Linton Zoo was the final stop on our week of zoo visits. It was as sunny as the day we had spent at Africa Alive! And just like that day we arrived at 1pm. We mentioned to Dawny in the ticket office that we had been travelling around visiting zoos that week.
Once we had paid the entrance fee, which was very reasonable, and bought a zoo guide (which was packed with news and information about the animals at the zoo, fundraising events, conservation and ways for visitors to get involved), we made our way into the zoo.
As we wandered through the beautiful grounds under the shade of the plentiful trees we felt very close to nature. There was something special about this place. It brought back childhood memories of woodland walks on summer holidays.
Soon we found the first lion enclosure, home to Riziki (m) (b. 2003) and Karla (f) (b. 2003). Both lions were born at Woburn Safari Park, came to Linton as cubs and were raised by zoo director, Kim Simmons.
Riziki and Karla were resting in the sunshine when we first saw them. We called their names a few times and they responded, looking round to see who was bothering them. Riziki got up to take a closer look but soon decided that we weren’t very interesting and returned to his resting spot.
A few minutes later both lions became very active, trotting up and down the fence line on the right side of the enclosure. Kim had brought them lunch.
Shortly after we were joined by Kim. Dawny had mentioned to her about our week of zoo visits and Kim had kindly brought us some lion mane from both Riziki and Zuri, the other male lion at the zoo. We talked about the lions at Linton and at the other zoos we had visited. We also talked about the lions’ eating habits. On the day of our visit their lunch consisted of cuts of meat, but sometimes, Kim explained, they are fed deer. Being in quite a rural location, deer are occasionally knocked down and killed by road vehicles, and are brought to the zoo for the carnivores. Many years ago the lions would be given the whole deer. It is, however, a sign of the times that nowadays before placing a carcass in the enclosure, the stomach has to be removed due to the pollutants inside. Plastic bags, pens and the metal used in the structure of Chinese lanterns are among the objects commonly found in the stomachs of wild deer.
After Kim had left us we continued watching Riziki and Karla for a few more minutes. Riziki had embarked on an after lunch preening session, while Karla had climbed up on a platform at the back of the enclosure and surveyed us from this greater distance.
It was time to visit the other two lions, Zuri (m) (b. 2006) and Safina (f) (b. 2005) in their enclosure on the other side of the zoo. Safina is the daughter of Riziki and Karla, although she was hand reared by Kim. Karla, who was a very young first-time mum, didn’t know what to do with Safina. Zuri came to Linton from West Midlands Safari Park when he was a cub and was also raised by Kim.
When we arrived Zuri was pacing around the enclosure while Safina rested near the fence at the far end. Zuri had a few scratches on his face. Kim had mentioned that Safina’s clouts could be a little over-enthusiastic and Zuri would sometimes look a bit battered as a result. Despite this he remained devoted. We watched as he brought his pacing to an end by literally flopping over on her. This seemed to make her frisky and there followed a short but intense mating session.
It wasn’t long before they were both pacing around. To show our friendliness we offered a few head-rubs (the way lions greet each other) on the outer enclosure fence and eventually we witnessed what appeared to be reciprocating head-rubs from the lions on their enclosure fence, although they could equally have been telling us to get lost.
Occasionally their pacing would come to a halt and they would stare towards the tiger enclosure. We could see Katinka, the Amur tigress, literally bouncing around and trying to fish things out of her pond.
It was never long before their attentions returned to each other. Safina would try to trip up Zuri by walking towards him and swiping one of his front paws. It was an unusual tactic; we had only ever seen lionesses stalking and swiping from behind. Safina’s method didn’t bring Zuri down, but did unsteady him somewhat.
Safina and Zuri’s coats shone golden in the light of the setting sun. They settled down and we knew it was time to leave.
This was an unforgettable visit. It was great to discover a zoo that has so much natural beauty and to meet people who care so much about the animals, the environment and their visitors.