For more pictures and reactions from local visitors at the launch, see this coming Friday’s Diss Express (out March 23)
Meet Gala, Filippa, Elmo, Emmett and Ineke - the new residents of Banham Zoo
The five Californian sea lions were revealed to the public on Friday at the grand opening of the new state-of-the art enclosure, costing just over £600,000.
Sea Lion Bay, is a new salt-water marine habitat, with a deep water pool, waterfall, rocks, sheltered area, ledges, glass surround which is designed to allow the sea lions to show off their natural behaviour.
There is also a covered section to keep an area of the pool sheltered from the summer sun, and glass barriers around the enclosure giving visitors a clear and close-up view.
The project is the latest development at Banham Zoo, run by the Zoological Society of East Anglia, and is part of the zoo’s ongoing schedule of enclosure improvements.
It has been constructed by all local companies, apart from the specialist filtration system.
The two males, Emmett and Elmo and three females, Gala, Filippa and Ineke arrived at the end of February, having travelled from zoos in Karlsruhe, Rotterdam and Blackpool.
Bosses are hoping the seal lions will help inspire visitors to learn more about and take more positive action in the field of conservation.
“Sea Lion Bay is so much more than just a sea lion enclosure,” said Prof David Field, who will take over as CEO, later this year after joining the team four weeks ago, from Whipsnade and London Zoos.
“Sea lions are some of the most magnificent, wonderful, popular exciting, beautiful animals and what they are brilliant at is making people feel inspired and caring about the natural world.
“Gala, Filippa, Elmo, Emmett and Ineke are going to be the greatest ambassadors for making people care about wildlife, connecting people to wildlife and enabling them to become conservationists in their own lives, for instance by recycling plastic.
“The way we have designed this habitat is that it is open; you can get splashed by the sea lions if they are in that frame of mind. Before we start to teach people about animals, people have to feel a warmth, an emotional connection towards the animals.
“With this habitat we have created for the sea lions, by watching them playing between each other, already today you can hear the giggles, the screams of delight from the children.
“They are creating an emotional contract between them and the sea lions - so its about celebrating sea lions and with that, people are open to do something for them and their habitat.”
Banham Zoo has been involved with numerous internationally coordinated breeding programmes for many years and has contributed to several worldwide conservation projects.
It is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary.
The Californian Sea Lions are a personal favourite of, and a part of a four-year project to bring them to the zoo by Banham Zoo founder Martin Goymour, who is retiring this year.
“The planning stage started in 2014. We knew that if we were going to keep sea lions, we needed a new sea lion enclosure or we weren’t going to keep sea lions at all,” he said.
“That was the biggest decision out of the lot. The nine trustees of Zoological Society of East Anglia agreed that sea lions had been a feature of this park since the 1970s, so we should go for it.
“Whereas the original sea lion pool was easy to build and did last a long time, we now have to comply with stringent building regulations and it has taken this long to build it and has come in at just over £600,000.
“Local companies have been instrumental, from the people who laid the paviours, the people who poured the concrete, the pumping machines, made the fire glass - the only one not local was the specialist filtrations services from Dorset
“There has been great excitement from not only the visitors but the keepers and the staff. When you have a project like this, it really focuses and boosts morale, all that excitement going through.
“This morning there was almost a dozen workman and our staff out finishing off all the jobs, and there was high excitement, and this in our 50th year to launch it, you couldn’t get any better than that.”
Prof Field, added: “This is unique in the way to bring people close to the animals and that is what we have really tried to push for, making that connection.
“The sea lions have only been in for a week or so, at the moment, and still getting used to their environment. It’s all all very new, there has been lots of things happening every day, so they are very inquisitive.
“When we get more settled, we will do training with them, partly for veterinary reason so we can check their health but also so we can do demonstrations and interactions which will bring them even closer to the people and that’s what will make this unique.
“It will have integrity, it will have purpose and it will actually deliver on a conservation message.”
Sea Lion Bay has been and financed by a loan from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking.
Californian Sea Lions
Sea lions are a type of pinniped, along with fur seals and true seals. Unlike sea lions use their flippers to walk on land and have visible ear-flaps
Californian sea lions are found on the west coast of North America from Oregon, south to Mexico. Their rookeries (breeding grounds) are found on offshore islands.
They eat a wide variety of prey depending on local prey abundance, but manly on fish, octopus and squid. To catch their prey, they can dive to depth of more than 400m.
Californian sea lions are not classed as endangered, however they have been heavily hunted in the past. Sea lions are vulnerable to conflict with fishermen, pollution and entanglement with marine debris and are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the USA.
Californian male sea lions mate with many females, and after a pregnancy of around 11 months, females give birth to one pup.
Pups suckle for up to two years and mature between four and five years of age. Females and males are sexually dimorphic with fully grown males around 3 times the size of females.
The Banham Zoo Sea Lions
Gala: Adult female, born in June 2003 in Barcelona Zoo, Spain. Arrived at Banham Zoo from Blackpool Zoo in March 2018
Daughter of Filippa, she likes to be by her mum’s side. Eager to train, she is very quick and precise with her trained behaviour.
Filippa: Adult female, born in June 1999 in Osnabruck Zoo, Germany. Described at the “most steady” of the five, and being the oldest, she takes everything in her stride and doesn’t seemed seem fazed by anything. Inquisitive and happy to be with the keepers.
Elmo: Adult male, born in July 2009 in Blackpool Zoo, UK. A gentle giant who has lots of growing up to do. He, like Gala, is very precise with his training and can almost be seen thinking about what he is being asked to get the fish reward. He eats the most, around 12kg per day but has plenty of manners and doesn’t steal from the others.
Emmett: Juvenile male, born June 2016 in Karlsruhe Zoo, Germany. He is like an excitable puppy who doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with himself at times. Very comfortable around the keeper and is trying hard at his training. He has become best friends with Ineke since his arrival.
Ineke: Juvenile female, born in May 2016 in Rotterdam Zoo, The Netherlands.
She has bonded well with Emmett and sticks to his side. She is the smallest and most cautious of all the sea lions but is participating well in the training but she has much to learn compared with the others. She seems to be a very sweet natured animal and no doubt she will gain more confidence in the coming weeks.