California's Nastiest Tourist Attraction

Zoo's lion spray zone gives park visitors memorable experience

By Eric S. Page
|  Friday, Sep 11, 2009  |  Updated 4:57 PM PDT
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California's Nastiest Tourist Attraction

He looks kind of proud of himself, doesn't he?

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Head on over to the San Diego Zoo for a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime experience -- or not.

Been splashed by Shamu? Big deal. Had a millipede impede your good time? So what?

The zoo's new gazillion-acre Elephant Odyssey also features a lion enclosure, and guests can get a little too close for comfort at the lion "spray zone." Sure, you've seen -- or, worse, smelled -- a cat spraying, but no matter how big of an "animal person" you are, you're not really prepared for the experience, we assure you.

"Our male over here, like your typical house cat ... they like to spray," said senior zookeeper Jacob Shanks. "[At] 450 pounds, the range and the volume change quite a bit.... It's a little bit of a souvenir and a good story to tell. I've been sprayed, we've had other keepers sprayed, but it's not the end of the world."

Zoo visitors are separated from the big cats by coated reinforced-steel netting, 3-4 feet of landscaping and another short fence. That's it. Plexiglas? Forget it. We're telling you this, because a nearby sign warns that the lion's "spray range" is  7-10 feet. That's a lot of yuck. So what should you do for if you're not in the mood for a lion shower?

"The primary signs of a spray is, if he turns around and gives you his back end, and if that tail goes up, you probably ought to take a few steps back," Shanks said.

And just how bad is it?

"Pretty big spray, especially from him," Shanks said. "He's got some range."

Bring a rain coat, baby.

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