The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh met with a different kind of King and Queen this morning, as they officially opened the new Land of the Lions exhibit at London Zoo.
Her Majesty and His Royal Highness were given a tour of a new state-of-the-art enclosure, which forms part of the Zoo’s efforts to protect the endangered Asiatic lion. Only 500 of the animals are left in their natural habitat, Western India’s Gir Forest.
The enclosure, which is five times the size of its predecessor and has cost £5.2m to build, began its construction in 2014. It provides the lions with ample space to wander and explore and includes an overhead walkway, abandoned forts, crumbling Indian temples and a recreation of an Indian high street.
In keeping with the Indian theme, guests were served mango bucks fizz with an edible flower and tea as they waited for the royal couple and several murals of lions and monkeys decorated the old brick walls surrounding the enclosure. The Queen added to the colourful occasion herself by choosing a pale blue outfit and hat by Angela Kelly, last worn in May 2015 during the beacon lightings for VE Day in Windsor
Greeted by beautiful spring sunshine in the capital, the trip marked the first time The Queen has visited London Zoo since 1999, when she opened the Millennium Conservation Centre. Prince Philip opened the Zoo’s Gorilla Kingdom in 2007 and made a repeat visit in 2013 to open its Tiger Territory.
Indeed, Her Majesty was reminded of a previous trip to the Zoo, when she was presented with a photograph of her opening the New Lion Terraces in almost the same location, 40 years ago, in 1976.
The Duke seemed in fine form as he watched on as his wife unveiled the ceremonial plaque. As the curtain was pulled back to reveal the large sign, he joked with the Zoo’s staff, asking: “Where are you putting that?”
The royals’ visit comes days after her grandson Prince William, who presented the Irish Guards with their shamrocks today, announced a major international declaration to tackle the trafficking of illegal wildlife products. The Duke of Cambridge, alongside his brother Prince Harry, has campaigned for many years to help protect endangered wildlife, particularly elephants and rhinos which are under increasing threat.
The royal guests also heard from ZSL’s president Sir John Beddington and director Ralph Armond, both of whose speeches were interrupted by the roar of two lionesses.Twins, Heidi and Indi, were prowling for their lunch when the opening ceremony got under way and one Zoo worker said that Heidi “likes to assert her authority. It’s quite a dramatic sound if you’re not used to it.” Indeed, The Queen repeatedly glanced behind her shoulder at the animals growled; a nearby sign warning visitors not to stray too close to the boundary fence due to “dangerous lions, dangerous ruins”.
Her Majesty became Patron of Zoological Social of London (ZSL) in June 1952, just four months after becoming Queen. Her admiration and love of animals – albeit of the more domesticated kind – has been well-documented and The Queen is a keen watcher of equestrian sports and has plenty of canine friends to keep her company.
The Zoo is expecting two more lions from Sakkarbaug Zoo in Gujarat, India. ZSL is working with partners across the world to ensure the Asiatic lions’ population continues to thrive. Two partners, The Gujarat Forest Development and Wildlife Institute of India, are training veterinary teams and strengthening the ranger patrols across the conservation area.
The Land of the Lions enclosure will officially open to the public on 25 March, and the Zoo say that it will play a “vital role” in the European breeding programme for the endangered species.