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Spend the night at the National Zoo & Aquarium

For true zoo lovers there are few encounters that top Jamala Wildlife Lodge, writes Lisa Wagstaff.

Bakkar the Bengal Tiger is sitting right at the door of our Jungle Bungalow, excitedly sinking his sharp teeth into a slab of meat. When he is finished, he rolls onto his side and stares right into my eyes... and there’s only a glass window separating us.

 

We are staying in the Tiger Suite at Jamala Wildlife Lodge, the latest accommodation to open up at Canberra’s National Zoo & Aquarium where you literally get to sleep among all sorts of animals, from giraffes, lions and cheetahs to bears and tigers. You would be forgiven for thinking you were in Africa. Animals prowl in Savannah-like enclosures and rooms are themed with

exquisite African décor, sourced by owners Richard and Maureen Tindale during their trips to South Africa. The main building, uShaka Lodge, was the former residence of the Tindales. They have transformed it into a wonderland of seven suites, complete with an impressive shark tank running through the lounge room. Guests, if game enough, can handfeed the wild residents, watch the three playful ring-tailed lemurs in their enclosure, or relax in the infinity pool and spa.

Zoo expeditions
Our overnight stay includes two zoo tours, and the first begins in the afternoon. We love meeting the dingoes, Jumbany and Nara, who don’t feel like leaving their enclosure, so instead we excitedly enter to give them a scratch behind the ear and a belly rub. I learn that most of the big animals in the zoo prefer children to adults, except for Boo the emu who roams the native animal area and takes a special liking to large males. While animals in captivity have been known to suffer in the past, the National Zoo & Aquarium have some heart-warming rescue stories such as the Sun Bear that was saved right before he became soup, Shiva the snow leopard who lost an eye in infancy and the black-capped capuchin monkey with diabetes who gets his daily insulin injection. Knowing all this adds to the experience, and it’s touching to see how much the staff care for each of these precious animals.

A taste of Africa
Guests meet again at pre-dinner drinks, where there is lively discussion about all the excitement that has unfolded in the lion, tiger, bear and cheetah lodges, and the six giraffe treehouses, all while sipping on flutes of Moet. Apparently Hummer Harley (the resident giraffe) had a great feeding session, missing his food and licking all down a little girl’s arm while she squealed. We are soon joined by hyenas, snow leopards and Richard’s favourite white lion that he has an amazing bond with - she nuzzles up to him as he strokes her through the cage. Dinner is served in ‘The Cave’, which has windows so that lions and hyenas can come and watch us eat. Jamala caters for those six years and older, and kids are fed first before darting off for a night zoo tour where they collect snake skins, bark with owls and play tricks on the hyenas. Adults enjoy a mouth-watering menu. Complimenting Jamala’s affinity with South Africa, we feast on roasted spatchcock with an array of traditional side dishes that fill the long wooden table.

The last hurrah
On our tour the next morning we are given a backstage look at the new enclosures and their African guests. We get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pat three white rhinos, with the bravest of us patting right under their legs (their favourite spot). When we meet the cheetahs I realise that some of the animals’ interest in the children isn’t quite so cute. Our guide, Jess, points out that kids are the perfect size for eating... and the ‘cute’ noises the cheetahs are making are all part of an act to lure them closer. The hardest thing about leaving was saying goodbye to beautiful Bakkar. We had watched him sleeping peacefully all night long from the comfort of our king-size bed. Now that’s an experience completely unique to Jamala.



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