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Lions of the Serengeti, Whipsnade:

An introduction for visitors to the conservation programme of ZSL in the Grasslands of Tanzania

tourism and leisure
The Zoological Society of London
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The ‘Lions of the Serengeti’ enclosure is an introduction for visitors to the ZSL conservation programme in the African grasslands. As part of the Whipsnade Wild Animal Park, this was the first in a series projects by Proctor and Matthews for the Zoological Society of London and includes landscaped paddocks, night quarters, a day shelter for lions and visitor viewing areas.

The new viewing  belvedere and night quarters enhances the visitor experience by providing a  visitor enclosure designed to create a seamless and immersive environment telling the story of the interwoven relationship between humans and lions in Tanzania. Visitors view the lions at close quarters through a faceted frameless glass screen,  located beneath a patchwork canopy of woven eucalyptus and reed panels.

Although of modest scale, the visitor belvedere provides a vehicle to engage with Zoo-wide sustainabilty aspirations and the more specific issues of 'recycling'. Inspired by the inventive re-use of discarded oil cans to form tin toys and household artifacts and woven baskets utilising plastics coated electrical cable, the proposals looked to create a simple canopy - a patchwork of recycled components.

The solution of overlapping prefabricated panels of ‘woven’ eucalyptus (from Tanzania)  and reed (salvaged from previous Whipsnade exhibits) is configured as a chequerboard outer skin to the visitor area. This is partly cut away to reveal a specimen Acacia tree (typical of the Serengeti) which penetrates the built structure: A commentary on the delicate balance between human intervention and the natural environment.

The shelter has a deliberate impermanent quality. The ‘patchwork’ outer skin hints at African ‘boma’ – makeshift stockades or animal enclosures of the Savannah region.

Internally, this folded form encloses a visitor gallery for interpretation ‘events’ and the direct encounter with lions through a faceted laminated glass screen wall. The internal roof skin – a transparent rainscreen of triple cell polycarbonate sheeting – is combined with the external woven eucalyptus delivering a softened dappled light within the shelter.

The lion night quarters are deliberately utilitarian in nature to accommodate adaptation and radical modifications as species knowledge and animal husbandry best practice evolve over time.

 “…the approach taken here is exactly right. This is not a self-important building; it forms a shelter that is noticed but not noticeable, drawing the visitor in as they approach, controlling and enhancing the experience of the encounter with animals and balancing the needs of visitor and animal appropriately.”

Bill Gething, Architects Journal