An Indian village opened in the middle of London today — with four Asiatic lions as its residents.
The Queen officially cut the tape at London Zoo's new lion enclosure, Land Of The Lions, accompanied by Prince Philip.
Land Of The Lions, which cost £5.2m to build, is five times the size of the zoo's previous lion enclosure. It's designed to resemble Sasan Gir, an Indian village in the heart of the Gir Forest where the last 500 wild Asiatic lions live — allowing visitors to understand the conflicts that arise from humans and lions living in such close contact.
Visitors to Land Of The Lions can stop off at the Gir Tourist Information Centre, and learn about the conservation projects going on in India, before visiting the town's railway station — where they might catch a peek of Bhanu.
Zoo regulars will be pleased to know that the zoo's previous lionesses, Rubi, Heidi and Indi are back after a brief stay at Whipsnade Zoo. They're joined by Bhanu, a male lion who has recently arrived from a zoo in Winnipeg, Canada.
Overhead walkways let humans peer down on the lions in their paddocks, and back on ground level, the big cats are separated from visitors by just a wire fence (a tough one, we checked) letting you get really close to them.
The lions are joined —but separated from — a troop of Hanuman langur monkeys, a species which lives alongside the lions in their native habitat.
Much of the decor of the exhibit, including railway station signs and benches, rickshaws and sacks of spices has been sourced from India, maintaining the authenticity of the 'village'.
Land Of The Lions is open to the public from Good Friday (25 March 2016). Admission is included in zoo admission price — booking in advance is recommended during school holidays. Visitors can also book to spend a night in lodges overlooking the lion enclosure.