” Elaine says.
This extra space makes Monarto the perfect home for endangered species like the Southern White Rhinoceros.
It is hoped the zoo will be able to house about 30 rhinoceros in the next few years.
“There is an estimated 17,500 Southern White Rhinoceros remaining in Africa. It is becoming increasingly important that we must increase our efforts to safeguard and breed rhinos in protected places like zoos.
“We are hopeful the first six rhinoceros will be imported later this year, and we’re confident the rhinoceros will see a significant increase in visitation to Monarto Zoo and generate additional tourism activity in the region.”
Almost 70 per cent of animals at Monarto Zoo are critically endangered which means breeding programs are imperative to their survival.