Imagine waking up at dawn to the roar of a pride of lions, bathing next to a Malayan sun bear, or seeing a giraffe wander leisurely past your window. But you’re not on an African safari, or deep in the wilds of Asia. You’re just ten minutes outside of the Canberra CBD.
It sounds implausible, but this is the experience on offer when you stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge – luxury accommodation within the grounds of Canberra’s National Zoo and Aquarium. Housed in gorgeously appointed suites among various animal habitats, guests have the opportunity for a weekend away like no other, meeting dangerous and endangered species and learning how you can contribute to their survival in the wild.
The National Zoo and Aquarium (NZA) was purchased in 1998 by the Tindale family, who set about improving and expanding the venue with a key motto in mind: ‘To inspire and assist in the conservation of the natural world through innovative and exciting educational experiences’. Now three times its former size, NZA decided back in 2014 to bolster its various programs with the opening of Jamala Wildlife Lodge – and the guests haven’t stopped pouring in since.
“Jamala attracts visitors from all over Australia and the world,” says Renee Nasserpour, General Manager of Projects and Visitor Experiences. “For many of our guests, it’s a chance to experience an African wildlife safari without leaving Australia.”
Staying in one of three five-star accommodation hubs – Giraffe Treehouses, Jungle Bungalows, or one of seven suites in the decadent uShaka Lodge – you’ll be surrounded by wildlife of all shapes, sizes and species. Some of the incredible animals you may encounter during a stay include bears, monkeys, lemurs, sharks, hyenas, tigers, cheetahs, a pair of rare white lions, two white rhinoceros, and a particular guest favourite: Hummer, the friendly 18-year-old giraffe.
Guests have the option of an overnight all-inclusive safari experience complete with exclusive tours and animal encounters that day visitors to the zoo generally don’t have access to. Alternatively, a two or three-night stay offers the additional option to change rooms and stay near a range of different animals. “You can also participate in behind-the-scenes tours where you will get the opportunity to feed a variety of animals (including our lions and sun bears), pat our rhinos, or even cuddle up to our reptilian friends,” Renee adds.
And let’s not forget the food. Jamala’s dining options aren’t just there to sustain you for your animal encounters – they’re a key part of the experience. A gourmet African-inspired dinner party is served each evening in the Rainforest Cave, where guests are accompanied (safely!) by white lions Jake and Mischka and hyenas Zuberi and Pinduli.
So, what do the animals themselves think of their human guests? “Our animals are very relaxed about humans sharing the night in such close proximity,” Renee says.
“One of my favourite stories comes from when we first opened Jamala. Guests were woken in the early hours of the morning to a tapping sound – at first they thought it was someone knocking at the door. However, they soon realised it was coming from the windows looking into the sun bear habitat… As they opened the blinds, they found our male sun bear, Arataki, inquisitively tapping on the window, wanting to look at the guests in the room!”
Another of the facility’s resident sun bears, a female named Otay, was rescued from the restaurant trade as a cub by Australian organisation Free the Bears. Several of the zoo’s former and current residents have similar stories, including retired circus animals and others who have been saved from harmful destinations and rehomed in comfortable surroundings at NZA. “We still have a number of rescued animals today,” Renee explains. “Just recently we received a number of Australian native reptiles that had been confiscated when attempts were made to illegally export them overseas.”
NZA maintains a clear focus on animal welfare, protection and conservation through all its operations. The majority of its animals are included in regional and international breeding programs, designed to assist in creating viable genetic populations of animals at risk of extinction in the wild. Funds from Jamala are intended to help the zoo expand its contributions to various organisations dedicated to preserving and protecting the future of the animal kingdom. “Monies raised from animal encounters and Jamala Wildlife Lodge help support a number of local and overseas conservation initiatives and charities,” explains Renee. “Last year alone, over $100,000 was donated to these funds.”
Sustainability is also a key commitment, with the upcoming installation of two major solar power systems assisting in NZA’s efforts to become a more sustainable facility. And education is a clear and present priority for lodge guests and zoo visitors alike. A stay at Jamala isn’t merely a unique and luxurious experience. It’s also intended as a chance for guests to learn more about the magnificent creatures of the world, and for the team to raise awareness about conservation, leaving a lasting impression that emphasises the importance of ensuring these animals’ survival.
“We are passionate about providing our guests with world-class, up close and personal wildlife experiences that are education-focused,” Renee sums up. “We believe that these direct, positive connections are effective in developing a better understanding of the natural world, and can positively influence and change behaviours.”
For more information or to book a stay at Jamala, visit www.jamalawildlifelodge.com.au, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 02 6287 8444.