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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 August, 2004, 16:12 GMT 17:12 UK
Lions sink teeth into experiment
Lions and the lion rover machine
The lions were curious at first, but soon investigated the device
A remote-controlled vehicle carrying zebra dung is being used by a Stirling University student to study the behaviour of lions in captivity.

Mark Jones is trialling the "Lion Rover" at Blair Drummond Safari Park, near Stirling.

The 21-year-old from Hastings, East Sussex, said a BBC nature programme inspired him to come up with the idea.

He will assess the response of the lions to the vehicle and determine if there are patterns to their actions.

Mr Jones, a psychology undergraduate, said: "The idea came from the Wildlife On One show which used a boulder-cam.

"I thought if it was hardy enough to stand up to a pack of lions then something similar could be used in captivity, as it is illegal to put live prey in with a large carnivore in the UK.

The Lion Rover stimulates their natural hunting skills as they have to chase and catch it
Gary Gilmour
Blair Drummond Safari Park
"I wanted to find a way to give them the opportunity to express their natural behaviour in a natural environment.

"It is good for them and, from an educational perspective, it is good for the public."

Mr Jones spent a gap year travelling round Africa and plans to complete a masters degree in animal behaviour when he graduates from Stirling University in 2006.

The Lion Rover was the result of a collaboration with his friend, Adam Gerschel-Clarke, a product design student at Brighton University.

Describing their creation, Mr Jones said: "It is like a small remote-controlled tank and we attached a sack of zebra dung to it to give off a natural scent."

Mr Jones followed the device, which can travel at up to 20mph, in his Volkswagen Polo during the first trial on Tuesday.

Bag of dung

One of his passengers controlled the Lion Rover while three people filmed the action for the third-year student.

On the inaugural trial, Mr Jones said: "When the Lion Rover first went in they were quite curious and a little bit wary.

"But then they started chasing it and pawing it.

"One of the adults picked it up while one of the young lions ran off with the bag of dung.

"The cover is aluminium so they can do damage to it but it won't do damage to them. A steel frame protects the interior."

Gary Gilmour, park manager at Blair Drummond, said the work would benefit the pride of 20 lions.

He said: "The Lion Rover stimulates their natural hunting skills as they have to chase and catch it.

"We don't have the man hours to study the animals but the students can come here five days a week for eight hours a day.

"They can then present their ideas to us to help us enrich the behaviour of the animals at the park."

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