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Celebrity guests celebrate the opening of the Jamala Wildlife Lodge

The crowd of celebrity guests at Canberra's Jamala Wildlife Lodge on Monday night was almost as diverse as the exotic animals that prowl outside its rooms. 

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove mingled with entertainers, sporting legends and businesspeople as he officially opened the lodge, a new development from National Zoo and Aquarium owners Richard and Maureen Tindale.

Guests included Victoria Cross winner Daniel Keighran, Boost Juice founder Janine Allis, breast cancer awareness campaigner Krystal Barter and Bianca Rinehart, daughter of mining billionaire Gina Rinehart. 

They mingled with South African high commissioner Sibusiso Ndebele and sports legends Mal Meninga, Ricky Stuart and Kevin Sheedy.

After a soft launch in December, the official opening was held at the site's Ushaka Lodge accommodation, which can house up to 26 guests and is built around an aquarium and monkey enclosure. 

Afterwards some of the guests spent the night in the 20 luxury rooms scattered across the zoo. 


Each jungle bungalow sits in the lion, bear or cheetah enclosures, and the treehouses allow guests to hand-feed giraffes from the balcony.

Sir Peter said the lodge, close to Government House, was a "brilliant conception" that "raised the high-jump bar" for experiencing natural beauty in Australia. 

"You don't just come to look, you get to stay and to enjoy the experience over hours and hours," he said.

"I'm a near neighbour and I'm always cheering them on, especially when the lions roar at five in the afternoon. The sound carries across the river quite clearly and it's a great sound."

Among the celebrity guests who stayed overnight was entertainer Leo Sayer, who felt it was appropriate he was to spend the night metres from a lion.  

"It was called Leo by my first manager after the mane of a lion, so it's very fitting. I'm in my natural habitat."

"It's fantastic, it's like being out in the savannah."

Singer Taylor Henderson welcomed the group of celebrities who crowded his room to watch bears enjoy their dinner metres from the bath and lounge area.

"When do you get to see a bear, let alone have one sleep at your feet?" he said.

Mr Tindale told the crowd a key purpose of the lodge was to progress his family's mission to bring visitors close to animals.

"When you've got a giraffe right at your balcony, when you've got a tiger or lion right outside your window, it does have an amazing impact on people. 

"A lot of our guests strip the bed of the doona, put it down next to the window and say they're going to spend the night there."

He said profits from the lodge would also help the zoo's ongoing transformation into an open-range facility.