An ambitious multi-million pound project to build a domed ecosystem and 90-bed hotel is being unveiled by Chester Zoo today.
The £225m project, known as Natural Vision, will involve a £90m first phase which will include the domed ecosystem called 'Heart of Africa'.
The bio-dome will be an African rainforest-themed sanctuary for a band of Gorillas, a large troop of chimpanzees, rare giraffe-like creatures known as Okapi, and a wide variety of tropical birds, amphibians, reptiles, fishes and invertebrates, moving freely among lush vegetation.
Planning for the first phase will be sought later this year and also includes a conservation college, as well as a revamped main entrance linking to a marina development on zoo land beside the Shropshire Union Canal.
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.
"Chester Zoo already actively supports and runs conservation, science and veterinary projects in all corners of the globe but the increased visitor footfall from this new project will dramatically increase what we are able to do and fund out in the field.
"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.
"Our intention now is to move forward to the planning stage and we will be working closely with Government agencies and our neighbouring communities during this process."
The project is the culmination of years of planning and design and is being carried out in conjunction with a number of agencies, including North West Development Agency which has provided funding to enable the project to progress to the planning stage.
James Berresford, director of tourism at NWDA, said: "The zoo has the potential to become a flagship visitor attraction for the North West, improving perceptions of the region and boosting inbound tourism. The NWDA is pleased to have been able to assist in the development of these plans, which provide a robust starting point for this exciting development."
The zoo currently occupies 50 hectares of land but owns a further 200. The completed Natural Vision project will cover 80 hectares including new access roads and parking.
The Natural Vision project is expected to be completed by 2018.
Hill Dickinson has been appointed as the sole legal advisor for Natural Vision.
Robin Jones, senior partner at Hill Dickinson's Chester office, who headed up the tender, commented: "To be involved in a scheme of this stature on a national level is recognition of Hill Dickinson's ability to deliver full service legal support and advice from intellectual property and planning law to environmental risk and regulatory law.
"Having an office in Chester means that we are on the Zoo's doorstep and, being a national firm, we have the skills and expertise available for a scheme of this size and nature. We look forward to playing a fundamental role in seeing the scheme come to fruition."