IN his four-year stay in the Capital, he has had a ball. But it is time for Sofus the Sea Lion to wave farewell to Edinburgh Zoo as he heads for pastures new later this month.
Sofus will be transported to Poland, where he will be rehomed at Lodz Zoo – where two females of breeding age are already in residence.
His departure will mark the end of 100 years in which sea lions – one of the original attractions at the zoo – have proven one of its most popular attractions. The first sea lion pups were born at the zoo in 1934, but the decision to move Sofus came after zoo bosses admitted they could not afford to upgrade his enclosure at an estimated cost of £1 million.
Darren McGarry, head of animals at Edinburgh Zoo, previously said: “Sea lions need to be kept in the right conditions and if we don’t have the money to do the improvements, they’ll need to go. If we can’t afford them we have to think of the animals first.” And as travelling to a foreign destination can be an uncomfortable experience – all the more so when you weigh 700lb – a training programme has been developed to make his 1000-mile journey easier.
It is expected Sofus will be driven to his destination. Alison Maclean, the zoo’s team leader of carnivores and giant pandas, said: “The intention was to get him to feel comfortable with the transport crate. Some of the things we have trained him to do are for veterinary purposes. He can open his mouth so we can see his teeth, stick his tongue out and lie flat so we can walk around his body and look for any problems and we have also trained him to hold his nose on a target so he will move into his crate.
“When he does something correctly he is rewarded with a whistle sound.”
It has been a tough two years for Sofus, who was born in 2005 at Aalborg Zoo in Denmark. His partner Miranda died and the pair’s attempts at breeding resulted only in a still-born pup.
Alison said: “Sofus is quite young – he really is just an adolescent. As he’s quite nervous, we had to take our time on him and build up his trust and confidence. But the training has gone really well and we’re now having to throw him another piece of fish just to get him out of the crate.”
Sofus’ enclosure is to become home to the zoo’s existing colony of endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins, which will be joined by 11 new additions from a zoo in Vienna.
Patagonian sea lions (Otaria flavescens) appear almost continuously on the southern coastline of the continent of South America, from Peru down to Cape Horn and up the east coast to southern Brazil. They can also be seen on the Falkland Islands.
Males are much larger than the females, weighing between 660 and 770lb, to the females’ 317lb, and have very large heads and thick manes, giving them the lion-like appearance that gave rise to their name. In the wild, Patagonian sea lions eat a variety of fish, as well as squid and octopus and are also known to hunt penguins, pelicans, and smaller fur seals.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, hunting of Patagonian sea lions caused their numbers to drop, but they have now been categorised by conservation authorities as a species of Least Concern.