Phase one of the completion of our new big cat facility is well underway following the return of our very own lion king - Khari the African lion.
Born in Blackpool in 2015, Khari moved to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in spring 2022 to allow the £1.5million redevelopment and extension to take place.
He returned on Tuesday 2nd May and is settling in ahead of the arrival of three lionesses, who will form his new pride, later in the month.
The newly named Big Cat Habitat has a significantly larger indoor and outdoor footprint than the previous exhibit and has state-of-the-art facilities for both keepers and residents.
Over in the lion section, which is the first part to be complete, a sprawling indoor area has heated mock rocks and extended viewing windows.
Heading outside, a fully landscaped area includes more mock rocks, a mix of grass, sandy and wood substrate flooring as well as extensive themed planting and a running water feature.
Khari will spend his first few weeks settling in and visitors may be able to get a sneak peak of him in his new home.
Next door, the tiger area has also been extended with bigger indoor and outdoor spaces, which have been designed in a similar manner to the lion section.
Final works are taking place ahead of the return of Alyona the Amur tiger, who has been residing at Woodside Wildlife Park in Lincolnshire.
A male tiger will be joining her later in the summer to form a non-breeding companion pair.
The keeper facilities have been designed after extensive consultation with the team, making their job of taking care of the two magnificent species easier than ever before.
Darren Webster, Zoo Director, is delighted to welcome Khari back to Blackpool and mark the final stages of the project. He said: “It is absolutely wonderful to see Khari back where he belongs.
“The teams at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and Woodside Wildlife Park have done a magnificent job at caring for Khari and Alyona and I would like to thank them for all their efforts.
“The new Big Cat Habitat is one of our most important investments here at Blackpool Zoo, providing the very latest in excellent animal husbandry.
“Khari was one of the last big cats to be born here at Blackpool Zoo and now he is set to be introduced to three new females to form his own pride.
“We’re also really looking forward to seeing Alyona return later in the month. She is no longer part of the breeding programme due to her age, but she will be joined by a male companion later this year.
“The Big Cat Habitat was a huge undertaking and has been expertly overseen by our keeper, maintenance and grounds teams.
“I am sure visitors are as excited as we are to see big cats back at Blackpool!”