14 February 2024

Loved-up lions at the UK’s largest zoo are running low on their favourite scents, so our keepers are asking for donations of any unwanted Valentine’s gifts.  

 Our zookeepers are asking the public to donate their unwanted Valentine’s Day fragrances to the Zoo’s new pride of African lions, who love nothing more than discovering new smells.


Our conservation zoo’s trio of lions, male Malik and females Waka and Winta, are encouraged to put their hunting prowess to good use by zookeepers, who employ a variety or tactics - like perfume-scent trails around the big cats’ habitat, or dousing hessian snacks in a strong aftershave and hiding them in trees and behind rocks – but the lions’ love for perfume has meant our stocks are running low. 


Keeper Steve Merrick-White said: “Lions - like all big cats – live in a world dominated by scent. Their powerful sense of smell helps them to find food and water, and perhaps most importantly, sniff out a potential mate – they can tell when another lion is nearby simply by smelling them.” 


“Spraying perfume on trees, in the long grasses or even in straw-filled hessian sacks allows our young pride to test out their hunting skills and utilise their magnificent sense of smell – but we get through a lot of it!” 

African lion whipsnade zoo
Lion Whipsnade Zoo

“We’ve all had to grin and bear being gifted perfume or aftershave for Valentine’s Day that we’re simply not a fan of. But rather than let it gather dust on your bathroom shelf, you can give it a second life and donate it to the big cats at our conservation zoo,” he said. 

Lions, like all cats, have an extra smelling organ on the roof of their mouths called the Jacobson Organ. 

Steve added: “If you see a lion grimace, they’re not unhappy, they’re opening their mouths to take a large sniff of air. This allows lions to smell prey, or detect another lion, from more than five miles away - it’s what makes them king of the animal kingdom”. 

Sisters Waka and Winta moved to Whipsnade in May 2023 from Belgium having been matched with Malik, who moved to the conservation zoo from Germany, as part of the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme (EEP). 

“While people may look online for love, it’s not so different in the animal kingdom. Waka, Winta and Malik have been paired together by a special matchmaker, but rather than shared hobbies or music tastes it’s because of their genetics.” 

“It’s been 17 years since Whipsnade Zoo last had African lion cubs, so fingers crossed we won’t have too long to wait. It would be great for Whipsnade Zoo to play a part and be able to boost the number of African lions. 

Three quarters of African lion populations are sadly declining in the wild, driven by large-scale habitat conversion, the loss of prey through unsustainable hunting, as well as human/wildlife conflict. 

ZSL, the conservation charity which runs our Zoo, is working across Africa to help save animals on the brink of extinction by establishing community surveillance networks that collect and report vital information to stop illegal activities such as poaching, illegal mining and logging, as well as monitor law enforcement activities 

Visitors to the UK’s conservation zoo this February half term can donate their unwanted fragrance at the Whipsnade Zoo admissions center.  

This February half term children can step into the role of vet and learn more about animals like Waka, Winta and Malik as part of Vets in Action. Running every day from the 17 to 25 of February there is a packed schedule of activities and talks to enjoy. Every visit directly supports our international conservation charity.

Learn more about Vets in Action