Lions, Tigers and Bears at Jamala Wildlife Lodge, Canberra!

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Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

The two young male cheetahs Jura and Innis stalk single file alongside bamboo screened fence. Suddenly one leaps and runs ahead, the other chases it and they both stop, haunches drawn. They slowly walk towards the corner of their enclosure. "Something's happening," Mr NQN whispers and sure enough, a minute later their two keepers enter and throw them some meat and depart.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

The cheetahs pounce on their dinner taking their spoils to separate areas and begin tearing at the flesh. Meanwhile Mr NQN and I stand in our lodge room staring, transfixed by this spectacle with just a couple of centimetres of glass separating the lounge and the wild cats.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

We are Jamala Wildlife Lodge, part of National Zoo in Canberra. A privately owned zoo, they have developed a truly unique experience, exclusive to Australia and perhaps even other parts of the world. You could be in South Africa for all that you know. Open since December 2014, Jamala specialises in animal encounters of various kinds. The most spectacular is a series of luxury bungalows where on the other side of the glass, wild and dangerous animals live in their enclosures.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

When guests book the jungle bungalows, they have no idea what animal they might have on the other side. It may be the two cheetahs, tiger, lions or bears. There are also seven rooms as part of the main lodge uShaka Lodge and six treehouse suites where they are training giraffes to come to you and feed from the balcony.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

The zoo experience starts when you enter. The main house of the lodge is built on the back of the aquarium although you wouldn't know it until you see a black tipped reef shark swim past. Guests start arriving at 1:30pm to have afternoon tea, a glass of Mo√ęt, sandwiches or mini muffins. This evening it seems to be a popular place for birthday groups and families and we are the only couple there. The tariff includes all food, wine, spirits, champagne and tours.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

While we wait for everyone to arrive, they bring us snakes and people peer into the tanks to watch the tawny nurse shark. There are also three Colobus monkeys Colin, Colby and Bodie with lie on the platform and occasionally dart a glimpse over at us. I have a soft spot for monkeys and watch these three before they gather everyone back into the main lodge room. Everyone is split into two groups and we depart on our two hour exclusive Jamala tour of the zoo.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

Our guide Jess gives us information on all of the animals that we visit. From Flo the single Cotton Top Tamarind monkey who lives with two marmosets Diego and Domingo to the social otters who do everything together including...pooing together! Did you know that one of the signs of a happy colony of otters is a single pile of poo - two or more piles and that indicates there is social discord among the group.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

We pass by the tawny and white lions - in one enclosure there is a group of four young male lions called a coalition #auspol. There are two sun bears Arataki (named after the New Zealand honey that it loves) and Otay, the poor sunbear who demonstrates repetitive behaviour swinging back and forth. This is a result of her living in a cramped enclosure in the past. We visit the penguins, lions, meerkats, alpaca, deer and feed Mu the emu and the two Kangaroo Island kangaroos who gently and expertly take the food from our hands. Jumbany the male dingo provides us with a surprising look at this misunderstood animal. He is calm and happy to be stroked and petted while Nara, his dominant female counterpart stays in the roof of their dwelling.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

The most amusing pair are the Tasmanian Devils. Ruby and Phoenix are two older ladies who fight and scold each other mercilessly. Jess throws in two egg cartons filled with meat. Old age has wearied them a little and they aren't very steady on their feet and despite there being two cartons they fight over one and once the carton is opened they both fight tooth and nail over the one scrap of meat ignoring the rest of the meat laying out on the open carton.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

Ruby and Phoenix, the Tasmanian Devils

Once the other carton of meat is discovered there is a tussle over that and Ruby claims the full carton retreating to the shelter to maul at the cardboard (her apparent limp absent when absconding with the carton) while Phoenix runs around in circles shrieking with the other carton in her mouth. I could watch them all day long.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

There is one final treat before the tour is over. As the giraffe Hummer is still getting used to the idea of being fed from a balcony, they are using us as part of Hummer's training program. Small groups of four go into each treehouse and take turns feeding Hummer carrots. It's extraordinary getting to see a giraffe up close. He wraps his long grey tongue around the carrot and it disappears into his mouth.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

We are each taken to our lodge rooms where we spend the next couple of hours sipping wine and working.The lodge rooms are luxurious and spacious with large picture windows perfect for cheetah watching. The canopied bed faces the lounge room and the lounge can be converted into a sofa bed to sleep four people. The queen bed is quite high and alas isn't the most comfortable sleep and it's the only thing that could really be improved in the room.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

The bathroom is enormous and there is a granite bath, separate shower, two sinks and plenty of room. There is a comprehensive selection of Molton Brown toiletries. All mini bar items are complimentary and this includes red wine, white wine and bubbly. We snack on chips while the cheetahs snack on chicken legs. After their meal they lie down on their podium making the most of the sun's rays. It's utterly transfixing.

{Note: I'll be putting up a video of the lodge experience later today. I really wanted it to be up in time for this story but I take a long time to edit videos as I'm still learning. So please check back here or on my NotQuiteNigella youtube channel after midday today -thank you! :) }. ETA: here is the video!

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

Pre-dinner drinks start at 6:30pm at "The Cave" and there are champagne, spirits, wine and soft drinks available (but no cocktails). Most guests seem to stay one night only so the staff make the most of everyone's time here. We watch as they feed the hyenas and the snow leopards and explain the complex dynamics of both animals.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

The snow leopard female Shiva is the boss and the male Bhutan is terrified of taking food when she is around. Guides Fiona and Jess must distract her before he will dare to come close to grab a drumstick - even then she growls menacingly at him. Shiva ends up with three drumsticks while Bhutan gets one and they explain that this is noted and his feed is adjusted in their morning feed where they are separated.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

Dinner is served in the cave and during dinner I look around and see a white lion behind us. There are two communal tables and the food is South African in flavour while the wines are Australian. There are breads and dips already set down on the table and they add a share antipasti platter of grilled vegetables, grilled octopus, garlic prawns, smoked salmon and prosciutto.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

We feast on these platters - there is a generous amount of food and we couldn't possibly finish it all. Kids get the choice of eating an adult meal or having their own kids meal served with the entrees. And once the kids have eaten, they are taken to a separate nocturnal tour of the zoo leaving the parents to eat their meal.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

The main is spatchcock with gravy and a range of four salads as well as bobotjie, a South African baked spice mince pudding with an egg and milk topping. The meal while simple is tasty and generously portioned. Some of the other guests don't like the spatchcock but it reminds me oaf a gently boiled spatchcock with gravy in the same vein as Haianese chicken rice and the salad sides fill any hunger gaps.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

Bobotie

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

The first course of dessert is a cheese platter with a cheddar, blue and brie with pistachios, grapes and dried apricots. We chat to other guests who are all friendly and eager to share stories about their animals. The bears sound playful and interactive while the tiger, a stately old gent provides a family of four with much entertainment and attention. The lions weren't able to be seen all afternoon so that is something to keep in ind if you get the lion bungalow. From the sounds of it the tiger and the bears provide the most interaction.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

The final course is malva pudding, that uniquely south African pudding. Usually malva is quite moist as the sauce is poured over a hot cake. This is served with butterscotch sauce on the side and is a tad drier than what I've had in South Africa.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

At the end of dinner, guests are bussed back to their rooms at their leisure. They gently remind us that it is a working zoo and it looks quite different at night and wandering guests may get lost and or alarm some animals.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

We retire early - tomorrow begins with an early start with another tour. I draw a bath for the two of us and suddenly one of the cheetahs appears and looks into the bath seemingly fascinated by the bubbles. I slip in with my cheetah friend just a metre away through the glass. It's one of those indescribable feelings, a mixture of exhilaration and incredulity. After a few minutes lying next to the bath, he departs.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

Breakfast with the hyenas

The next morning we are up early for breakfast and another tour. The cheetahs haven't slept on the straw and spend much of the morning walking around their enclosure and seeking sunlight. The breakfast provisions are simple. There are croissants, cereals and fruit and no hot options except for a ham and cheese croissant heated. I would have loved a few more options available, particularly hot ones, especially given Canberra's often early morning chill.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

Ring tailed lemurs

The morning tour comprises of a visit to areas in the zoo that are not yet open to the public as well as some public exhibits. The early morning is the best time to see the animals as it is cooler and they are more active. As if on cue, the lions roar in the background. We start with feeding the capuchins. The cheeky and intelligent family of four receive unshelled waluts in plastic boxes that they tap against the roof of their dwelling to extract the meat. They also have fun stripping grasses - these inquisitive creatures need to be stimulated. Animals here get a combination of positive and negative reinforcement. The positive is to learn behaviours and the negative is to remind them of natural predators and to produce a predator response.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

Winnie the Wombat

We stop in with Winnie the Wombat, a 28 year old old girl who follows along the fence to collect the grass that guide Sarah gives her. Our next stop is the ring tailed lemurs, indigenous to Madagascar. The youngest is a little fellow called Mr Fabulous who was hand fed by keepers when his mother's milk ran out. Thankfully she accepted him back as her son and was able to bring him to the keepers who would feed him by bottle while he was still on her back. In groups like these if there is social discord they can utilise negative reinforcement to strengthen the bonds of the animals as they work together to overcome the obstacle.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

The hunting or painted dogs are next. Theses dogs have a phenomenal hunting success rate at around 75%, compared to a pride of lions which have a 10% success rate. These dogs surround their prey in a circle and close in on them. Unlike many other carnivores they actually look after each other in old age ensuring that every member gets fed. In the wild when lions get old they die because they aren't able to hunt and feed themselves.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

We pass through the kangaroo enclosure and Sarah tells us that a female kangaroo can have three babies at the one time - that is a joey which is a small baby kangaroo, a pinky or a baby that is in the pouch and there is also an embryo in their uterus that waits until the conditions are right to be born.

If an animal is born with a handicap, it usually becomes the lowest in the ranking. The power play becomes apparent with the African eland. The dominant elan rubs her horns against the gate and then runs the top of her head in a mixture of faeces and urine and marks trees - in the wild this is to let other elan know about the composition of her herd. As if on cue, she starts doing this. The other one moves out of her way ensuring that it never challenges her.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

The last animal is a real treat. Most of the animals on the Jamala morning tour aren't open yet to the public and this is the case with the three enormous young male rhinos. We are encouraged to give them a firm pat to feel their skin - at the back and bottom it is 3cms thick to protect it from lions and other predators. The two boy engage constantly in dominance displays facing off against each other reminding us again about lessons in life and human politics.

So tell me Dear Reader, which are your favourite animals to visit? Which would you prefer to have cheetahs, lions, bears or a tiger on the other side of your lounge room? Would you enjoy a lodge like this?

NQN and Mr NQN stayed at Jamala Wildlife Lodge as their guest.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge

National Zoo & Aquarium, 999 Lady Denman Drive, Weston Creek ACT 2611
Tel: +61 (02) 6287 8444
http://www.nationalzoo.com.au/jamalawildlifelodge.htm