A PRIDE of life-size big cats, constructed from more than 600,000 LEGO bricks, will roar into Chester Zoo this month - joined by a host of other specially built zoo animals on public display for the first time.

Visitors will discover the world’s biggest felines - including lions, cheetahs, tigers and jaguars - on a journey through the zoo’s exhibition garden, from February 13 until April 30, 2019.

LEGO lovers will be able to compare snow leopards with African and clouded leopards, discover a family of caracals, and stand side by side with a majestic lynx.

Video by Jamie Bowman

Meticulously constructed by expert master-builders, using 661,042 bricks, the family-friendly exhibition will allow people to get closer than ever before to some of the planet’s greatest hunters.

An additional trail through the zoo will also reveal a host of miniature LEGO-built species, from orangutans and monkeys to zebras, red pandas, bears and penguins.

Jon Turley, head of guest experience at Chester Zoo, said: “Creating from LEGO bricks is a much-loved family pastime, but not many of us have ever created anything like this!

“Our African leopard alone, with its distinctive clusters of black spots, has been built from more than 100,000 bricks.

“We hope families will also get hands-on in our LEGO brick building sessions, as well as taking a chance to see the real thing and connect with nature’s most magnificent cats.”

The figures were built by a team at professional LEGO construction company, Bright Bricks.

Jordan Griffith, production development coordinator explained more about the structures: “Every model is supported by a steel skeleton. If you look inside a model, you’ll see that the LEGO bricks themselves run in criss-crossed lattices, so that they are semi-hollow.

“LEGO bricks are surprisingly heavy in large amounts, so if our tiger or panther were solid, it would be too heavy and use too many pieces.

“You will also see that running through the middle of a model, and through any limbs or protrusions, we have steel beams to give the model extra strength, and make them safe for public display.

“The steel can weigh up to two times as much as the rest of the sculpture, so we have to be careful not to include too much of that either.

As a conservation and education charity, zoo experts hope the exhibition will help to raise further awareness of the threats the faced by the species in the wild.

“Most big cat species across the world are suffering really dramatic decline,” said Dr Simon Dowell, science director at Chester Zoo. “Mostly this is a result of the threats posed by human population increases and climate change.”

Chester Zoo conservationists care for rare Asiatic lions, South American jaguars, North African cheetahs and Sumatran tigers as part of conservation breeding programmes for the threatened species.

Dr Dowell added: “Here at the zoo we are part of a number of important breeding programmes for a number of big cat species and then we are also working in the field on a number of projects which are trying to protect habitats and support people who are living alongside big cats in the wild.”

Families inspired by the LEGO spectacle will be able to join a team of zoo rangers to discover more about big cats, have a go at creating their own animal models, then come face-to-face with the real animals across the zoo’s 125 acres of habitats.

“The LEGO models are absolutely fantastic,” added Dr Dowell. “In fact when I first saw one of them I was worried a tiger had actually got out! They really are superb and it’s a great way of promoting wildlife in a novel and interesting fashion.”

The LEGO: Big Cats exhibition marks the first event visitor experience of 2019 and the first since the zoo suffered a devastating fire in December last year.

The blaze broke out in the Monsoon Forest area, destroying much of its roof. Orangutans, macaques, gibbons and larger birds were saved, but some fish, frogs, insects and small birds died.

“Obviously the events which happened at the end of last year were terribly sad but some heartwarming things have some out of it,” said Alex Knight, PR manager at Chester Zoo. “We were really humbled by the incredible amount of support and kindness from the local community, our members, visitors and the general public.

“We have been overwhelmed by the amount of spontaneous donations made to the Just Giving page.

“The generosity has been truly humbling and all the money given will go directly towards our conservation projects both here in the zoo, and around the world.

“There’s lots going on this year and we haven’t stopped. Our work goes on both as a visitor attraction and a a conservation charity.

The exhibition runs from February 13 - April 30 2019. Entry is free with normal zoo admission. Tickets to the zoo can be booked from www.chesterzoo.org