Chester Zoo’s huge new habitat for the world’s rarest lions is set to open tomorrow, Friday October 18th, making it the UK’s largest space for the species.
And now the pride of lions have taken their first steps in their specially-created new home - which is designed to recreate the environment of the Gir Forest region of India, where the last few hundred Asiatic lions live in the wild.
Lionesses Kumari and Kiburi - along with adult male Iblis - have been exploring their sprawling new home, before the space opens to visitors tomorrow, with the new habitat spanning 4,780 square metres in total.
Recreating the scrubland savannahs of India’s Gir Forest region, the dry forest habitat contains raised hilltop viewing points for the pride, as well as heated rocks and a water hole.
The habitat is also complete with heated indoor dens, which zoo experts hope will one day be the perfect environment for cubs. The state-of-the-art facility could be a major boost to the European breeding programme for the species, which is teetering on the brink of extinction in the wild.
As few as 650 lions are thought to remain in the wild. Poaching, human-wildlife conflict, habitat loss and disease have caused a catastrophic decline in their population.
While the last Asiatic lion populations live in the forest in Gujarat, India, this is just 0.1% of their former territories - the species used to roam across Northern Africa, Greece, Turkey and Asia.
Dr Mark Pilgrim, Chester Zoo’s Chief Executive Officer, said:
This remarkable species is facing a very uncertain future. The European endangered species breeding programme is critically important. If the worst was to happen in the wild, good zoos would be the only thing standing between Asiatic lions and extinction. We’re very proud to be able to give the Asiatic lion pride the world’s best conservation breeding facilities. We also hope the new area will help us raise much needed awareness about the plight of Asiatic lions.