London Zoo

ZSL London Zoo is the world's oldest scientific zoo. It was opened in London on April 27 1828, and was originally intended to be used as a collection for scientific study. It was eventually made open to the public in 1847. Today it houses a collection of 755 species of animals, with 15104 individuals, making it one of the largest collections in the United Kingdom.

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 (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).

ZSL receives no state funding and relies on 'Fellows', 'Friends', 'Members', entrance fees and sponsorship to generate income.

The closest London Underground stations are Camden Town and Chalk Farm. The zoo is served by the 274 bus route.


ZSL was established by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1826, who obtained the land for the Zoo and saw the plans before he died of apoplexy later that year. 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 & 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 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.

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.

Threat of closure

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.

Areas and attractions

The Zoo is currently (2008) undergoing a renovation project aimed at replacing cages with enclosures which recreate animals' natural environments, giving a better lifestyle to the animals, and a more realistic experience to visitors. In 2005 the "African Bird Safari" and "Meet The Monkeys" walkthroughs opened and in 2006 "Into Africa" and "Butterfly Paradise" exhibits opened, while in Easter 2007 the Duke of Edinburgh officially opened the new "Gorilla Kingdom" and "Clore Rainforest Lookout" a walkthrough rainforest replacing the small mammals building. During Easter 2008 the Bird House reopened as a tropical rainforest called the "Blackburn Pavilion".

Other plans include the redevelopment of the Children's Zoo in September 2008 and the Lion Terraces.

Group Number of species Number of animals
Mammals 77 310
Birds 113 548
Reptiles 77 309
Amphibians 23 197
Fish 213 5458
Invertebrates 252 8272
Total 755 15104

African Bird Safari

The African Bird Safari opened in Easter 2005 as a redevelopment of the Stork and Ostrich House, replacing three out-of-date enclosures. It is built around a walk-through design long and high, incorporating a bridge over a stream and high trees.

Species on display include Abdim's stork, superb starlings, Madagascar teals, Von der Decken's hornbills, lilac-breasted roller and blue-bellied roller.


There has been an aquarium at the Zoo since 1853 and was the first aquarium to be established in the world. The word 'aquarium' also originates at London Zoo, beforehand the term for a fish enclosure was 'Aquatic Vivarium'. The current aquarium was built in 1921 beneath the Mappin Terraces as the public demand to see the fish increased. In April 1924 King George V with his wife Queen Mary opened the aquarium.

The exhibit is separated into three halls, each home to different types of fish:

  1. The first hall contains species involved in various conservation projects, such as captive-breeding programmes and other ZSL-based initiatives. These include species such as rudd, European eels, pink sea fans, spiny starfish and seahorses.
  2. The second hall is a coral reef habitat with tropical species from across the globe, including copperband butterflyfish and clownfish.
  3. The third hall contains Amazon fish including electric eels, glass knifefish, lungfish and stingray.

The aquarium also includes the Big Fish Tank which holds fish rescued from private homes that had insufficient equipment to look after the fish. This includes catfish, tucunare, tambaqui and pirapitinga. The breeding room is also visible to the public.

Blackburn Pavilion

The Blackburn Pavilion opened to the public on 21 March 2008 as a revamp of the old Bird House. The Victorian building was originally built in 1883 as a Reptile House using funds raised from the sale of Jumbo the elephant to Barnum's Circus. The exhibit is named after the Blackburn family, who provided support to the Zoo during the early 1990s when the Zoo was faced with closure.

Recreating both rainforest and cloud forest environments the pavilion holds more than 50 different species of bird including toucans, starlings, kookaburras, lovebirds, and hummingbirds (the only place in the UK to hold them). The exhibit also contains several species in danger of extinction, or are already extinct in the wild, such as the socorro dove.

Outside the Pavilion is a remarkable clock, installed as part of the refurbishment, which gives an bird-themed display every half hour during the day.


B.U.G.S (Biodiversity Underpinning Global Survival), formerly Web of Life, aims to educate the public on biodiversity itself. Displaying over 140 species, including leaf-cutter ants, Mexican redknee tarantulas, flamboyant flower beetles, anteaters and Malaysian giant stick insects. Since 98% of all known animal life are invertebrates the majority of the species on display are also invertebrates.

The building is environmentally friendly, constructed from materials requiring little energy to produce, and generating its heating from visitors' and animals' body heat.

B.U.G.S is also home to ZSLs Invertebrate Conservation Unit, a facility for the breeding of invertebrates.

Butterfly Paradise

The Butterfly Paradise exhibit launched in May 2006, holds butterfly and moth species from several major regions, including Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central & South America. The species of both fauna and flora have been selected to complement each, with the plants having to provide nectar and breeding areas for the animals.

Species on display include clipper butterfly, great eggfly butterfly, zebra longwing and postman butterfly.

Like much of the Zoo the exhibit aims to educate the public on conservation projects, such as species recovery programmes, habitat protection initiatives and climate change issues. Alongside the free-flying exhibit there is a pupae breeding room allowing the public to see the development of new butterflies.

Children's Zoo

The Ambika Paul Children’s Zoo is based around two sections, the Pet Care Centre and the Paddock which both provides a hands-on experience aimed at children.

The Pet Care Centre offers advice on keeping and caring for your pets and animals on display include species of rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, rats, stick insects, chinchillas, degus and snails. The paddock includes sheep, Anglo Nubian goats, pygmy goats, llamas, alpacas, reindeer and Tamworth pigs.

It was set up in 1994 from a donation by Swraj Paul in memory of his daughter, Ambika Paul, who died of leukemia.

At the ZSL AGM in June 2008, it was announced that a new Children's Zoo would open in 2009 on the site of the current attraction.

Clore Rainforest Lookout

The Clore Rainforest Lookout was opened by HRH Duke of Edinburgh on 29 March and opened to the public on 30 March 2007. The Lookout replaces the Charles Clore Pavilion for Mammals, which was built in 1967, with the aid of the Clore Duffield Foundation.

The exhibit recreates the South American rainforest and provides canopy and forest floor levels for the public to wander through. Species on display include two-toed sloths, agoutis, silvery marmosets, golden-headed lion tamarins, Goeldi’s monkeys, Geoffroy’s marmosets, pottos, slow loris, slender loris, emperor tamarins, gentle lemurs and pygmy marmosets.

Nightzone, a darkened section, provides an insight into nocturnal rainforest life. This area includes Rodrigues fruit bats, long-nosed potoroos, emperor scorpions and Malasay giant jumping rats.

Gorilla Kingdom

Gorilla Kingdom is a flagship exhibit which opened in Easter 2007. It is a 5.3-million pound development that took 18 months to build, was launched by HRH Duke of Edinburgh on 29 March and opened to the public on 30 March 2007.

It replaces old monkey enclosures with a giant moated island and indoor gym that is home to a group of western lowland gorillas. There are currently four gorillas in the enclosure: Bobby, a 23-year-old male; Zaire, a 32-year-old female, Effie, a 14-year-old female and Mjukuu, a 9-year-old female brought in from Chessington. The area also holds black-and-white colobus monkeys.

The exhibit is also home to mangabeys, monitor lizards, a variety of bird species and Diana monkey.

The exhibit was inspired by a conservation project that is managed by ZSL in Gabon. It has been planted with plants and herbs that the gorillas can eat while the island itself represents a natural forest clearing in the Central African rainforest.

A visitor to the exhibit will learn about the plight of western lowland gorillas in the wild and conservation of rainforests, while being separated from the animals on the island by either a moat or a floor to ceiling window.

Into Africa

Into Africa opened on 1 April 2006, and features a high level viewing platform to bring the public face-to-face with the giraffes. Zebras were reintroduced to the Zoo after an 8-year absence, joining the Rothschild giraffe in the main enclosure.

After a survey found that 95% of visitors preferred enclosures without bars the decision was made to use glass windows instead, to bring the public closer to the animals and gain a more intimate experience.

African hunting dogs can be observed through periscopes and observation pods while other species include warthog, okapi and red river hogs.

Komodo Dragons

The Komodo Dragon enclosure opened on 12 July 2004 by Sir David Attenborough, mimics a dry river bed with a curving glass wall. There is one adult dragon, Raja, and two babies. The Komodo dragons were introduced as part of the European Conservation Breeding Programme.

Mappin Terraces

When the Mappin Terraces opened in 1913, it was the first time that members of the public could see animals in an arctic environment. . In the past it has been home to Polar bears, Ibex, Snow Leopards and other mountain creatures.

The Mappin Terraces is currently displaying an Australian outback display, home to wallabies and emus and the possability of expansion in the future.

When visitors visit the aquarium they do not realise that they are in fact walking underneath the artificial mountains and the reservoirs that hold the water for the aquarium.

Meet The Monkeys

Meet The Monkeys is a enclosure which was opened on 21 March 2005 by Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt, of The Mighty Boosh. The exhibit is open, with no roof, and no boundaries between the public and animals. Designed to recreate the Bolivian Rainforest, it holds black-capped squirrel monkeys which are part of the European Conservation Breeding Programme.

The Zoos outer boundary had to be increased to accommodate the new enclosure, encroaching into Regent's Park to the south-east.

Reptile House

The Reptile House opened in 1927 and was designed by Joan Beauchamp Proctor and Sir Edward Guy Dawber. Visitors may notice Reptiles and other animals carved by George Alexander on the front of the building.

It is currently home to various reptiles including lizards, tortoises, crocodiles and snakes, adjacent to the house is the Komodo Dragon house (see above).

Round House

The Round House opened in 1933, it was first built to accommodate a pair of gorillas, since it has been home to orangutans, macaques, binturong, koalas and a breeding colony of chimpanzees.

The Round House features a unique mechanism which allows the enclosure to rotate to allow the visitors to either view the inside or outside enclosure, for example if the gorillas were outside the guests would view them from the inside quarters vice versa. Since apes left the building the device has not been used for several years.

In 2002 a pair of Aye Ayes moved into the inside area from Jersey Zoo on breeding loan and since the outside area has been used to hold a male group of Ring-tailed lemurs.

Snowdon Aviary

The Snowdon Aviary was designed by Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon, Cedric Price and Frank Newby, and built in 1964.

Over the years a variety of birds have been kept in the aviary from birds of prey to waterfowl. The current birds in the aviary include green peafowl, sacred ibis, little egrets, cattle egrets, night herons, waldrapp, ducks, pigeons and African grey-headed gulls.

The Snowdon Aviary was spoofed in the Scotland and The Goodies and the Beanstalk episodes of The Goodies television series.

Zoo World

Built around the Casson Pavilion, originally the old Elephant and Rhino House, Zoo World is now home to bearded pigs, bactrian camels and also provides a winter home for the pygmy hippos. Previously this house was a temporary home to monkeys and birds while the Clore Rainforest Lookout and Blackburn Pavilion was built.

Inside the house displays inform visitors about the zoo and its various conservation programs.


There are many other animals that are not part of a specific exhibit, these include; gibbons, vultures, tigers, lions, servals, parrots, spider monkeys, penguins, meerkats, otters, lemurs, aye-ayes and tapirs.

Future developments

Plans have been announced to build a new amphibian exhibit named Frog World. This will be part of a major ZSL amphibian conservation project costing £2.2 million also including a disease-research laboratory and a captive-breeding programme.

In the 2007/8 Annual Report it was announced that the Children's Zoo is to be redesigned, with an expected opening date to be in 2009.

These new developments are all part of the new masterplan to create better accessibility, which involves relocating the main entrance to the east, adjacent to the Broad Walk in Regent's Park.

Notable 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 marsupial wolves.

The first hippopotamus to be seen in Europe since the Roman Empire, and the first in England since prehistoric times, arrived at London Zoo in May 1850 as a gift from the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt in exchange for some greyhounds and deerhounds. The hippo was named Obaysch and led to a doubling of the Zoos 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, become an epithet for anything of large size, such as Boeing's 747 Jumbo jet. He unfortunately 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 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 Zoos 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, sculptured by William Timyn, in the Zoos Barclay Court.

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 Zoos 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 (Inuit for little one) but, in 1985, had to leave the Zoo when the Mappin Terraces closed.

The Zoo's first giant panda, Chi Chi, arrived in 1958. Although originally destined for an American zoo, Washington 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.

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 the demonstrate the basic nature of man as an animal and examine the impact we have on the animal kingdom.

Today the Zoo holds the only population of humming birds and socorro doves (which are extinct in the wild) in the United Kingdom in the Blackburn Pavilion.

Architecture at the Zoo

Since its earliest days, the zoo has prided itself on appointing leading architects to design its buildings, today it holds two Grade I, and eight Grade II listed structures.

The initial grounds were laid out in 1828 by Decimus Burton, the Zoos first official architect from 1826 to 1841, made famous for his work on the Coliseum Theatre 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 Zoos 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 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.

Filming at the Zoo

Many films and television programmes have made use of London Zoo as a film set.

In 2000, the Burmese python scene from the 2001 film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was filmed at the Zoo's Reptile House. In the film the inhabitant of the tank is a Burmese python, however in reality it is home to a black mamba. A plaque beside the enclosure commemorates the event.

A couple of scenes were filmed here for the ITV series Primeval. The first was a confrontation between Helen Cutter and Claudia Brown in the old elephant house. The second was a brief scene that showed Abby Maitland with a Komodo Dragon. Although the fictional Wellington Zoo played a large role in the episode, most scenes were filmed at Whipsnade Zoo.

In the Exploitin episode of the fifth series of Absolutely Fabulous, Edina and Patsy steal Saffy's new-born infant for a Jean-Paul Gaultier fashion shoot at the Zoo.

In the final scene from the 1987 film Withnail and I 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.

Part of the 1985 film Turtle Diary, 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.

The music video for the Talk Talk song It's my life was filmed at London Zoo in 1984. The video was used as a statement against the banality of lip-syncing and includes mostly footage from nature documentaries with shots of lead singer Mark Hollis in the Zoo keeping his mouth shut, obscured by hand-drawn animated lines.

During the 1981 film An American Werewolf in London the lead character David Kessler (played by David Naughton) woke up naked in the wolves enclosure. Several other animals are also seen and you can clearly see the old caged enclosures of the tigers and apes.

A scene from the 1964 film The Pumpkin Eater with Anne Bancroft and James Mason was also set at the Zoo.


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