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.
“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.”
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 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.”