When you visit a zoo, you know what to expect. Animals in habitats or in cages. Humans on the other side, taking in these animal wonders from a safe distance. Unless you're heading to South Australia's Monarto Zoo, that is.
Opening Nov. 18, the zoo's latest way to see wildlife is Lions 360, a large (and totally safe) cage that humans enter so that a pride of lions can get up close and personal with them.
"We have amazing wildlife experiences in South Australia from holding a koala to diving with great white sharks, and now being able to get up close to lions and actually hand feed them," SA Tourism Minister Leon Bignell told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Indeed, the whole experience was inspired by cage diving with sharks.
For 60 Australian dollars, visitors spend an hour surrounded by the lions, who can climb atop the cage and peer down onto the visitors. For an extra $35, visitors can also feed the lions from the cage.
"It's a truly hair-raising experience with visitors able to enter the cage and get closer than ever before to our amazing lions," Zoos SA chief executive Elaine Bensted told ABC.
Those worried about visiting shouldn't be too concerned. The enclosure is comprised of glass and steel, and according to keeper Anna Bennett, the lions are not naturally aggressive despite how it may seem.
"They are the kings and queens in Africa so they know they can command the power and attention from all of the other animals," she said.
Costing around 1.7 million Aussie dollars, the attraction is intended to draw an additional 3,000 new visitors a year to Monarto Zoo and, hopefully, add $1 million to the region's annual tourism revenue.
The zoo hopes Lions 360 will help it continue its conservation charity work, both through raising awareness of the animals and through funding. The zoo supports 36 rangers who patrol the Sera Conservancy in Kenya to safeguard lions and other African wildlife, and it works with the Zambian Carnivore Program to protect lions.