CLD Fencing Systems Zoo Enclosure Fencing for Lions at Folly Farm.
Folly Farm in Pembrokeshire, voted the best family attraction in Wales 2010-12, has been preparing for the arrival of a pride of African Lions for over a year, and amongst the top priorities has been the design and manufacture of the Lion enclosure fencing. The choice of fencing was crucial, and here we take a look at how the project came about, learn about the Pride of Pembrokeshire project, and examine the Lion enclosure fencing requirements in detail.
Folly Farm was founded from a former dairy farm in 1988, with the key principles of education, conservation, research and above all, animal welfare.
Tim Morphew joined the attraction as Zoo Manager over 10 years ago, when it had developed into a small petting zoo with ambitions for much more. His background had been mainly in primates at other animal collections in the UK, and he has since managed the introduction of many creatures to Folly Farm, most famously Wales’ only Giraffes in 2009, and 24 endangered Humboldt Penguins in 2013 in ‘Penguin Coast’, probably the best penguin enclosure in the UK.
“I have always had a hand in the construction techniques employed in the enclosures that I have managed, and I have a passion for learning how they work and in helping design how they look,” said Tim. “The public reaction to the Giraffes and Penguins has been outstanding, and people really care about their welfare; by introducing endangered species such as these, we are doing a lot for conservation. A year to the day when the Penguins arrived, we saw our first 6 chicks hatch which is excellent news for the species, and we have raised over £1000 for local conservation charities from the enclosure.”
Tim always had an inkling for big cats in the back of his mind and had raised the subject with the Folly Farm board prior to the penguin project. Once the penguins were established, he got the go-ahead for the Lions.
“Public perception is that there are plenty of African Lions, and all conservation focus has been on Asiatic Lions, but the African Lion population has dropped dramatically by 30% in the last ten years. There is as yet no breeding programme for them in Europe but should this happen Folly Farm would apply to be accepted into the programme.”
Designing the African Lions’ Enclosure
“When it came to designing the Pembrokeshire Zoo enclosure, my first job was to visit as many big cat collections as I could” Tim explains. “I noted the things I liked, and the things I didn’t like so that we could create something ideally suited to Folly Farm. I sent staff to work with big cats throughout the UK, and read up on husbandry guidelines.”
“People asked me, particularly my wife and my mother, if I was worried about my personal safety when it comes to Lions, and the answer is ‘no’. Big cats are easy to look after in comparison with some animals, and are in many ways safer because we take no risks with them.”
The welfare of the lions and the safety aspects for visitors and staff were the top priorities in the design of the fencing.
“We cleared the two-acre area within Folly Farm which we had set aside for the Lions, and examined the topography of the land,” Tim continues. “We worked out how many Lions we could manage in that space, and then I began considering, ‘What could go wrong?’ so that we could design the enclosure to cope with any eventuality. For example, I considered what would happen if a Lion gets pregnant and has cubs – where would they go? What if there is tension in the group and we need to separate them? What if a Lion is underweight and needs feeding on its own, or is thrown out by the others? Can we give them excellent welfare within what we build, as the animals’ wellbeing is the top priority?”
Tim also had to consider its longevity – investing £500,000 in an attraction means it has to stand the test of time. “We had to pre-empt a 20-year future, which is the lifespan of the Lions and the time the enclosure must last. The system at Blackpool Zoo had really stood out when I was researching, and found that it had been manufactured by CLD Fencing Systems at a competitive price, so I got in touch with them.”
The CLD Fencing Systems team visited Folly Farm to talk through the project, how to cope with the slight slope on the land, what construction techniques would be best, and what advice they had on the way the project’s main contractor should install it.
Details of the fencing manufacture
The Lion enclosure was created with a 17ft high Dulok Double Wire Fencing System. Standing 14ft tall with a 3.5ft topping to create an overhang. Hot dip galvanised and polyester powder coated in a dark green RAL colour.
“I was very pleased with the colour they recommended – it’s quite a dark green and blends in with the trees. You don’t expect a 17ft high fence to blend into the landscape but this really does it well,” says Tim. “You feel secure behind it, and the mesh doesn’t have the image of a cage, which people tend not to like; instead it enhances the amount of land that the Lions occupy.”
Tim used guidelines from the American Association of Zoos and the Irish equivalent (in Ireland there are a number of privately kept Lions as the laws there are different), to help him work out the detail, because of the lack of African Lion breeding programme in Europe.
“We have exceeded those guidelines,” he says. “For example they suggest a 12ft high fence with an overhang inside; we have 14ft high with a 3.5ft overhang.”
The CLD Fencing Systems mesh is 6mm thick on the vertical strands, and 8mm on the horizontal, and has been provided not just for the enclosure, but also for the four very large dens inside it. “This is the strength of mesh needed to keep Lions in,” Tim explains. “Just like in the wild, they check out their boundaries and learn where their territory is, and they will chew everything, so we can’t afford the risk that they could chew through this. The Folly Farm Lions are from the UK and have been captive-bred, so they are accustomed to an enclosure, but we couldn’t take the remotest risk.”
The exciting new attraction has open-topped rocky outcrops inside where the Lions can sit at height, with a beautiful view right over the park. One of the four dens is completely out of public view, so if a Lion wants to get away from it all, they can. All the dens lead out onto five yards which in turn lead onto two paddocks.
“We are building four 2m square windows into the fencing,” enthuses Tim, “which allow visitors to get much closer and take photographs without the mesh in the way. When you are 40 millimetres away from a Lion, you get a whole different experience; you get immersed into it.”
Over 100 people have been involved in the Pride of Pembrokeshire project with Tim, the CLD Fencing Systems team and the main contractor; from local builders, electricians, plumbers and sign writers, through Folly Farm’s education and marketing departments, its Directors, the keepers who have been on training and the three other zoos which have helped with the training.
“We have also recruited two new full time keepers, and continue to provide increasing numbers of jobs for locals“, Tim concludes.