Meeting Asiatic lions and exploring Sakkarbaug Zoo

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As part of ZSL’s ongoing conservation work with Asiatic lions, senior learning manager Rachel Haydon spent a week in India helping to shape Sakkarbaug Zoo’s educational activities around wildlife conservation in the Gir Forest National Park.

In her five-part blog series, Rachel talks us through her incredible trip to see these majestic creatures in the wild, as well as how to best communicate key conservation messages with the local communities in the Gir.

On day two of our trip we set off from Sasan Gir early in the morning for Sakkarbaug Zoo in Junagadh, a city with 170,000 people – about the population of Bournemouth.  

Sakkarbaug Zoological Garden, or 'Sakkarbaug Zoo', is a 490 acre site which opened in 1963. Sakkarbaug actually means 'sugar garden'. When it was opened, the site had fresh, drinkable water which was referred to as ‘sweet’. The Zoo breeds Asiatic lions as part of the Indian and the international endangered species captive breeding program and is also part of the breeding program for critically endangered white-backed vultures.

Visitors at Sakkarbaug Zoo
Visitors at Sakkarbaug Zoo Credit: ZSL

Sakkarbaug Zoo is really keen to share more of its work with the Zoo visitors and my job entailed working with the Zoo director and education staff to help them plan and shape new educational activities, exhibits and evaluations. It's a great opportunity to see what the Zoo currently does for its visitors and help them achieve what they’d like to do next.

With me on the day was Malcolm, the ZSL senior curator of mammals; Jim, the animal training and behaviour officer and Graeme, one of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo keepers who currently takes care of ZSL London Zoo's Asiatic lions.  

Their job over the next few days was to work with Sakkarbaug Zoo keepers on enrichment programmes for the animals. Within a zoo, animal enrichment is a great way for keepers to encourage and stimulate natural behaviours through sight, smell, taste, touch, and interaction. This enrichment is also fantastic for the visitors to witness, as they will see the animals displaying natural behaviours they would in the wild too.

Signage at Sakkarbaug Zoo
Signage at Sakkarbaug Zoo Credit: ZSL

On arriving at the Zoo, I met with the director, who has a clear vision of the key conservation messages he would like communicated with Zoo visitors. His vision is to share how Sakkarbaug Zoo is 'in a state of transformation' to become a truly modern zoo, key to the conservation of local species.

Following this I was lucky enough to be escorted around the Zoo and breeding facilities by the Sakkarbaug Zoo education officer, staff from the Sasan Gir Interpretation Centre (near the GFD offices in Sasan Gir) and Devalia Safari Park Interpretation Centre and a Forest Guard. They shared all their experiences and ideas which helped me understand what they aspired to do with their education offer.

There is real motivation to engage the public with all the work they do to protect the Asiatic lions and other species in the Gir. I couldn’t wait to help them shape their vision and watch them get started.


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