ZSL London Zoo’s most majestic residents were given a Royal welcome on Thursday 17 March - when the brand new Asiatic lion exhibit was officially opened by HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.
The Royals toured the Zoo’s new Land of the Lions and spent time talking to staff about the incredible interactive experiences the exhibit will have on offer to visitors.
Lionesses Indi, Rubi and Heidi even showed their respect for the Royal guests - coming to within a whisker of Her Majesty and His Royal Highness in the exhibit’s stunning 360⁰ Temple Clearing.
Director General Ralph Armond said: “We were delighted to welcome Her Majesty and His Royal Highness to ZSL London Zoo this morning to open our new Land of the Lions exhibit. Her Majesty actually opened our previous lion enclosure 40 years ago and it was an honour to have her return with HRH The Duke in the year of her 90th birthday.”
Land of the Lions, a £5.2m development, has been created to transport visitors from the heart of London to the vibrant setting of Sasan Gir in Gujarat, India - the last remaining stronghold of Asiatic lions – and bring visitors closer than ever to the big cats.
Covering an expanse of 2,500sqm (27,000sqft), visitors will enter Land of the Lions through a grand stone archway, pick up a ‘park pass’ at the Gir Tourist Information centre and explore Sasan Gir Train Station - where the odd lion might be spotted snoozing on the tracks – before being awed by the exhibit’s incredible centrepiece, a 360° Temple Clearing where the big cats will roam just metres away, separated only by fine wires.
ZSL London Zoo’s biggest project-to-date and incorporating ZSL’s decades of animal expertise, the flagship exhibit provides the ideal home for the Asiatic lions, who will play a vital role in the European breeding programme for the endangered species, of which only 500 remain in the wild.
To truly capture the essence of the lions’ forest home, the Zoo’s designers visited Gujarat in India for inspiration, and rickshaws, bicycles, sacks of spices, rangers’ huts, and even a life-size truck – much of which was sourced and shipped from India – are dotted both inside and out of the lions’ domain.
The result of ZSL’s Asiatic lions fundraising campaign which supports ZSL’s international conservation efforts to help protect this endangered species in India, Land of the Lions promises to be an enthralling new experience for visitors when it opens to the public on Friday 25 March 2016.