London Zoo is the world's oldest scientific zoo. It was opened in London on 27 April 1828, and was originally intended to be used as a collection for scientific study. In 1831 or 1832, the animals of the Tower of London menagerie were transferred to the zoo's collection. It was eventually opened to the public in 1847. Today, it houses a collection of 673 species of animals, with 19,289 individuals, making it one of the largest collections in the United Kingdom. The zoo is sometimes called Regent's Zoo.
London Zoo in June 2013
|Date opened||27 April 1828|
|Land area||36 acres (15 ha)|
|No. of animals||19,289 (2018)|
|No. of species||673 (2018)|
|Annual visitors||1,133,952 (2018)|
|Memberships||BIAZA, EAZA, WAZA|
|Major exhibits||Gorilla Kingdom, Animal Adventure, Blackburn Pavilion, Clore Rainforest Lookout, Into Africa, Tiger territory, Land of the Lions and Penguin Beach.|
|Website||ZSL London Zoo|
It is managed under the aegis of the Zoological Society of London (established in 1826), and is situated at the northern edge of Regent's Park, on the boundary line between the City of Westminster and the borough of Camden (the Regent's Canal runs through it). The Society also has a more spacious site at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire to which the larger animals such as elephants and rhinos have been moved. As well as being the first scientific zoo, ZSL London Zoo also opened the first reptile house (1849), first public aquarium (1853), first insect house (1881) and the first children's zoo (1938).
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) was established by Sir Stamford Raffles and Sir Humphry Davy in 1826, who obtained the land for the zoo and saw the plans before Raffles died of apoplexy (what would now be called a stroke) later that year on 5 July – his birthday. After his death, the third Marquis of Lansdowne took over the project and supervised the building of the first animal houses. The zoo opened in April 1828 to fellows of the Society, providing access to species such as Arabian oryx, greater kudus, orangutan and the now extinct quagga and thylacine. The Society was granted a Royal Charter in 1829 by King George IV, and in 1847 the zoo opened to the public to aid funding.
It was believed that tropical animals could not survive outside in London's cold weather and so they were all kept indoors until 1902, when Dr Peter Chalmers Mitchell was appointed secretary of the Society. He set about a major reorganisation of the buildings and enclosures of the zoo, bringing many of the animals out into the open, where many thrived. This was an idea inspired by Hamburg Zoo, and led to newer designs to many of the buildings. Mitchell also envisaged a new 600-acre (240 ha) park to the north of London, and in 1926 Hall Farm, near to Whipsnade village, was bought. In 1931, Whipsnade Wild Animal Park opened, becoming the world's first open zoological park. The first woman to be a curator at the London Zoo was Evelyn Cheesman, in 1920.
In 1962, 'Caroline', an Arabian oryx, was lent to Phoenix Zoo, Arizona in the world's first international co-operative breeding programme. Today, the zoo participates in breeding programmes for over 130 species.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the zoo had almost 7,000 animals; the nearest any other collection came to in Britain was Chester Zoo, with just under 3,500 animals. Many of the species in London Zoo could not be seen anywhere else in the country, such as the wombat, Tasmanian devil or long-nosed potoroo.
Although this vast collection was part of the zoo's appeal, it may also have been one of the main causes of its financial problems. This contributed to the zoo being faced with closure in the 1980s. Due to the public change of attitude to animals kept in captivity and unsuitably cramped space, the zoo also suffered dwindling visitor numbers. However, when it was announced that London Zoo would close in 1991, a swell of public support in visitors and donations allowed the zoo to continue its work, attempt to balance its books, and take on the huge task of restoring its buildings and creating environments more suitable for animal behaviour in the late 20th century.
One benefit of the 'swell of public support' was the development of volunteer staff. Employed by both Education and Animal care, these volunteers give one day a week to assist the running of London Zoo and can be recognised by their red pullovers.
London Zoo during World War II
During World War II bombings, the London Zoo was closed multiple times for over a week at a time starting 11:00am on 3 September 1939, when all Zoological Places were closed by order of the Government. On 27 September 1940, high explosive bombs damaged the Rodent house, the Civet house, the gardener's office, the propagating sheds, the North Gate and the Zebra house. Later, in January 1941, the Camel House was also hit, and during World War II the aquarium could not open until May 1943 due to extensive bombings. Fortunately, no animals were harmed during the incidents, although a zebra, a female ass, and her foal escaped from the zoo during the bombings.
Areas and attractions
|Group||Number of species||Number of individuals|
Land of the Lions
Land of the Lions is an enclosure for ZSL London Zoo's Asiatic lions. The enclosure is 2,500 square metres in size, and designed to resemble the Gir Forest National Park in India. The exhibit, also home to a troop of Hanuman langurs and a band of dwarf mongoose, demonstrates how the lions' natural habitat overlaps with the local urban environments.
Tiger Territory is ZSL London Zoo's Sumatran tiger enclosure, designed by architect Michael Kozdon and officially opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in March 2013. The zoo currently owns one tiger: a male named Asim, who arrived from Denmark in January 2019. Asim killed the zoo's female tiger, 10-year old Melati, on 8 February 2019. Melati's previous mate, Jae-Jae, was moved to France the previous month. Jae-Jae and Melati produced two cubs born in June 2016; a female named Karis and a male called Achilles. They also produced 3 cubs in February 2014: 2 males called Budi and Nakal and a female called Cinta. The enclosure is 2,500 square metres (27,000 square feet) in size, and features authentic Indonesian plant life, as well as a net canopy of 3mm steel cable supported by four metal poles. The exhibit is also home to Malayan tapirs, Reeves's muntjacs, Northern white-cheeked gibbons and Bornean bearded pigs.
Opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in March 2007, Gorilla Kingdom is home to a group of six western lowland gorillas, and consists of a moated island with an indoor gym for the gorillas to use. London Zoo currently owns six gorillas: a silver-back male named Kumbuka, three adult females named Zaire, Mjuuku and Effie, an infant female named Alika (the daughter of Mjuuku and Kumbuka), born on December 2014 and infant male born on November 2015 named Gernot. The Gorilla Kingdom area also features smaller enclosures housing Diana monkeys, eastern black and white colobus, white-naped mangabeys, crested black macaque, wild turkeys, and Congo peafowl.
Into Africa is an Africa-themed area that was opened in April 2006. Animals on display in this area include Chapman's zebras, warthogs, okapi, African forest elephants, African bush elephants, Asian elephants, Indian elephants, Rothschild's giraffes, common ostriches, pygmy hippos, black rhinos, white rhinos, hippos, and African wild dogs. The giraffe enclosure features a high-level viewing platform to give the public face-to-face contact with the giraffes and it is the oldest zoo building in the world still used for its original purpose.
Rainforest Life and Night Life
Rainforest Life is a walk-through indoor exhibit that houses several different species of rainforest animals. Among the species in the main forest walk-through are two-toed sloths, golden lion tamarins, golden-headed lion tamarins, red titi monkeys, red-faced spider monkeys, big hairy armadillos, emperor tamarins, Geoffrey's marmosets, cotton-top tamarins, Goeldi's marmosets, southern tamandua and Rodrigues flying fox. The building also has a darkened area called "Nightlife", which houses nocturnal animals such as Mohol bushbaby, Seba's short-tailed bats, slender lorises, pottos, rakali, Malagasy giant rats and blind cave fish.
The Mappin Terraces / Outback
The Outback is an Australia-themed exhibit housing groups of emus and Bennett's wallabies. The enclosure, which was originally called "The Mappin Terraces", was originally opened in 1913 and features an artificial rocky cliff made of concrete blocks for animal enrichment. It was originally designed for a multitude of different species including bears, penguins, sheep, goats and wild boar.
There was an aquarium at the zoo from 1853 until 2019. The zoo's first aquarium was also the world's first public aquarium, and was created and stocked by Philip Henry Gosse who coined the word "aquarium". The most recent aquarium was built in 1921 next to the Mappin Terraces, and was officially opened by King George V and his wife Queen Mary in April 1924.
The aquarium was separated into three halls, each home to different types of fish and other aquatic wildlife. The first hall primarily contained freshwater species such as rudd and European eels, as well as some saltwater species involved in various conservation projects and captive-breeding programmes, such as broad sea fans, uarus and seahorses. The second hall displayed various species of coral reef fish from around the world, such as clownfish, copperband butterflyfish and regal tangs, as well as real coral. The third hall housed species native to the Amazon River, including red-bellied piranhas, angelfish, arapaimas and ocellate river stingrays. As well as the three halls, the aquarium also featured the "Big Fish Tank", which contained large fish species that were all former pets, and had to be rescued because their owners did not have the proper equipment or understanding to look after them. The species in the Big Fish Tank include tambaqui, catfish and pirapitinga.
Animal Adventure (formerly called the Ambika Paul Children's Zoo) opened in 2009 and is an area aimed primarily at children, featuring playgrounds and a water fountain. Many of the animals in Animal Adventure are domestic animals, such as sheep, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, goats and ferrets, as well as rare breeds such as silkie chickens, rex rabbits and kunekune pigs. Exotic species on display include yellow mongooses, crested porcupines, aardvarks, prairie dogs, ring-tailed coatis and one of the zoo's two groups of meerkats (the other group live in an enclosure next to the Rainforest Life building). The meerkat enclosure features a tunnel that children can crawl through until they reach a see-through dome that allows them to see directly into the enclosure.
At approximately 6am on Saturday 23 December 2017, a large fire started at Animal Adventure. It was brought under control by 9:30am after spreading to the cafe/shop there, three quarters of which was estimated to have been severely damaged. A nine-year-old aardvark named Misha was pronounced dead, and four meerkats were declared unaccounted for and presumed dead. The zoo reopened on Christmas Eve.
The Reptile House
One of London Zoo's most well-known buildings, the Reptile House opened in 1927 and was designed by Joan Beauchamp Procter and Sir Edward Guy Dawber. It houses several species of reptile, including Jamaican boa, Philippine crocodiles, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, Northern caiman lizards, black mambas, rhinoceros iguanas, king cobras, tokay geckos, emerald tree boas and Yemen chameleons. In December 2012, a refurbished amphibian section was opened to the public, displaying amphibians such as African bullfrogs, Chinese giant salamanders, axolotls, caecillians and various types of poison dart frog.
Giants of the Galápagos
Giants of the Galápagos was opened in 2009 to coincide with the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, and is home to three female Galápagos giant tortoises named Dolly, Polly and Priscilla. The exhibit features a large indoor area, with a heated pond and underfloor heating, while the outdoor paddock has been designed to mimic the tortoise's natural environment and features two heated pools, one of which is a naturalistic clay wallow.
The Attenborough Komodo Dragon House
London Zoo's Komodo dragon enclosure was opened by Sir David Attenborough in July 2004. The zoo used to own two Komodo dragons, a female named Rinka and a male named Raja. A new male dragon called Ganas (one of the parthenogenic hatchlings from Chester Zoo) moved to London in 2015 after the previous dragons died. Their enclosure is designed to resemble the dragon's natural habitat of a dry river bed, and sounds of Indonesian birds are regularly played into the enclosure.
B.U.G.S (which stands for Biodiversity Underpinning Global Survival and formerly called Web of Life) is held in a building called The Millennium Conservation Centre, and aims to educate the public about biodiversity. The building displays over 140 species, the majority of which are invertebrates. They include leafcutter ants, jewel wasps, golden mantella frogs, brown rats, bird-eating spiders, desert locusts, naked mole rats, leaf insects, moon jellyfish, Polynesian tree snails (Partula), Giant African land snails, cave crickets, fruit beetles and black widow spiders. The Millennium Conservation Centre aims to be environmentally friendly, constructed from materials requiring little energy to produce, and generating its heating from the body heat of both the animals and visitors. In May 2015, an exhibit called In With the Spiders opened in B.U.G.S as Europe's first and only spider walkthrough exhibit. It houses many different types of spiders including one of the United Kingdom's most endangered animals, the fen raft spider.
Penguin Beach opened on 26 May 2011 and houses over 90 Humboldt penguins. Until March 2017, a single male rockhopper penguin named Ricky also lived here, before being moved to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. The pool itself is currently the largest penguin pool in an English zoo. Penguin Beach is available on a private hire basis for events outside the zoo's normal opening hours.
In with the Lemurs
Opened in March 2015, In with the Lemurs is a walk-through exhibit housing a troop of ten ring-tailed lemurs. It also has a family of aye-ayes living in the indoor section as well as panther chameleons, lesser hedgehog tenrecs and Alaotra gentle lemurs. The exhibit is designed to resemble a shrub forest in Madagascar, featuring plant life such as loquat and Chusan palm trees.
Meet the Monkeys
Opened by comedians Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh in 2005, Meet the Monkeys is a walk-through enclosure that houses a troop of 20 black-capped squirrel monkeys. The exhibit has no roof, and there are no boundaries between the monkeys and the visitors. It is the southernmost enclosure in the zoo.
Opened in May 2006, Butterfly Paradise houses several different species of butterfly and moth from around the world, as well as plant species specially selected to provide nectar and breeding areas for the insects. Species on display include the clipper butterfly, blue morpho butterfly, atlas moth, zebra longwing, glasswing butterfly and postman butterfly. The exhibit also features a caterpillar hatchery and a pupa display cabinet, where visitors can witness different types of pupae and the development of new butterflies.
African Bird Safari
The African Bird Safari opened in 2005 as a redevelopment of the giant house, created three enclosures that were not out of date by modern zoo-keeping standards. It is a walk-through exhibit housing various species of African birds including Von der Decken's hornbills, Bernier's teals, secretarybirds, Abdim's storks, Fischer's turaco, Hamerkop, Northern bald ibis, White-faced whistling duck, superb starling, blue-bellied rollers and lilac-breasted rollers.
The Snowdon Aviary was designed by Cedric Price, Frank Newby and Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon, and was built in 1964. A variety of birds have been kept in the aviary since it was opened, and it last housed green peafowl, California quail, Gambel's quail, Western crowned pigeons, long-wattled umbrellabirds, bare-necked umbrellabirds, 11 southern cassowaries, hoatzins, greater coucals, Amazonian umbrellabirds, Mandarin ducks, sacred ibis, little egrets, cattle egrets, Andean condors, eastern yellow-billed hornbills, southern yellow-billed hornbills, yellow-billed storks, painted storks, California condors, black-headed gulls, and grey-headed gulls. The aviary has created a new enclosure for colobus monkeys.
The Blackburn Pavilion is a rainforest-themed tropical bird aviary that opened in March 2008, as a refurbishment of the zoo's out-of-date bird house. The building was originally constructed in 1883, as a reptile house. The pavilion houses fifty different species of exotic birds, including Socorro doves, blue turacos, Mindanao bleeding-hearts, red-crested turacos, violet turacos, scarlet ibis, Victoria crowned pigeons, toco toucans, scarlet macaws, keel-billed toucans, white-throated toucans, splendid sunbirds, pied avocets, red-and-yellow barbets, red-billed leiothrix and blue-winged kookaburras. Outside the entrance is one of the pavilion's prominent features, a large elaborate clock by Tim Hunkin. It gives a bird-themed display every thirty minutes throughout the day.
Other notable animals in London Zoo's collection include black vultures, turkey vultures, Indian peafowl, greater flamingos, vicuñas, cinereous vultures, red ruffed lemurs, American flamingos, Chilean flamingos, umbrella herons, black kites, Ross's turacos, Australian brushturkeys, Blue-and-yellow macaws, emus, rheas, African harrier hawks, dromedaries, yaks, bald eagles, golden eagles, snowy owls, great horned owls, king vultures, great blue herons, black-necked swans, black swans, mute swans. great white egrets spectacled owls, burrowing owls, barn owls, Goodfellow's tree-kangaroos, bali mynas, bactrian camels, military macaws, Oriental small-clawed otters, reindeer, giant anteaters, Rüppell's vultures, crested wood partridges, red-legged seriemas, lappet-faced vultures, Eastern box turtles, servals and great white pelicans.
The zoo plans to create better accessibility, which will involve relocating the main entrance to the east, adjacent to the Broad Walk in Regent's Park. In November 2016, Foster + Partners were appointed to redevelop and upgrade the Snowdon Aviary with a colobus monkey walk through, the walk through will also house grey parrots, duikers, dik-dik and smaller monkeys.
Notable former animals
Throughout its history, the zoo has had many well-known residents. These may have been scientifically important individuals or simply beloved by the public.
The zoo was home to the only living quagga ever to be photographed, before the species became extinct in the wild due to hunting in southern Africa in about 1870. Another now extinct species the zoo held was a number of thylacines, or "Tasmanian tigers".
Obaysch was the first hippopotamus to be seen in Europe since the Roman Empire, and the first in England since prehistoric times. The hippo arrived at London Zoo in May 1850 as a gift from the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt in exchange for some greyhounds and deerhounds. Obaysch led to a doubling of the zoo's visitors that year.
In 1865, Jumbo, the largest elephant known at the time, was transferred to the zoo from Jardin des Plantes in Paris. His name, possibly from Jambo, Swahili for hello, became an epithet for anything of large size, such as Boeing's 747 Jumbo jet. He became aggressive in old age, and had to stop giving rides; he was sold to Phineas Barnum's circus, the Barnum & Bailey Circus, in 1882, where he was later crushed by a locomotive and killed.
Winnipeg the Bear (or Winnie) was an American black bear given to the zoo in 1914 by a Canadian lieutenant, Harry Colebourn. A. A. Milne visited with his son Christopher Robin, and the boy was so enamoured with the bear Milne wrote the famous series of books for him entitled Winnie-the-Pooh. A 2004 film A Bear Named Winnie is based on the story of Winnie the bear, with Michael Fassbender playing Harry Colebourn.
Guy, a western lowland gorilla, arrived at the zoo on Guy Fawkes Night (hence the name) 1947 from Paris Zoo, and lived at the zoo until his death in 1978. Over his 32-year life, he became one of the zoo's best-loved residents. After years of trying to find a mate, in 1969 five-year-old Lomie arrived from Chessington Zoo. They were kept separated for a year to adjust to each other, until they were finally united. Although they got on well together they never produced any offspring. In 1982 Guy was commemorated by a bronze statue in Barclay Court, sculpted by William Timym.
Dumbo (born 1948) was a female Indian elephant who lived at London Zoo during the 1950s and was well known for her fondness for sweets. She was rescued from hunters as a baby, and was transported from India to England by air, where she spent her adult life giving rides to the children. Dumbo was named after the eponymous Disney character because she was the first elephant to travel by airplane. In 1958 she was transferred to Moscow Zoo in return for four endangered snow leopards. At some point between 1962 and 1971, Dumbo was acquired by circus performer Dolly Jacobs, but by 1978 she had been sold to Paul Kaye and was living in California with three other elephants.
On 27 November 1949, Brumas became the first polar bear to be successfully bred at the zoo, and immediately became a major attraction with the public. This led to the zoo's annual attendance to rise to over 3 million in 1950 - a figure that has yet to be topped. Although a female, the press reported that she was a 'he' and this was not corrected at the time, leading the public to believe the bear was a male. Eighteen years later, on 1 December 1967 the second polar bear bred at the zoo, this time a male, was born. He was named Pipaluk (a Greenlandic Inuit feminine given name meaning little one or sweet little thing) but, in 1985, had to leave the zoo when the Mappin Terraces closed.
One of the zoo's most famous giant pandas, Chi Chi, arrived in 1958. Although originally destined for an American zoo, Washington, D.C. had ceased all trade with communist China and so Chi Chi was refused entry to the United States. In the interests of conservation, ZSL had stated they would not encourage the collection of wild pandas. However, when it was pointed out that Chi Chi had already been collected, her purchase was approved, and she immediately become the star attraction at London Zoo. As the only giant panda in the west she was the inspiration of Peter Scott's design for the World Wildlife Fund logo. In July 1972, Chi Chi died and was publicly mourned. The zoo's last giant panda was Ming Ming. She arrived in 1991 on a breeding loan from China. After unsuccessful breeding attempts with Berlin's Zoo giant panda Bao Bao it had been decided to return Ming Ming to China, leaving the London Zoo without a giant panda since the end of October 1994. Zoo staff later suggested that Chinese zookeepers knew that she was infertile and lent her in order to hide how much more advanced Western husbandry techniques were compared to theirs.
On January 31, 1996, Turgi, who was the last Partula turgida, died in his habitat.
For four days in late August 2005, the zoo ran an exhibit entitled the Human zoo, which put eight humans on display in the Mappin Terraces. The idea behind the exhibit was to demonstrate the basic nature of man as an animal and examine the impact we have on the animal kingdom.
The initial grounds were laid out in 1828 by Decimus Burton, the zoo's first official architect from 1826 to 1841, made famous for his work on the London Colosseum and Marble Arch. Burton's work began with the Clock Tower in 1828 above what was then the llama house, which today is the first aid kiosk. In 1830 the East Tunnel, which linked the north and south parts of the zoo together for the first time, was completed, which also acted as a bomb shelter during World War II. Burton concluded his work in 1837 with the Giraffe House, which, due to its functional design, still remains in use as the zoo's giraffe enclosure in the Into Africa exhibit.
After Burton, Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell and John James Joass were appointed to design the Mappin Terraces. Completed in 1914, the Mappin Terraces imitates a mountain landscape to provide a naturalistic habitat for bears and other mountain wildlife. In 1933 the Round House, designed by Berthold Lubetkin's Tecton Architectural Group to house gorillas, was one of the first modernist style buildings to be built in Britain. The following year the Penguin Pool, also designed by Tecton, was opened; both are now grade I listed. The Modernist dual concrete spiral ramps of the Penguin Pool have made it famous as a piece of modern architecture, but in 2004 the penguins were moved out of the Penguin Pool permanently due to it being an unnatural environment for them.
The Snowdon Aviary, built in 1964 by Cedric Price, Lord Snowdon and Frank Newby, made pioneering use of aluminium and tension for support. A year later the Casson Pavilion, designed by Sir Hugh Casson and Neville Conder, was opened as an elephant and rhinoceros house. The Pavilion was commissioned "to display these massive animals in the most dramatic way" and designed to evoke a herd of elephants gathered around a watering hole.
In popular culture
In film and television
- In 1947, Carol Reed took his film crew and actors Ralph Richardson, Michèle Morgan and Bobby Henrey to London Zoo to film location scenes there for The Fallen Idol (released in 1948). Scenes were filmed inside the lion house and the reptile house and on the Mappin Terraces. Today, the scenes give an historic view of what the zoo looked like in the immediate post war years.
- A scene from the film The Pumpkin Eater (1964) with Anne Bancroft and James Mason was also set at the zoo.
- In 1967, part of Dudley Moore and Peter Cook's movie Bedazzled was filmed at the zoo.
- The opening sequence for series 3 and 4 of the 1973 ITV/Thames television show Man About The House was filmed in the London Zoological Gardens.
- During An American Werewolf in London (1981), the lead character David Kessler (played by David Naughton) woke up naked in the wolves' enclosure. Several other animals are also seen and one can clearly see the old caged enclosures of the tigers and apes.
- Part of the film Turtle Diary (1985), based on the novel by Russell Hoban and starring Ben Kingsley and Glenda Jackson, was also filmed here; the film follows a plan to help two of the turtles escape from the zoo.
- In the final scene from the film Withnail and I (1987), a sad Withnail is shown standing in the pouring rain next to the former wolf enclosure, declaiming the speech What a piece of work is a man from Hamlet.
- In the Disney remake 101 Dalmatians (1996), the main villain Cruella DeVil (played by Glenn Close) kills a white tiger from the London Zoo for its fur.
- In 2000, the Burmese python scene from the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001) was filmed at the zoo's Reptile House. In reality, the tank shown is home to a black mamba. A plaque beside the enclosure commemorates the event.
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