Page last updated at 02:00 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Zoo unveils 225m transformation

The 90m Heart of Africa rainforest dome
The 225m plans will make the zoo Europe's largest conservation centre

A giant dome housing a rainforest is part of a 225m plan to transform Chester Zoo into Europe's largest conservation attraction.

The project includes a 56 hectare indoor African-themed rainforest where gorillas, chimpanzees and other tropical animals can move freely.

The 90m eco dome, which would form the initial phase of the scheme, would be the first of its kind in the UK.

A 90-room hotel is also set to be part of plans submitted later this year.

The project, called Natural Vision, includes a Conservation College and a revamped main entrance linking it to a marina development on zoo land next to the Shropshire Union Canal.

The dome itself will have an interactive water ride to give visitors unique views of the animal enclosures.

This project is unlike anything that has been in the UK
Prof Gordon McGregor Reid

The aim is, by 2018, to showcase and support the zoo's international conservation work, which currently involves 50 countries.

Prof Gordon McGregor Reid, director general of Chester Zoo, said: "Natural Vision will offer a fun, family-friendly, adventurous, yet educational window on the world of conservation.

"New and exciting animal species will be introduced. This project is unlike anything that has been in the UK and will offer a spectacular visitor experience and the highest standards of animal welfare."

The zoo, which celebrates its 75th anniversary in May, attracts 1.3m visitors a year.

The new project is expected to see visitors rise to 2m when complete. Chester Zoo spans 50 hectares but owns another 200.

When finished, Natural Vision will cover 80 hectares including new road access and parking.

Meanwhile, hundreds of jobs will be created for the north west, during construction and following completion of the project, said a zoo spokesman.

Prof McGregor Reid added: "Our visitors will be immersed in the world of wildlife where we will engage, inform educate and amaze them in a truly thrilling and unique environment."

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