9 February 2010

New Lion House Breaks Ground as Sea Lions Move On and Penguins Move In!

Already internationally recognised as a centre of excellence for the conservation of endangered wildlife and an innovator in wild animal welfare, Woburn Safari Park has begun work on yet more new, world-class facilities, further improving the standards of animal welfare.


The building of a new lion facility at a cost of approximately £250,000 is another step in the ongoing plans to upgrade all animal facilities for Woburn’s challenging and dangerous large carnivores. 

Large enough to house the existing pride of 16 African lions, and flexible enough to cope with the regular disputes common in any family this size, it has also been designed with the future in mind and will be big enough to accommodate any new additions to the already impressive group.

Critically, the new facility will allow the pride to have overnight access outside of the main house in state-of-the-art, high security night quarters.  In 2004, Woburn invested £300,000 to ensure its wolves had outside, overnight access in their huge enclosure which they share with the bears.  Similar plans are in place to upgrade Woburn’s tiger facilities within the next 18 months, allowing them to have safe overnight access to an outside area.  This is something few visitors will be aware of, but something that all of these animals are certainly appreciative of. 

In recent years, Woburn has spent approximately £4 million on a number of similar ‘off-show’ facilities across the park, designed purely to benefit animal welfare and to enhance Woburn’s conservation potential; a figure unequalled in the UK. 

Starting with the upgrade to Woburn’s wolf facilities, this was followed in 2007 by the building of the African Ungulate Conservation Centre, known simply as ‘The Antelope House’.  At a cost of over £500,000, this bespoke facility is pivotal to the unparalleled work that the park does with hoofed mammals and houses probably the biggest concentration of critically endangered African ungulates on Earth.

After opening the Antelope House, Woburn’s redevelopment programme gathered pace with the building of the first phase of a state-of-the-art Asian Elephant Conservation Centre in 2008.  The first elephant house in the UK to be built from scratch, designed around the welfare of a herd rather than the needs of visitors or keepers, this house allows the elephants to spend their time as closely as they would in the wild, even in the depths of an English winter.

This was followed in mid-2009 with the completion of the most advanced and probably biggest facility in the world for housing rhino and other savannah animals.  Shortly after this house was opened, Woburn was able to welcome two new white rhino from South Africa, to join the four already living at the park. 

Staff at Woburn Safari Park are now looking forward to both herds growing further with the introduction of a seventh rhino from a safari park in Holland and the arrival of another elephant from a zoo also in Holland, increasing the elephant herd to four.  Both of these moves are in recognition of the investment Woburn has made in its animal facilities and the contribution it can make to vital breeding programmes for these species.

The park’s large group of Rothschild giraffe haven’t been overlooked either.  Their house was refurbished and doubled in size last autumn - vital in allowing Woburn to continue to support the European breeding programme for this critically endangered sub-species. 

Woburn is one of the most successful breeders of Rothschild giraffe in Europe and its programme of ensuring a natural diet is maintained all year round supports this.  In the summer, branches are collected from trees on the 3000-acre estate and fed to the giraffes each day; the surplus meanwhile is stored for the winter months.  In fact Woburn, having purposely planted 10,000 trees, is the only zoo in Europe that can guarantee its giraffes a supply of fresh leaves 365 days a year.

Dr Jake Veasey, head of animals and conservation at Woburn Safari Park, and a trained and published animal welfare scientist, says: “We have invested significantly in facilities at the park in the last few years, and our plans over the next five years will see us invest a further £10 million into the development of more new facilities.  While the benefits of this may not be immediately obvious to visitors as they drive through the reserves, it means that we will be able to offer the very highest standards of care possible and introduce, and ultimately breed, new species of critically endangered animals at Woburn.

“Woburn is committed to both animal welfare and conservation and our investments over the past few years clearly demonstrate this.  As with any zoo or indeed any business for that matter, we aren’t complacent and there are still areas we are hungry to improve upon, but we are working through these on a systematic priority basis in such a way that maximises welfare and our contribution to conservation.”

As part of this programme, one species that will no longer be resident at Woburn Safari Park is the Californian Sea Lion.  Much loved by visitors and staff alike, a decision has been made to move these engaging animals to another collection in the Mediterranean which can provide large lagoons for them to live in.

The ‘Animal Care’ team at Woburn has long felt sea lions were somewhat of an anomaly at the park as they require huge amounts of ever decreasing fish stocks to feed, chemicals to maintain their water quality and also don’t have the same degree of freedom as most of Woburn’s other animals.  It has therefore become clear that it is time to say a fond farewell to these amazing and very popular animals.

Plans are already in place to redevelop the sea lion pool into a facility for the endangered Humboldt penguins, allowing Woburn’s existing colony to benefit from having access to this much larger pool.  The redevelopment will be done in a way that will give visitors a unique insight into their lives and in turn will allow the park to introduce new species into the area left vacant by the penguins.  Watch this space!

Forty years after it first opened to the public and with an already impressive history behind it, there is an exciting future for the ever dynamic Woburn Safari Park and the valuable contribution it makes to wildlife conservation.

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