New Zealand - Rotorua Lions

Paradise Valley Springs is known for their lions, and as Zee is a fan of lions it was always on our list of places to go visit. It was a bit of a random park to be honest. It's mostly a petting zoo (goats, pigs, llamas and wallabies) with lots of natural fauna (think native bush walk with nice paths), ponds with trout and the start of a spring. And lions.

The lions, obviously are the main draw. Apparently that they're there at all happened by chance. The park first opened in 1939 as a trout sanctuary but in the 1970s a visiting circus offered three retiring lions to the park. Exciting to see the lions up so close, but also really really sad. There are many lions in the pride and the enclosures are pretty dismal looking. Not especially big, either. Having been out to Africa and seen wild lions hang out in in Ngorongoro Crater, this little area surrounded by an electrified wire fence was really heart breaking. Even the enclosures at other zoo's (Auckland Zoo, for example) do more for their pride than this.

Also, the lions are bred naturally here - they aren't put on birth control (like the Kevin Richardson does for his lions). That seems unfair, considering that they're breeding more lions and not giving them more space to hang out in. They said that some years they get cubs some years they don't... I wonder how much of their breeding program is because cubs bring in the tourists (and therefore the money).

They also lend lions to zoos in New Zealand, Australia and Bali... I'm pretty sure for breeding purposes. Which I guess good for ensuring the lions don't go extinct, but at the same time... I kind of feel that a better use of their energy would be to ensure wild lions have a future in the wild and that existing lions have a brilliant rest of their life... not so much let's grow the pride.

In saying all of this, it's hard to show disdain when you see the baby lion cubs. They're on display from about 6 weeks to almost a year - after that they withdraw from human contact and introduced to the pride. Throughout that first year they're separate from the pride (because the chances of them being hurt are much higher while they're so little), and go back to Mum each night.

Bonus is that while their on display to the public, the public get to hang out with them. If they're small enough you get to play with them. If they're a bit bigger (like they were when we saw them), they hang out on one side of a cage and you on the other. There's nothing to stop you reaching through and petting them, though. Which we did. Their fur was super coarse, and I really was surprised at how big they were. Their paws were massive!!

The rest of the park was actually pretty awesome. I had a great time moving through the petting zoo feeding all the animals. There was a wallaby which was pretty brilliant.Also an alpaca, some goats and a sheep. Zee's favourite I think was a kunekune (a massive kind of pig) called Bella. She was incredibly snuffly and massive. I especially enjoyed watching the keas (they're a bird native to NZ, and super endangered) - they're hella smart and did lots of fun tricks as part of their engagement segment.

Easily worth a visit, I reckon!