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Understanding London Zoo's History | From Inception to the 21st Century

Explore the captivating journey of the London Zoo through time, from its pioneering beginnings in 1828 to its innovative transformations and iconic exhibits that have shaped the way we perceive and conserve wildlife.

London Zoo Timeline

1828: In 1828, ZSL London Zoo, the world's first scientific zoo, opened exclusively to Zoological Society of London fellows for research.

1847: Financial constraints led to London Zoo's public opening without requiring a Fellow's order, but admission on Sundays was not permitted.

1853: London Zoo introduced the world's first public aquarium named ‘aquatic Vivarium’. 

1926: ZSL acquired land for its sister zoo, Whipsnade, near Dunstable, it prioritized observing animals in a natural setting, becoming the UK's largest zoo.

1991 - 1992: Financial struggles almost led to the permanent closure of London Zoo but donations including a million pounds from the Emir of Kuwait prevented its closure. 

1994: The Ambika Paul Children's Zoo was opened, named in memory of a young Indian girl who’s family made a sizeable donation to the zoo.

2022: The historic Snowdon Aviary at London Zoo, underwent a transformation and reopened as Monkey Valley.

London Zoo History Explained

ZSL London Zoo

Early Foundations (1826-1852)

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) was founded in 1826 by Sir Stamford Raffles and Sir Humphry Davy. London Zoo opened its doors in 1828, exclusively accessible to Society fellows. In 1847, financial pressures prompted a change, allowing public access.

ZSL London Zoo

Innovations and Expansion (1853-1928)

London Zoo introduced the world's first public aquarium in 1853. Under the leadership of Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, animal houses were constructed. The zoo received a royal charter in 1829, marking its significance. The drive for innovation led to new designs and open spaces for animals during Peter Chalmers Mitchell's tenure.

ZSL London Zoo

Whipsnade and New Horizons (1920s-1938)

In 1926, the acquisition of Hall Farm laid the groundwork for the world's first open zoological park, Whipsnade Wild Animal Park. Evelyn Cheesman became the first female curator in 1920. The Gorilla House, constructed in 1932-33 and designed by Berthold Lubetkin is a Grade I-listed symbol of the Zoo's experimental phase along with the Round House and Penguin Pool.

ZSL London Zoo

Surviving WWII (1939-1945)

London Zoo played a significant role during World War II by providing safety as air raid shelters. The East Tunnel, among various areas, offered refuge for employees and locals during bombardments. Following the all-clear signal, zoo wardens meticulously inspected the premises to ensure no animals had escaped before allowing people to leave.

ZSL London Zoo

Post-War Developments (1946-2000s)

International collaboration marked the 1960s with the Arabian oryx lending to Phoenix Zoo. The zoo's collection expanded, participating in breeding programs for numerous species. Financial challenges surfaced in the 1980s, almost leading to closure, but public support revived the institution.

ZSL London Zoo

Facing Modern Challenges (2020s)

 London Zoo faced adversity during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to temporary closure. In 2022, the historic Snowdon Aviary was transformed into Monkey Valley and the Reptile House was transformed into the Blackburn Pavilion in 2008. Showcasing the zoo's commitment to adaptation and change.

Construction of London Zoo 

The first official architect, Decimus Burton, shaped the initial layout of London Zoo in 1828, leaving an enduring mark with the Clock Tower and Giraffe House. 

The Ravens' Cage, installed in 1829, stands as a testament to ornate ironwork.

 The Eastern Aviary, completed in 1863, showcases a hooped steel frame.

 Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell and John James Joass contributed the Mappin Terraces in 1914, mirroring mountain landscapes for wildlife. 

The Round House and Penguin Pool, designed by Berthold Lubetkin's Tecton Architectural Group, exhibit modernist excellence. 

The Snowdon Aviary, constructed in 1964, pioneered aluminum and tension support.

The Casson Pavilion, designed by Sir Hugh Casson and Neville Conder, mimics a herd of elephants at a watering hole. 

With two Grade I and eight Grade II listed structures, London Zoo's architectural ensemble remains an integral part of its rich history.

London Zoo Today 

London Zoo stands as a testament to both living history and contemporary conservation. With a storied past dating back to 1826, it not only nurtures a diverse range of species but also preserves architectural gems that reflect architectural innovation through the ages.

 As one of the world's oldest zoos, it offers a unique glimpse into the evolution of zoological practices. Beyond its captivating animal exhibits, the zoo's Grade I and II listed structures are a living heritage, enhancing the city's cultural landscape. London Zoo is not merely a place to witness remarkable wildlife; it's a journey through time, a celebration of conservation efforts, and an integral part of the city's identity.

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Frequently Asked Questions About London Zoo's History

What is the historical significance of London Zoo?

London Zoo holds profound historical significance as one of the world's oldest zoos, founded in 1828, showcasing the evolution of zoological practices and architectural innovation over the years.

How old is the London Zoo?

London Zoo was officially founded in 1828.

How many years did it take to build London Zoo?

London Zoo was established in 1826 and opened its doors in 1828, taking around 2 years to be built and prepared for its official opening.

What is the historical context in which London Zoo was created?

London Zoo was created in the early 18th century within the context of growing scientific curiosity and exploration of wildlife and the natural world.

Who built/designed London Zoo?

In 1826, the Society secured a lease in Regent's Park and enlisted architect Decimus Burton to design the gardens and animal accommodations.

How has London Zoo contributed to the city’s cultural heritage/architectural style/artistic heritage/history?

London Zoo reflects the evolution of both zoological practices and architectural trends, while its iconic structures like the Penguin Pool have become symbols of modernist design, blending artistic innovation with zoological conservation.

What are some lesser-known historical facts or anecdotes about London Zoo?

One lesser-known fact is that London Zoo's black bear, Winnipeg, inspired the creation of the beloved character Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne, leaving an enduring mark on both the zoo's history and children's literature.