The Lions 360 experience at Monarto Safari Park has been on my bucket list for quite a while now. I finally ticked it off. Here are all the details and what I thought of the experience.
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About Monarto Safari Park
Monarto Safari Park began life back in the early 1980s. The SA government found itself with a big chunk of land with no use for it, and the Adelaide Zoo thought they could use it for some of their older or breeding animals.
The first two animals, two female bison, moved in in 1983. It took ten years until it opened to the public as Monarto Zoo.
The zoo was huge, around 1000ha and visitors were taken through the exhibits by bus. In 2011 another 550ha next door was acquired, and in 2019 a huge new precinct started to be developed.
This new area is called Wild Africa, and it will be the largest safari park outside Africa (hence the new name). It will offer hotel accommodation and glamping with views of the animals grazing at the waterhole.
Visitors will view the animals from safari jeeps, having to search for them in the huge enclosure rather than them being easily accessible. The new area is expected to be open in 2023.
About The Lions 360 Experience
Monarto Safari Park has a 10.8ha exhibit that is home to fourteen lions at the time of my visit (2022).
Twelve of them make up the main pride, and two bachelor males (too closely related to the females) live here too, separated from the others.
In 2017 a new lion experience was opened – the Monarto Zoo Lion 360. Instead of the lions being caged so that the humans could see them up close, a cage was built in the lion enclosure for the humans.
Visitors walk through a tunnel into the circular cage. On one side an old safari jeep has been installed, so visitors can sit inside the car and perhaps have the lions climbing over it.
The Lions 360 experience happens twice each day at 10:30 am and 12:40 pm and can be undertaken by people of all ages, The cage is wheelchair accessible too.
An add-on to the experience is available, allowing you to feed the lions a few morsels of meat through the cage. There are age restrictions for this.
Monarto has the highest possible standards when it comes to taking care of its animals. They are a charity organisation whose priority is the conservation and preservation of species which are endangered or extinct in the wild.
The Monarto lions, therefore, live as close to how they would in the wild as possible.
They are not handled by their keepers (and definitely not by any of the public, such as in those awful “pose with the big cat” photos) except when veterinary care is required.
Their enclosure is huge, alone bigger than any other zoo in Australia.
In theory, it is possible that the lions may not decide to come and interact with visitors during the experience. To entice them, the keepers will offer some small snacks, but it is never guaranteed which lions will choose to participate.
Having said that, I’ve not heard of a time when at least some of the lions were present.
My Lions 360 Experience
I have been talking about doing the Lions 360 experience since it first opened. I mean, how often do we get the chance to be within a metre of a lion?
So with the Great State Voucher scheme and the announcement that the new visitor centre was opening, I finally made the time to do it.
There are not a lot of requirements for the day, just ensure you are there thirty minutes before the time of your experience.
We got there just as the park was opening at 9:30 am and found plenty to fill our time as we looked around.
On arrival at the beautiful new visitor centre, we checked in at the circular booth right in front of us. We were given instructions to meet at a signed location nearby at 10:20 am (we were doing the 10:30 time slot).
At exactly 10:20, our guide Safari Scott (yes, that’s what he called himself!) gathered us together and we immediately headed toward the bus.
Within a couple of minutes, we were all seated and ready to go. It was not even 10:30 yet, and Scott was very pleased we were all on time (“That never happens!”).
There were eighteen of us doing the experience, but other people have reported groups of 25-30 and certainly that many people could fit on the coach used to transport us to the lion enclosure.
While we were making our way there, Scott filled us in on information about the lions and the park.
On this part of the trip, don’t expect to see many of the other animals, except perhaps the African Painted Dogs and a whole pile of emus wandering around.
As we arrived at the 360 dome (still on the outside of the lion enclosure) we were all excited to catch some glimpses of the new lion cubs that have only recently started exploring this enclosure.
There are three young cubs, and Mum Husani tends to still keep them away from the cage during the experience, so it was nice to be able to see them playing and climbing trees together for a few minutes before we started.
We were met by two of the lion keepers who escorted us through the tunnel into the cage. We noticed immediately that there was a second temporary barrier installed. This, along with the facemasks we were required to wear, was to protect the lions from Covid, as it is possible for them to contract it.
The lions know that people in the cage mean it is snack time, so it wasn’t long before we have five female lions on and around the cage. The keepers encouraged them to hang around with the snacks, and it was truly awesome seeing these beautiful cats so close.
There were a few tiny squabbles with bared teeth and low growls, and at one stage one of the lions let out half a roar. I say “half”, because a true roar would have rattled the cage and had our eardrums ringing for quite a while.
Two people in our group had paid extra to feed the lions, so they were taken to the other side of the barriers with one of the keepers and handed some tongs, feeding half a dozen or so little bits of meat to one of the girls.
I think this is a fun add-on to the experience, I mean, not many people get to say they’ve fed a lion, but it’s all over in a matter of minutes and may be less than what you are expecting for the $105 price tag.
Throughout the whole time we were in the cage, the keepers and Safari Scott, answered questions and gave us even more information about the lions.
We learnt that our money doesn’t just go towards the lions here at Monarto, but also to the Zambian Carnivore Program, which is helping to protect lions in their native African habitat.
Just as we were getting ready to leave, Husani brought her cubs over to show them off. They still didn’t come right up to the cage but were only about 25 metres away jumping and playing with each other. At the time of my visit, the cubs were 15 weeks old.
Those who didn’t turn up to see us were the boys – and this is not unusual. In the wild, it’s the females that do all the hunting, so they need every little bit of food they can get so that they have the energy to catch the next meal.
The boys are a lot more laid back and prefer to chill out rather than constantly look for food. So to them, these little snacks were just not worth the effort of coming across the huge enclosure.
After we all got back on the bus, Safari Scott took the bus into the lion enclosure so that we could see the boys too.
Not only did we see the three brothers who live as part of the pride, but we saw the two bachelor boys sunning themselves in their adjacent enclosure.
That enclosure looked a little small for two adult lions, and Scott told us that it was not as bad as it looks. When all of the lions in the pride go into their night quarters, the other boys get the run of the large enclosure, ensuring they get just as much access to all that space and the enrichment toys scattered around.
We were deposited back at the Visitor Centre a little over an hour after we started.
I didn’t pay close attention, but I would say we spent thirty minutes in the cage, and the rest of the time travelling to/from and on the bus in the lion enclosure.
That was about the perfect amount of time for both parts of the experience without it becoming boring.
The Lions 360 was a fantastic way to start a day at Monarto Safari Park. Not only did I love the experience itself, I liked that it didn’t duplicate the things that happen in the park with a standard admission.
Very little of the Zu Loop bus route was covered, so it didn’t feel like it was doubling up when we did that bus ride afterwards.
There is a range of pricing options and discounts, but a full-paying adult will pay $70. Entry into Monarto Safari Park needs to be purchased separately for $40.
Gift vouchers are also available. If you would like to book the Lions 360 experience head on over to the website here.
This is not the only experience at Monarto Safari Park – read about the Land of the Lemurs here
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