When Sameer Shinde, 8, went on the lion safari with his father at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) at Borivli on Wednesday afternoon, the trip left the duo asking for more. After a 30-minute drive, all that Shinde and a bus load of people spotted was a sleeping Badshah, one of the two male lions in the park.
"Though we were lucky to see a lion, it was such a disappointment to see him sleeping with his back facing us. If there were more lions, the safari would have been worth it," said Abhijit Shinde. "Thankfully, we saw more than just one tiger."
The Shindes may have been unlucky to find Badshah asleep, but visitors to the park next month will be a happier bunch on the safari to see three playful cubs sprawled in the enclosures.
After two decades, the addition of three cubs to the lion clan will boost eco-tourism in the park; raising the lion count to six at SGNP.
The three-month-old cubs, Jespha, Gopa and Little Shobha, the first two named after the wild cats in the popular wildlife film 'Born Free', were born last September to become the first set of cubs to be born at the park in the last 20 years.
Spread across 104 sqkm, SGNP is among the few national parks across the world to be located within city limits.
At present, the safari witnesses between 100 and 125 visitors everyday between 9am and 5.30pm with the count going up to 350 over the weekends. Two buses covered with mesh have one attendant each to take the visitors on the safari.
Wildlife experts said while facilities for the lion and tiger safari are good, the entry of cubs will be an added attraction.
"The safaris are very popular among those visiting the national park. And there is space to add a few more animals in the area designated for the lion and tiger safari," said Krishna Tiwari of the Bombay Natural History Society.
The only facility awaiting a change is the old-style manual gates at the safari to be replaced with mechanical gates that open and close with a press of a switch making them operate faster.
The need for the automatic gates at the entry to the safari was voiced after lioness Shobha, mother of the three cubs, killed a forest guard Harichand Gangwan in 2010 when the guard forgot to shut the door that separated the wild animals from the feeding area.
"Tenders for the mechanised gates have been floated and we are awaiting responses from interested parties," said a park official, on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media, adding that no other revamp of the safari is in the pipeline.