I was genuinely shocked when I saw how little space many organizations see as suitable for a lion to be kept in. The Zoological Association of America for example recommend only 22 square metres (m2) per lion. That is abysmal in my opinion.
The most liberal estimates that we found were:
"Adequate area should be provided for exercise, and as a guide the formula 1 square metre/kg body weight can be used as a minimum requirement." Source: D. G. Ashton and D. M. Jones, Veterinary Officer and Senior Veterinary Officer, Zoological Society of London, http://www.abwak.co.uk/cats.html
“Enclosure size for one or two medium animals should be 600 square feet [56 m2] at a minimum. Enclosure size for one large animal weighing over 60 lbs [27kg] should be 1200 square feet [110 m2] at a minimum. Each additional animal requires an increase of 25% of the original floor space.” Source: Big Cat Rescue's Exotic Cat Standards, http://www.bigcatrescue.org/exoticcatstandards.htm
As at 1st April 2008 at Antelope Park, a total of 61 lions of differing ages were being held in enclosures:
Total enclosure space in use 20,242 m2
Average enclosure size in use 920 m2
Average area per lion 332 m2
Based on the ages and weights of the lions currently in the program, on average our enclosures are 251% larger than the suggested minimum by the London Zoological Society and 423% larger than those suggested by Big Cat Rescue.
Only one enclosure falls short by 5m2 of the minimum standard suggested by the Zoological Society of London. The same enclosure is however 74m2 larger than the minimum suggested by Big Cat Rescue. The enclosure in question holds one 5 year old male in 184 m2. This enclosure has already been designated to be demolished and rebuilt as a larger size in the near future.
In addition to providing our lions with spacious enclosures, we pay a lot of attention to behavioural enrichment. All enclosures include some form of enrichment for the animals such as trees to climb, for use as a scratching post or to provide shade, some have dens, ramps or other heavy duty toys designed to withstand play by a lion. In addition we regularly provide additional stimuli such as blood and meat frozen in ice blocks for them to lick, or the dung of species found in the Park to sniff and roll in.
The smallest group size in an enclosure is one animal. These are four adult males and one adult female that will not accept other lions. The largest group size is seven males aged three years old. The average group size is 2.8 animals in an enclosure.
Regular inspections are conducted by the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority of our facilities to ensure standards are maintained and Antelope Park is a member of PAAZAB, the African Association of Zoos & Aquaria that provide us with an ethical code to work by in the treatment of our animals.
“The housing and care of the lions was assessed by the Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and found to be excellent. The ZNSPCA further concluded that the lion breeding program was highly ethical and extremely well managed.” (from a report compiled by Dr. R.D. Taylor, Conservation Programme Director for the WWF Southern African Regional Programme Office (SARPO) 10 January 2005)