15 Jun 2015
Coral Sands – where the new Islands expedition begins

Islands brings conservation to life through detailed recreations of habitats in South East Asia in one of the most ambitious zoo expansions ever in Europe. Visitors will set off on their own expedition, walking over bridges, travelling in boats and seeing buildings that are architecturally identical to those found on the islands of Panay, Papua, Bali, Sumba and Sulawesi.

The first phase of the £40m development will put a spotlight on highly threatened, yet often unheralded species, such as the critically endangered Visayan warty pig, banteng and lowland anoa, as well as the prehistoric-looking cassowary. It also features a beach, a 15-minute-long Lazy River Boat Trip, school house, street kitchen and play area.

Dr Mark Pilgrim, director general, said:

Islands is a real game-changer for zoos in the UK – a very different zoo experience to anything else that has been done before. This isn’t just about viewing animals in enclosures, it’s about giving people a sense of the environments they live in – the sounds, the smells, the people, the colour and the culture of far-flung islands in South East Asia. Every element has been crafted with great attention to detail, right down to the hundreds of genuine artefacts that have been shipped over from Indonesia, the carvings in the buildings and the thatches on the roofs.

This has been five years in the making and, not only have we created a first class attraction for people to come and visit, we hope that Islands will put a huge spotlight on South East Asia and the conservation projects we’re involved with in the region. It’s a real biodiversity hotspot, home to many endangered animal and plant species, and importantly it will not only showcase the threats these species face but give visitors an opportunity to make a difference too.

Islands is a new chapter in the zoo’s history – it’s the first time a UK zoo has attempted anything on this scale – and we can’t wait to start showing off phase one of the project before more and more areas open up ready to be explored later in the summer.

Phase one of Islands is now open and you can read more about our phased opening here.

Visayan warty pig

  • Only 200 Visayan warty pigs are thought to be left in their native habitat in the Philippines – making them the rarest of all wild pigs. They have distinctive tufts of hair and are covered in warts (scent glands)
  • During breeding season males grow their mane into a striking ‘rock and roll’ hair style, similar to a ‘mohican’, to impress the females. This distinctive look doesn’t last though as at the end of the season the male becomes almost bald again
  • In recognition of their hair styles, all of the zoo’s warty pigs are named after famous punk rockers
  • The decline of the species – almost to the point of extinction – is blamed on habitat loss and hunting
  • Today wild populations of the Visayan warty pig can only be found in the little forests that are left on the islands of Panay and Negros in the Philippines. At one time they ranged over at least six islands.


  • These large birds have a fearsome reputation as being one of the most dangerous birds in the world. It’s their strong legs that have given them this status, as they can kick out when threatened and use their dagger-like claws which can sometimes have a deadly result
  • They can run at speeds of up to 31mph
  • Cassowary comes from a Papuan word meaning ‘horned head’ which refers to the tough skin on the top of their head that looks a little like a helmet. As they run with their heads down, this bony feature comes in handy to help them charge through thick forests
  • This type of bird does not fly – there’s no need to as there are no ground-dwelling predators in Papua. There’s also plenty of food on the forest floors for them to feast on. All of this has resulted in the species adapting over the years, eventually losing their flight feathers and becoming heavier and bigger
  • Cassowaries play an important role in helping the rainforests to survive. They are important dispersers of forest fruit, especially those with seeds too large to be carried by other birds and native wildlife. They eat hundreds of different kinds of fruit which they eat whole; the seeds stay intact and then come out in one piece in their droppings. The seeds are then spread throughout the rainforest as the cassowary travels around the island depositing them in their droppings
  • The zoo’s two cassowaries are called Timika (female) and Asmat (male)

Lowland anoa

  • The world’s smallest species of wild cattle
  • Live in forests and swamps on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi
  • Listed as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), meaning they face a very high risk of extinction in the wild
  • It is estimated that less than 2,500 mature individuals remain
  • As with many Indonesian island species, the lowland anoa faces an uncertain future. Hunting for their meat is a really serious threat to them. The taste is described as hot and fiery and men believe that eating the meat of this powerful, horned animal will give them prowess
  • The species, which is a miniature water buffalo, is sometimes referred to as the ‘demon’ of the forest as local farmers wrongly believe them to come out of the forest at night and use their horns to puncture cattle
  • The species is solitary, secret and silent and live alone or in pairs, rather than herds. Being able to stay silent as a solitary animal is safer in the forest than being part of a herd where disturbance is more likely and cover blown


  • Banteng are a species of wild cattle found in South East Asia whose numbers in the wild have declined by as much as 95% since the 1960s
  • It’s estimated that there could be as few as 5000 banteng left in the wild, with their numbers in decline due to hunting for the trade in their horns and also a loss of their forest habitat.
  • Banteng play a key role in circulating nutrients through ecosystems, dispersing seeds and maintaining food chains. They are also a critical food source for many carnivore species, including tigers and leopards.