A TRIO of endangered lions will take new up residence in a new habitat at Chester Zoo that will open to visitors in October.

The expansive zone – spanning more than 4,780 square metres – will be home to a trio of endangered Asiatic lions, male Iblis (aged 12) and females Kumari (12) and Kiburi (12).

The state-of-the-art new conservation breeding facility has been specially designed by expert carnivore keepers, conservationists and architects.

The area recreates the dry forest and savannah habitats of the Gir Forest region of India, which is home to the last surviving wild population of Asiatic lions.

It will boast a densely planted forest, raised hilltop viewing points for the lions to survey their savannah, heated rocks, a water hole and a sandy beach area.

Asiatic lions, one of the rarest of all the big cat species, have suffered a huge decline in their natural range.

They once roamed across Northern Africa, Greece, Turkey and Asia but now just 650 wild Asiatic lions remain in one small region of India.

Mike Jordan, animal and plant collections director at Chester Zoo, said: "The zoo's new Asiatic lion habitat is modelled on the Gir Forest in Gujarat, India, the only place in the world where these highly endangered lions are now found.

"This remaining wild population is incredibly fragile and coexist with the local livestock herders of the region.

"If disease hits or a natural disaster occurs then the species could easily become extinct.

"It's therefore extremely important that we continue to try and further our efforts as part of the international endangered species breeding programme that is working to boost Asiatic lion numbers.

"Asiatic lions have gone somewhat under the radar of conservation.

"But, with just 650 surviving in the wild, we must raise some much needed awareness of this beautiful, iconic species and inspire people to help us to prevent their extinction."

The Asiatic lion has suffered dramatic decline in recent decades as a result of poaching, habitat fragmentation and disease, but is slowly increasing and spreading in its natural environment.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classes the species as endangered – meaning it is still faced with a high chance of extinction.

Tim Rowlands, curator of mammals at Chester Zoo, added: "Readying a group of lions to move home can be challenging and, over several months, our expert carnivore keepers have been encouraging the lions into specially designed moving crates using their favourite food.

"Slowly, day by day, the lions have become more and more comfortable spending time inside the crates.

"When the finishing touches have been made to their spectacular new habitat our trio Iblis, Kumari and Kiburi will make the short journey across the zoo ready to explore their new home."

Asiatic lion facts:

  • The Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) is a subspecies of the lion which survives today only in India.
  • Asiatic lions once ranged from the Mediterranean to India, covering most of Southwest Asia
  • The wild population of Asiatic lions consists of only 650 individuals, which are found in one restricted area, the Gir Forest in the state of Gujarat, India.
  • The species is listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's list of threatened species.
  • Asiatic lions are threatened by poaching, habitat fragmentation and disease from other species.
  • Conservationists fear that one natural disaster could wipe out the remaining population.