A new sea lion habitat has been created at Blair Drummond Safari Park as part of a multi-million pound upgrade to the site.
California Cove at the park has been designed to replicate the natural habitat of the marine mammals.
The upgrade, which started in February last year, is part of the site’s ongoing biodiversity and conservation work.
According to staff, it is the most ambitious development undertaken in the park’s 50-year history.
And it has been “a big hit” with the three resident sea lions: Ineke, Oscar and Poppy, some of Blair Drummond’s most popular residents.
Sea lion keeper Shane Belson, said: “With more space, they’re free to play and display lots of natural behaviors like porpoising.
“That’s when, to build up speed, the sea lion glides along the surface of the water where the resistance is less.
“It’s lovely to watch them enjoying their new surroundings so much and the glass viewing walls mean visitors can share the joy of seeing these animals at their best.
As the new habitat also includes a specialized breeding area, it is hoped that, in time, there will be some sea lion pups to enjoy.
Though not currently endangered, in the wild the pinnipeds rely on a carefully balanced marine environment, which is now increasingly under threat.
Shane added: “As well as giving the sea lions a five-star upgrade on their accommodation, the new habitat will help us educate our visitors about the importance of marine biodiversity and the steps everyone can take to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans.
“This message has never been more important.”
California Cove includes a large outdoor pool with a filtration system that’s designed to replicate natural salt water.
The habitat also features a waterfall, as well as dry sandy areas to encourage natural behaviors such as basking and porpoising.
Stirling Council planners granted an application to extend the sea lions’ performance building to form pen rooms and also to extend the sea lion pool in 2020, as well as approving a separate application for a new plant and pump house.
In their decision, the planners described the national tourist attraction as “a vital asset to Stirling’s visitor economy”.
The sea lion enclosure is in the northeast hub of the safari park where the main visitor centre, restaurants and gift shops etc are located.
In August 2019 the safari park announced it was planning a £1 million upgrade program to include the modernization of the sea lion enclosure – one of the park’s most popular visitor attractions.
The family-owned safari park opened its doors in 1970 and was one of the first of its kind in the UK.
Over the last 10 years, the safari park has invested more than £7 million on the upgrade of animal habitats and the park’s infrastructure which extends to more than 120 acres. This includes a new drive-through macaque exhibit, new pets’ farm walk-through area, new elephant house, new antelope housing and the installation of a biomass heating for the large mammal houses.
In terms of conservation, it provides learning experiences for visitors covering topics such as animal care and the environment, including the impact of marine litter on the natural world. The park also supports conservation programs such as the European Endangered Species (EEP) breeding programme.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.