Daily Mail

Bed down in the lion’s den

A new dome at this animal reserve offers a taste of Africa in the wilds of Kent


YOU could be forgiven for assuming that our first night away from our newborn would be a pretty wild affair. And you’d be right.

My husband and I peep out from beneath the rumpled covers, eyes wide. A low grumble builds into a long, hair- raising roar. Somewhere nearby, a handful of lions are letting Kent know they’re hungry.

We’re close enough to snack on — were it not for an electric fence. We’re camping in the new Lookout Bubble, a transparen­t domed abode that sits metres from Europe’s largest lion enclosure.

Port Lympne is a wildlife reserve formerly owned by the late zoo and casino tycoon John Aspinall.

While South-East England is an unlikely habitat for the rhinos, tigers, gorillas and lions, this is their patch. A team of 57 keepers work to protect them day and night, before rewilding many in their natural habitats, including Tanzania and Indonesia.

You can take a truck safari or wander between enclosures filled with tigers, baboons and ostriches on a day visit. Or, if you stay overnight, there’s a chance to sleep in wigwams or treehouses — brilliant for families. But the

Get to know the neighbours: The Lookout Bubble at Port Lympne and, inset, its lions

Lookout Bubble was built with a more romantic agenda in mind.

The see-through dome is kitted out luxuriousl­y, with a large bed draped in cosy throws, freestandi­ng tub with geraniumsc­ented Bamford bath soak, fiddle-leaf fig plants and comfy armchairs. The rainshower and loo are discreetly tucked behind a zip-up panel.

While it’s tempting to bury ourselves under the duvet, you don’t go on safari to sleep. Lookout Bubble bookings come with an electric golf buggy, so we whizz along paths mapped out on the 600 acres of Kent savannah.

Our neighbours are a pair of northern lynx with fluffy fur and large eyes, snoozing on the branch of a tree, as howler monkeys hoot and scream nearby.

We’ve been on safari in Africa, and I had wondered whether seeing lions, rhinos and giraffes beneath a dreary UK sky might be a little underwhelm­ing. Not so.

In fact, it’s a chance to witness wildlife close up: every crinkle on the rhinos’ backs, every thick long lash over the giraffes’ eyes. On the giraffe safari, the ranger tells us how the animals’ tongues can grow up to half a metre long.

The giraffes sway towards the four-wheel drive and, inches from our faces, their tongues curl around the branches in our hands so they can feed on the leaves.

Later, we visit Rosie the rhino, who has lived here since 2011. I think back to a rhino I’d seen in Tanzania, at a reserve loved by the Obamas and Oprah Winfrey. It had spent much of its early life in this very paddock at Port Lympne, and was one of the eight black rhinos that had been rewilded.

Nearby is the Gorilla Experience — some of the great apes have tiny babies. ‘This one is known for throwing sticks,’ Helen, the ranger, warns us. She’s worked here for more than two decades and has helped to rewild more than 70 gorillas.

We toss vegetables into the cages for the bigger apes, before the smaller ones scoop up the scraps.

Then onto the best bit: the big cats. We spot a tiger with huge paws and long whiskers sprawled languorous­ly across a log.

Later, we revel in a relaxed meal of steaks, brownies and red wine, before navigating the pitch-black park in our golf buggy.

Tucked up in bed I hear the low rumble of a lion. It’s the last thing I hear before I drift off. Undisturbe­d sleep. The hallmark of an excellent night away.


NIGHTLY rates at the Lookout Bubble start from £439 based on two sharing, including breakfast and use of a golf buggy. Other accommodat­ion costs from £99 a night ( portlympne.com).

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