CHESTER Zoo's lions are settling in to their new home in what is expected to be the city's new mane attraction.

The trio of 12-year-old endangered Asiatic lions - male Iblis and females Kumari and Kiburi - moved in to the brand-new enclosure, located over the bridge from the reptile house, on Monday.

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At 4,780 sq m, the new enclosure is five times as big as the old habitat for the lions, which had been in place since 1938 and will now be converted into a walkway ready for this year's Lanterns parade.

During an exclusive preview on Thursday, October 17, zoo chiefs confirmed the new enclosure for the lions - which had taken about a year in planning and a further year in construction - was the first step in a long-term expansion for the popular family attraction.

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Iblis gets up close (Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

Members of the public will be able to see the lions like never before from Friday, October 18, thanks to new, reinforced glass, windows, allowing visitors of all ages to see the fearsome carnivores up close.

Zookeepers are keen to make sure the lions fully settled in to their new habitat over the next few days and visitors may need to watch from a small distance to ensure the trio do not get stressed.

Visitors will also be able to enjoy watching the lions from a raised vantage point, as well as take part in a number of interactive games such as testing your strength to see if you could haul a typical lion's prey, or whether you could survive a month as a lion in the wild.

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The lions' new habitat also boasts raised hilltop viewing points for the lions to survey their savannah, heated rocks, a water hole, a densely planted forest and a sandy beach area.

There is also an indoor habitat which will be used as a 'time share' enclosure with their soon-to-be neighbours, the Indian mongoose, which are currently in quarantine and are expected to move in to the area next February.

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The new conservation breeding facility has been specially designed by expert carnivore keepers, conservationists and architects, and recreates the dry forest and savannah habitats of the Gir Forest region of India.

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 the last surviving 650 Asiatic lions remain in one forest in India – making this new habitat incredibly important for the conservation breeding programme working to boost their numbers.

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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.

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"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.”

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