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.
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
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.