Originally the zoo was called Whipsnade Park Zoo, which was often shortened to Whipsnade Zoo or even just Whipsnade. In 1988 the name was changed to Whipsnade Wild Animal Park, but in March 2007 it was renamed ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
Due to its size, inside the park, visitors may walk, use the Zoo's bus service, or drive their own cars between the various animal enclosures, or through an 'Asian' area where some animals are allowed to roam free. There is also a narrow gauge train service.
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is one of Europe's largest wildlife conservation parks. It is home to 6,405 animals, many of which are endangered in the wild. The majority of the animals are kept within sizeable enclosures; others, such as the peacocks, the South American mara and Australian wallabies, roam freely around the park.
The Zoological Society of London was founded in 1826 by Sir Stamford Raffles with the aim of promoting the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. To this end ZSL London Zoo in Regents Park , London was established.
Hall Farm, a derelict farm on the Dunstable Downs, 30 miles to the north of London was purchased by the Zoological Society of London in 1926 for £480 12s 10d. The site was fenced, roads built and trees planted.
The first animals arrived at the park in 1928, including two Amherst pheasants, a golden pheasant and five red jungle fowl. Others soon followed including muntjac, llama, wombats and skunks.
Whipsnade Park Zoo opened on Sunday 23rd May 1931. It was the first open zoo in Europe to be easily accessible to the visiting public. It was an immediate success and received over 38,000 visitors on the following Monday. The brown bear enclosure is a surviving feature from the earliest days of the zoo.
The collection of animals was boosted in 1932 by the purchase of a collection from a defunct travelling menagerie and some of the larger animals walked to the zoo from Dunstable station.
The distinctive white lion hill figure was completed in 1933.
During the Second World War the zoo acted as a refuge for animals evacuated from the Regents Park London Zoo. The celebrity giant pandas Ming, Sung and Tang were among these animals but were soon returned to London to boost morale in the capital. During 1940, 41 bombs fell on the park with little damage to the zoo structure, however a 3 year old giraffe named Boxer, who had been born at the zoo, was frightened to death by the explosions. Some of the ponds in the park are the remains of bomb craters from this period.
In 2005 the zoo opened "Lions of the Serengeti" which presently has 3 African lions (1 male & 2 females) that bred 4 cubs early in 2006.
At Easter 2007, the zoo opened a new walk-through lemur enclosure. This was officially opened on the 28th of March 2007 by Dominic Byrne from The Chris Moyles Show on Radio 1, who is a regular visitor to the park.
On the 12th of June 2007 a new Sealion Pup was born, and has been named Dominic after the above mentioned Dominic Byrne who is Berkeley's (Dominic the sealion's dad) biggest fan.
In February 2008 Whipsnade welcomed the new "Rhinos of Nepal" exhibit, showcasing the zoo's Greater One-horned Rhinos. It is designed to allow visitors a close view of the rhinos, whilst allowing the rhinos to live in an environment which is both safe and comfortable, even including indoor heated pools.
Easter 2008 saw the opening of Cheetah Rock, which is focused around the ZSL's conservation project in Tanzania. It includes large open viewing areas, natural surroundings and displays on the conservation programme. The new exhibit can hold up to 9 cheetahs at one time, and it is hoped that whipsnade will be able to breed a rare subspecies soon.
On the 26th of July 2008 the Cafe on the Lake reopened. Its name was changed to the Wild Bite Cafe.
Animal shows take place daily where the animals are the stars and these include Sea lion splash, Birds of the world and Elephantastic (New for 2007).
A number of talks also take place daily throughout the summer season including lemur talks, giraffe browse and penguin feed.
In September 2007, two former 'tea party' chimpanzees named Koko and Jonnie, moved from London Zoo to make way for The Gorilla Kingdom escaped from their enclosure. Koko followed one of the keepers back to the enclosure but Jonnie started heading towards public grounds. Jonnie was shot dead by the zoo's specially trained firearms squad for fears about public safety. The Zoo has said that at no point were any members of the public in danger. When asked why they did not use a tranquillizer instead ZSL spokeswoman Alice Henchley said "It's just standard procedure, if the animal cannot be quickly and safely recaptured it will be shot. We can't be sure with a tranquillizer ".
Whipsnade is also one of the locations featured in BBC's Super Vets.