Queen’s Land of the Lions visit to London Zoo is roaring success
- Credit: Archant
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh came face to face with the ‘king of the animals’ on Thursday to mark the official opening of the new Land of the Lions exhibition at London Zoo.
Hundreds gathered in the surrounds of a model Indian village to see Queen Elizabeth II unveil a golden plaque which will sit at the entrance of the zoo’s £5.2 million ‘immersive’ enclosure, all under the watchful eye of a pride of Asiatic Lions.
The royal couple were evidently distracted by the presence of big cats prowling behind them, and even turned to watch the six-year-old lioness Rubi and her twin sisters Heidi and Indi,4, tussle over a scrap of meat.
Their Royal Highnesses smiled warmly and her majesty cracked a joke as Ralph Armand, Director General of the Zoological Society of London gave them a framed photograph of the day they opened the zoo’s previous lion enclosure on the same spot in 1976.
Mr Armand thanked the royal couple for attending for joining them for the “truly momentous occasion” and highlighted the presence in the photo of philanthropist Vivienne Duffield and her daughter Arabella, who was four when the image was taken, and who had both returned to welcome the Queen and her husband back forty years later.
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As Rubi and her sisters stalked around their 2,500 sq ft new home inspired by their native habitat in the Gujarati village of Sasan Gir, the monarch and her husband spoke to the keepers and staff responsible for helping them settle in to their vibrant new surroundings.
Prince Philip is reported to have quipped to Teague Stubbington, London Zoo’s big cat keeper: “You’ve still got your hands, arms and legs?”
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The Asiatic lionesses, who were born at the zoo and were relocated to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo for the past year, returned home five weeks ago but have yet to meet future breeding partner Bhanu, 5, who has recently taken up residence after making the long journey from a zoo in Winnipeg, Canada.
Mr Stubbington,who hopes Bhanu will be part of an important breeding programme aimed at growing the world’s Asiatic lion population, said: “The lions performed brilliantly for the Queen and Duke today, who were very friendly and seemed to really enjoy their visit.
“We’ve been working them really hard to get them used to seeing people and to make sure they are comfortable in the new exhibit. The girls can smell Bhanu but they haven’t seen him yet as he’s in a separate enclosure, but he’s really beautiful.”
The official opening of Land of the Lions, which is due to open its doors to the public on March 25, was toasted with champagne and canapés.
Guest including wildlife presenter Bill Oddie also had a sneak peak at the model village, teeming with the colours, sights, bicycles and hundreds of authentic props brought back from Sasan Gir.
The vibrant exhibition will offer visitors the chance to experience the life of villagers who live in harmony with the majestic big cats of the Gir forest national park as well as learn about conservation efforts to boost the estimated population of 523 Asiatic lions remaining in the wild.
An overhead walkway above the lions’ enclosure will allow visitors to meet a lively troop of Hanuman langur monkeys as well as a dedicated ‘flamingo yoga’ viewing spot.
Zoo staff are also bust putting the final touches to a village of colourful lodges which will offer guests the chance to spend a night on safari right next to the lion enclosure once it opens in May.
For more information and tickets to ZSL London zoo see: ww.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo/exhibits/land-of-the-lions