Last weekend I visited my boyfriend and his family in England. We were in the Birmingham area and had some time to kill so decided to go to the West Midlands Safari Park. I’ve not been to a big drive-through park before so was keen to see how it works, and I was lucky that I had Rich with me so he could drive and I could try and get some photos! There was snow everywhere which made some of the enclosures pretty amusing, as they specialise in afrcian and asian species. The animals that were out seemed to be having fun with it though, the african elephants were making snowballs and eating them! Was pretty funny to watch. It was great to have all the herbivore species so close and interacting with you too, you can buy food to feed them out of the car windows, and even though we had no food they all come up to see if you have any. Was great to see so many antelope species in such big herds, there was addax, eland, nilgai, gaur… the list goes on. They also have two big prides of african lions. Actual prides of more than ten animals! I always think its kind of sad to see lions in captivity in small groups of rarely more than five, so to see these two big groups was great. All in all we had a lot of fun driving around the park and seeing some ace species, and I went off happy but with a few misgivings about the awful sea lion show we saw at the end of the trip…
I know that I’m a tougher person to please when it comes to animal displays, but I have enjoyed all the ‘shows’ I’ve seen in other zoos around the UK and while obviously some are better than others, all of them really tried to educate their audiences about the animals they were showing. Unfortunatly that was really not the case for this show, it was two thirds through the show before they told you what species of sea lion they had! Let alone where they live, what conservation issues they might be facing etc. They also were pretty focused on getting the animal to do tricks for the sake of entertainment, rather than show off natural behaviours of the species. Throwing hoops over the sea lions head? What relevence does that have to anything! Towards the very end it got a bit better and they explained the ways to tell seals from sea lions, but they could make it so much better! Like at one point they got the sea lion to jump out the water several times, and said ‘this is porpoising, which is a natural behaviour!’ Ok thats fine but… why not explain why they do it or how it helps them survive? Perhaps I’m being pedantic, all the kids obviously loved the show as there was a lot of jumping out of the water to hit targets and sea lions are cool charismatic creatures. But I’ve never before been to an animal display in the UK and felt so uncomfortable. And as it turns out… perhaps I was right to be concerned.
I was looking for some information about the individual animals at the park to put in the captions of the shots today and I came across some upsetting information. The Park has recently been reprimanded by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums for selling four white lion cubs to an organisation that trains animals for the entertainment industry, which then sold the lions to a circus in Japan. I’m not even going to go into how questionable breeding white lions is, in brief (like the problems with white tigers) it is not recommended because to get the white genes to turn up the animals must be inbred, and the resources spent keeping white lions could be better used on an endangered species. Despite this, the park bred them, infact over three years (2006-2009) their three white lionesses produced 22 cubs! The park then had a surplus of male cubs they could not house, as the females can remain in the pride but the males cannot. I understand that the cubs had to go somewhere, but to sell them to the entertainment industry!? Its shocking beyond belief, and who knows what has happened to the other male cubs they bred… Those poor lions in Japan, one of them has already been retired to a Japanese zoo because he became so stressed his mane fell out.
So that has taken the shine off my visit somewhat… its very disappointing. I really would not have thought things like this were still happening in UK zoos, and the park can claim that ‘they had no idea the lions would end up in a circus’ but they knew that they would be used for films and TV adverts… it’s just unbelieveable =(