On the way to Alexandria the other afternoon, a big billboard reared its head up on the horizon 59km till Alex. Lion Village. What to be done? We pulled over, of course.

So there they were, the show-stoppers of the African continent: the lions, the ostriches, the flamingos, a solitary baboon…the differing breeds of deer, hyenas and big-eared desert foxes. And the cocker spaniels. Can I put my hand up at this point and say this is the first time I’ve ever been to a zoo that has had cocker spaniels on display.

Then we hit the naughty Dalmatian puppies, the Newfoundland hounds clipped to look like lions and last, but not least, three beautiful little dachshunds, one of which snuck through the bars for a casual wander around the little open-air zoo.

Later, the largest of the Newfoundlands would do the same, wandering sad-eyed through the café tables hoping for scraps of cooked ostrich. No wonder the ostriches looked so disturbed, pecking viciously at the paint on their bars.

There were also some crazy little beasts labelled ‘Egyptian kangaroos’ (Who knew? Certainly the Egyptians in the party were shocked to discover them). For the record, they looked like little desert rats, all tangled together sleeping, their naked limbs like a heap of raw chicken wings dumped in a glass box.
There were turkeys and chooks, buzzards and a range of monkeys, and Egyptian nims, who looked like big tasty rodents that slept heavily on each other. They didn’t seem to be perturbed snoozing while the lions roared. There are six lions at the Lion Village, and all were out cold while we were there. In fact, we walked straight past two of them.
“Where are all the lions?” we asked after a while.
“At the entrance,” said the attendant looking at us like we were insane. We retraced our footsteps to find Ashraf and Tony (Tony? What kind of name is that for an Egyptian lion?), who was um… cleaning himself and taking great pleasure in doing so. I couldn’t take a photo. Oh. Ok, I did, but it didn’t turn out so well..

The other lions were Samshoon and his wife Nancy (asleep), and Dollar and and his missus Farah, who is actually a tiger. They weren’t on display, Dollar was yelling somewhere in the background, but a sign told us they have had babies, who are ‘ligers’, a cross between tiger and lion, the first to have been born in the Middle East.

There were also signs up about a strongman, Ahmed the Crocodile, who puts his head in lions’ mouths while wearing tight pants. In all, an excellent diversion on the road to Alex.

Lion Village, Km 59, Alex-Cairo Desert Rd., Alexandria, phone 010 4976028 – 010 573086