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.
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.
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.
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.
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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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Zoos outer boundary had to be increased to accommodate the new enclosure, encroaching into Regent's Park to the south-east.
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.
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.
Inside the house displays inform visitors about the zoo and its various conservation programs.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.