London Zoo

For the album, see London Zoo (album).
ZSL London Zoo
Date opened 27 April 1828 (1828-04-27)
Location Regent's Park
London, NW1
United Kingdom
Coordinates 51°32′08″N 00°09′21″W / 51.53556°N 0.15583°W / 51.53556; -0.15583Coordinates: 51°32′08″N 00°09′21″W / 51.53556°N 0.15583°W / 51.53556; -0.15583
Land area 36 acres (15 ha)[1]
Number of animals 17,480 (2015)
Memberships BIAZA,[2] EAZA,[3] WAZA[4]
Major exhibits Gorilla Kingdom, Animal Adventure, Blackburn Pavilion, Clore Rainforest Lookout, Into Africa, Tiger territory, Land of the Lions.
Website ZSL London Zoo

London Zoo is the world's oldest scientific zoo.[5] It was opened in London on April 27, 1828,[6] and was originally intended to be used as a collection for scientific study. It was eventually opened to the public in 1847.[5] Today it houses a collection of 756 species of animals, with 17,480 individuals, making it one of the largest collections in the United Kingdom.[7] The zoo is sometimes called Regent's Zoo.

It is managed under the aegis of the Zoological Society of London (established in 1826),[5] 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).[8] 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.[9][10] As well as being the first scientific zoo, ZSL London Zoo also opened the first Reptile house (1849), first public Aquarium (1853),[11] first insect house (1881) and the first children's zoo (1938).

ZSL receives no state funding and relies on 'Fellows' and 'Friends' memberships, entrance fees and sponsorship to generate income.[12][13]


Bird's eye view of the gardens of the Zoological Society, circa 1828
1835 painting of the camel house.

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) was established by Sir Stamford Raffles and Sir Humphry Davy in 1826,[5] 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.[13] After his death the third Marquis of Lansdowne took over the project and supervised the building of the first animal houses.[13] The zoo opened in April 1828 to fellows of the Society,[5] providing access to species such as Arabian oryx, greater kudus, orangutan and the now extinct quagga and thylacine.[13] 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.[5][14]

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.[13] 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.[13] 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.[5] The first woman to be a curator at the London Zoo was Evelyn Cheesman.

In 1962, 'Caroline', an Arabian oryx, was lent to Phoenix Zoo, Arizona in the world's first international co-operative breeding programme.[5] Today the zoo participates in breeding programmes for over 130 species.[5]

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.[13]

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.[13] 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.[13][15]

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.

Areas and attractions

Three great white pelicans in their enclosure
Group Number of species Number of individuals
Mammals 67 565
Birds 108 614
Reptiles 58 173
Monkeys 25 727
Fish 270 5130
Invertebrates 228 1278
Total 756 17480[16]

Land of the Lions

Land of the Lions is a new enclosure for ZSL London Zoo's Asiatic lions, which opened in Spring 2016 by HM Queen Elizabeth II. The enclosure is 2,500 square metres (27,000 square feet) in size, and designed to resemble the Gir Forest National Park in India. The exhibit is also home to a troop of Hanuman langurs also a band of dwarf mongoose and shows how the lions' natural habitat overlaps with the local urban environments.[17]

Tiger Territory

Tiger Territory is ZSL London Zoo's Sumatran tiger enclosure, designed by architect Michael Kozdon[18] and officially opened by HRH Duke of Edinburgh in March 2013. The zoo currently owns five tigers: a male named Jae Jae and a female named Melati [19] and their three cubs born in February 2014 (two males named Budi and Nakal, and a female named Cinta). The enclosure is 2,500 square metres (27,000 square feet) in size, and features authentic Indonesian plant life,[20] as well as a net canopy of 3mm steel cable supported by four metal poles.

Gorilla Kingdom

Opened by HRH 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,[21] three adult females named Zaire, Mjuuku and Effie, an infant female named Alika (the daughter of Mjuuku and Kumbuka), born in December 2014 and infant male born November 2015. The Gorilla Kingdom area also features smaller enclosures housing Diana monkeys, black and white colobus, sooty mangabeys, Celebes crested macaque and Congo peafowl.

Into Africa

Into Africa is an Africa-themed area that was opened in April 2006.[22] Animals on display in this area include Chapman's zebras, warthogs, okapi, Rothschild's giraffes, pygmy hippopotamus[23] and African wild dogs. The giraffe enclosure features a high level viewing platform to give the public face-to-face contact with the giraffes.

Rainforest Life and Nightlife

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-headed lion tamarins, a female tamandua named Tammy, red titi monkeys, armadillos, Geoffrey's marmosets, cotton-top tamarins, Goeldi's marmosets, sunbitterns and pandas. The building also has a darkened area called "Nightlife", which houses nocturnal animals such as Seba's short-tailed bats, slender lorises, pottos, Australian water rats, Malagasy giant rats and blind cave fish.

The Mappin Terraces/The Outback

The Outback is an Australia-themed exhibit housing groups of emus, Bennett's wallabies and red kangaroos. The enclosure, which was originally called "The Mappin Terraces", was originally opened in 1913[24] and features an artificial rocky cliff made of concrete blocks for animal enrichment.

The aquarium

A copperband butterflyfish in the coral reef hall

There has been an aquarium at the zoo since 1853, the zoo's first aquarium was also the world's first public aquarium.[11] The word "aquarium" was coined by Philip Henry Gosse who had also created and stocked the first public aquarium at London Zoo.[11] The current 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 is separated into three halls, each home to different types of fish and other aquatic wildlife. The first hall primarily contains 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 displays 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 houses 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 features the "Big Fish Tank", which contains large fish species that are 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

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.

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.[24] It houses several species of reptile, including Jamaican boa, Philippine crocodiles, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, black mambas, rhinoceros iguanas, king cobras, emerald tree boas and Yemen chameleons. In December 2012, a refurbished amphibian section was opened to the public, displaying amphibians such as African bullfrogs, axolotls, caecillians and various types of poison dart frog.[25]

Giants of the Galápagos

Giants of the Galápagos was opened in 2009 to coincide with the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin,[26] and is home to five Galápagos giant tortoises: a male named Dirk and four females named Dolly, Dolores, 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.

Komodo dragons

Raja, the male Komodo dragon

London Zoo's Komodo dragon enclosure was opened by Sir David Attenborough in July 2004.[27] The zoo currently owns two Komodo dragons, a female named Rinka and a male named Raja. 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.[28]


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.[29] 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, naked mole rats, leaf insects, moon jellyfish, 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 is home to many different types of Spiders including the black widow, huntsman, bird eating spiders and one of the UK's most endangered animals, the fen raft spider.[29]

Penguin Beach

Penguin Beach opened in 2011 and houses seventy Humboldt penguins, as well as a single male rockhopper penguin named Ricky. The pool itself is currently the largest penguin pool in an English zoo.[30]

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. 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,[31] 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.[32]

Butterfly Paradise

An atlas moth in Butterfly Paradise

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.[33] Species on display include the clipper butterfly, blue morpho butterfly, atlas moth, zebra longwing, glasswing butterfly and postman butterfly.[7] 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.[34]

African Bird Safari

The African Bird Safari opened in 2005 as a redevelopment of the old stork and ostrich house, replacing three enclosures that were out of date by modern zoo-keeping standards.[35] It is a walk-through exhibit housing various species of African birds including superb starlings, Von der Decken's hornbills, Bernier's teals, Abdim's storks, blue-bellied rollers and lilac-breasted rollers.[35][36]

Snowdon Aviary

The Snowdon Aviary

The Snowdon Aviary was designed by Cedric Price, Frank Newby and Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon, and was built in 1964.[24] A variety of birds have been kept in the aviary since it was opened, and it currently houses green peafowl, sacred ibis, little egrets, brolga, cattle egrets, northern bald ibis and grey-headed gulls.

Blackburn Pavilion

The Blackburn Pavilion is a rainforest-themed tropical bird aviary that opened in March 2008, as a refurishment of the zoo's out-of-date bird house.[37] The building was originally constructed in 1883, as a reptile house. The pavilion houses fifty different species of exotic birds, including Socorro doves, amazilia hummingbirds (the only hummingbirds in a British zoo[38]), Mindanao bleeding-hearts, scarlet ibis, toco toucans, splendid sunbirds, pied avocets and blue-winged kookaburras. Outside the entrance is one of the pavilion's prominent features, a large elaborate clock by Tim Hunkin.[39] It gives a bird-themed display every thirty minutes throughout the day.[40]


Other notable animals in London Zoo's collection include black vultures, greater flamingos, vicunas, Bactrian camels, spectacled owls, red-ruffed lemurs, African harrier hawks, Malayan tapirs, burrowing owls, white-cheeked gibbons, military macaws, Oriental small-clawed otters, reindeer, giant anteaters, Rüppell's vultures, Bornean bearded pigs, Rodrigues fruit bats, Chinese giant salamanders and great white pelicans.

Future developments

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.[41] In November 2016, Foster + Partners were appointed to redevelop and upgrade the Snowdon Aviary. [42]

Notable former animals

The only photographs taken of a living quagga were taken of a mare at London Zoo between 1864 and 1870.

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".[43]

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.[44]

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.[45]

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.[43] A 2004 film A Bear Named Winnie is based on the story of Winnie the bear, with Michael Fassbender playing Harry Colebourn.[46]

A bronze statue of Guy in Barclay Court

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.[47] 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.[47]

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.[43] 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.

One of the zoo's most famous giant pandas, 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.[13] 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.[48]

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.[49][50]


Penguin Pool, a Grade I listed building
Penguin Pool

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.[51]

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.[13] Burton's work began with the Clock Tower in 1828 above what was then the llama house, which today is the first aid kiosk.[51] 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.[24] 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.[24]

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.[52] The Modernist dual concrete spiral ramps of the Penguin Pool have made it famous, but during a 2004 refurbishment the penguins took a strong liking to the duck pond they had been temporarily relocated to, and they were moved out of the Penguin Pool permanently.[53]

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.[24] 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.[18]

In film and television

Harry Potter with a Burmese python in the Reptile House
Audio description of the London Zoo by Andrew Sachs.

Many films and television programmes have made use of London Zoo as a film set.[54]

In literature

In music

In television


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