London | Queen Elizabeth II has inaugurated a brand new Asiatic lion exhibit at the iconic London Zoo, a 5.2 million-pound project aiming at transporting visitors to Gujarat to bring them closer than ever to the endangered big cats from the Gir forest.
Covering an expanse of 2,500 square metres, visitors will enter ‘Land of the Lions’ through a grand stone archway and explore Sasan Gir Train Station – where an odd lion might be spotted snoozing on the tracks or roaming just metres away, separated only by wires. The new exhibit at the world’s oldest scientific zoo will be home to four Asiatic lions and has been set up to transport visitors from the heart of London to the vibrant setting of Sasan Gir in Gujarat in India – the last remaining stronghold of Asiatic lions.
A village located in Gir forest in Gujarat has been recreated so that visitors can get a first-hand look at the endangered Asiatic lions in their natural habitat. The four Asiatic lions housed at the exhibit are named Heidi, Rubi, Indi – all females, and Bhanu – a male.
The 89-year-old Queen unveiled a large plaque to commemorate the opening yesterday. The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, who accompanied her was presented with a painting by Edward Lear circa 1835 of an Asian lion along with the publication ‘The Maneless Lion of Gujarat’.
The Queen also received as a gift a photograph of her visit to the zoo 40 years ago when she opened the New Lion Terraces at almost the same spot. Leading NRI industrialist Lord Swraj Paul, who helped rescue the London Zoo from closure with a one million-pound donation in 1993, told PTI: I am proud of its Indian effect. The Asiatic Lion exhibit project, which is located next to the Ambika Paul garden, is based on the lions of Gujarat, said Paul.
The Land of the Lions is a wonderful way for people to see Asian lions in an authentic setting. It is next to the Ambika’s statue (set up in memory of Lord Paul’s daughter). We are really grateful to the Queen and the Duke for inaugurating the exhibit. It will be open to visitors from March 25, the 85-year-old industrialist said.
Nine private cabins, each having space for up to two adults and two children, have been built at the exhibit where visitors can spend a night and view the lions from close range. ZSL London Zoo is a magical place at night – we want the people of all ages to have a chance to enjoy that magic, and immerse themselves in a fantastic experience unlike any other, sleeping near to our magnificent Asiatic lions, said Emma Taylor, head of product development at London Zoo.
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