Thursday, March 31, 2016

Now you can go on a lion safari... in Regent’s Park

Ben Morgan

A pride of lions snoozing on railway tracks and rickshaws leaning against village huts is not your typical London street scene.
London Zoo has recreated a village that is located in a forest in eastern India so visitors can get a first-hand look at endangered Asiatic lions in their natural habitat.
In a live-action adventure, budding ecologists can react to a simulated “lion emergency” in the forest, helping park rangers and vets who come to the rescue.
The new £5.2 million Land of the Lions enclosure was due to be unveiled today by The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh today after two years of painstaking planning.
Inside the replicated village in London Zoo (Glenn Copus)
Conservation teams from the zoo have replicated a village from Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat state.
Land of the Lions - Teaser Trailer
Gitanjali Bhattacharya, head of the zoo’s conservation programmes for South and Central Asia, said: “It’s about being in the heart of London but being immersed in the Indian forest.
“I have been to Gir and it’s absolutely stunning, but to stand in the centre of the Land of Lions you feel like you’ve been transported to India. Every time you turn a corner you see something from Gir.”
'Stunning': the park is based on Gir (Glenn Copus)
More than a thousand props have been shipped to London from the national park, including rickshaws, bicycles, posters and even a mocked-up tourist information centre.
The exhibit will be home to the zoo’s four Asiatic lions — females Heidi, Rubi and Indi along with male Bhanu. It aims to show how close big cats and humans live to each other in the national park — though in this case visitors will have the reassurance of being separated from them by safety wire.
Ms Bhattacharya said: “In Gir you have this species living in harmony with humans.
The exhibit will be home to the zoo's four Asiatic lions (Glenn Copus)
“I don’t think your or I would be comfortable with lions living in your back yard, but they actually do live in such close proximity. People have adapted to live near these huge carnivores. They can read lion behaviour and know when to avoid them.”
The Asiatic lion tends to be slightly smaller than its African cousin, and males have a shorter mane. It is listed as endangered and last year there was a population of just 523, all in the Gir national park.
However numbers have increased since they were almost wiped out by hunters at the turn of the last century, when only 20 had remained, Lion hunts are now outlawed.
The zoo has worked on the project  with the Wildlife Institute of India and Indian Forestry Department.
Ms Bhattacharya said: “For children to be able to stand in the middle of this exhibit and be so close to the lions, it almost seems like there will be no barriers between the people and the species. It’s hugely exciting.”

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