Albeit (extremely) controversial, the Lujan Zoo Buenos Aires is definitely a once in a lifetime experience. Lujan Zoo is located approximately 1.5 hours outside of Buenos Aires and is an open concept zoo where visitors can enter into the animal cages to pet, feed and hold exotic animals. The list of animals include Siberian tigers, lions, bears, elephants and baby cubs (lions and tigers) – all of which you can pet!
Right at the entrance we were met by two cubs (a lion and tiger!)
I have always been an animal lover and decided to take the risk so that I could experience my own close encounter with one of these beautiful animals. First off the tour companies take full advantage of naive tourists and can charge anywhere from ARS$400 (USD$75) to ARS$800 (USD$150). In reality entrance into the zoo costs ARS$150 (USD$30). My friends and I have been fortunate enough to have obtained a SUBE card that can be used for all the metros / buses. If you have a SUBE card then you can take a MICRO (a coach bus) from two areas: Plaza Italia in Palermo (longer as it stops in Moreno) or you can take a bus / metro (stop Plaza Misere) to Plaza Once for an express bus. Travellers have to board the 57 bus (blue/red bus that has Atlantida on the side) towards Lujan and ask the bus driver to stop next to the zoo. One way on the MICRO is ARS$16 (USD$3). Those individuals without a SUBE can take a mini bus to the zoo run by a company called FABE BUS (tel: 02323 436304 / firstname.lastname@example.org). FABE Bus leaves from a number of locations across Buenos Aires and costs ARS$40 (USD$7.50) one way.
Above: A large tiger lounging around in his enclosure
Below: I got to bottle fed a 1 year old baby lion (male)
Upon our arrival we were explained that all the large cats have been trained in a specific way. When born they are assigned a specific zookeeper that will be their primary caretaker. At one month old the cats are then placed in enclosures with dogs. The dogs are there to teach the cats to bite and “play” in a softer manner. If the cub is too rough the dog bites the cub’s vulnerable areas (nose, ears or paws) thus teaching these majestic animals that rough play is not acceptable. Many may argue that these animals are drugged as they look sleepy and spend most of their time lazing around. Our experience was the opposite. In the tiger cub enclosure the keeper woke the cub up by purring, cuddling and kissing her nose. When she woke up she started to play (even biting!) with his hand. It was obvious that this little baby tiger was extremely loved.
Above: The first cage we went to had two Siberian tigers inside
Below: The father and son duo in the second cage. The little one was only 1 years old.
We started off at the Siberian Tiger enclosure, literally shaking in our boots as we stood in line for our turn. The first encounter is quite overwhelming as you are fully aware that there is a risk that something could go wrong. The risk is there, but since its opening Lujan has never had any accidents (I kept repeating that in my mind as I entered a cage with not one but TWO Siberians). That fear is quickly replaced with adrenaline as you pet the animal’s thick coat. After my first close encounter, I was so excited and I started to run to each enclosure giddy with anticipation (I even entered two cages twice). In the lion enclosure, I had the ability to feed a male baby lion (1 year old) a bottle of milk. His tongue felt like sandpaper as it ran up and down my hand – just like my kitten’s but twice the size! Then we moved on to feed a bear and an elephant only to finish off with a camel ride.
The park works on a one-time fee (excluding food to feed the animals) and the animals are on a rotation so that one animal doesn’t get too uncomfortable with the constant attention. I am EXTREMELY happy that I got the chance to get up close and personal with these animals – NONETHELESS Lujan Zoo Buenos Aires is not for young families as most of the enclosures (especially the tiger and lion cages) ask that the individual entering into the cage be 16 years of age or older. I whole-heatedly recommend this zoo and can see myself showing the gorgeous photos to my grandchildren one day!