Chester Zoo will begin work in 2013 on its tropical islands recreation and the UK's biggest indoor attraction – an Indonesian jungle house – after winning consent from Cheshire West & Chester Council.
The Islands project will occupy a previously unused 500,000 sq ft area of the zoo's estate.
The new attraction will feature a boat tour of habitats designed to imitate the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Bali, Sumatra, Sumba and Sulawesi. There will be educational exhibits, play areas, restaurants and village-style food stands.
The zoo will use Islands to show off its conservation activities as visitors navigate their way through mangroves, swamps, bamboo and tropical forests. Islands will include an Indonesian jungle house, which will be the largest indoor zoo exhibit in the UK and home to the orangutans, and retail and catering outlets.
The development will be home to animals and plants from south east Asian islands including banteng cattle and the Sunda-Gavial crocodile. Other animal species will include Sumatran tigers, orangutans, Indonesian rhinoceros hornbills, Sulawesi macaques and exotic birds such as the lorikeet.
It is expected that it will take visitors 90 minutes to make their journey.
Dr Mark Pilgrim, director general of Chester Zoo, said: "Islands will see the dawning of a new age for zoos and it will be an unparalleled experience. We will be transporting our visitors thousands of miles away to experience the splendour of the animals, plants and cultural aspects of far-flung places. It will be the first time a UK zoo has attempted anything on this scale and will confirm Chester Zoo's position as a world leader."
Planning consultancy Barton Willmore advises the zoo. Dan Mitchell, partner in Barton Willmore's Manchester office, said: "The Cheshire business community and local authorities support this scheme because they recognise its great significance and the boost it could give the local economy.
"It is fundamental to the region's tourism strategy and will attract millions of extra visitors to the region for years to come."
The project was designed by architects from the Dan Pearlman group in Germany, project managed by Turner & Townsend and the engineers working on the scheme are Aecom. Law firm Hill Dickinson advises Chester Zoo.
Work is scheduled to start in 2013 and it is anticipated it will be open by 2015.