London Zoo


Above: The ‘Snowdon Aviary’ seen from the footpath beside the Regent’s Canal. Other parts of the Zoo are on the right, in Regent’s Park.

Animals were kept at the Tower of London from very early times. The first record of lions being kept there was in 1210. Keeping animals at the Tower was mainly for the entertainment and curiosity of the court. Animals like elephants, tigers, kangaroos and ostriches lived in what was known as the Royal Menagerie. They were – by today’s standard – being held in captivity for all the wrong reasons.

The London Zoo is the world’s oldest scientific zoo. The Zoological Society was founded 1826 by Sir Stamford Raffles and Sir Humphry Davy. The ‘Zoo’ originally occupied about 5 acres (2 hectares) when there were three animals – a deer, a white-headed eagle and a griffon vulture. They were cared for by a single keeper, dressed in a uniform that consisted of a top-hat, striped waistcoat, tail-coat, breeches and Wellington boots with painted tops.

Today the ‘Zoo’, often called the ‘London Zoo’, is situated in Regent’s Park, on either side of the Regent’s Canal. Extending over 36 acres (14.6 hectares), at the NE corner of Regent’s Park. There is a wild animal population of 10,000 as well as a large aquarium.

The famous ‘Snowdon Aviary’, designed by Cedric Price, Frank Newby and Anthony Armstrong-Jones, first Earl of Snowdon, was erected in 1964. A large collection of birds have been kept there ever since. It stands beside the Regent’s Canal and is easily seen from the footpath.

Due to the change in public attitudes to animals being kept in captivity, the Zoo was almost forced to close in the 1980s as visitor numbers began to decline rapidly. However, when it was announced that the ‘Zoo’ would close in 1991 there was a rapid rise of public support in visitors and donations which allowed it to continue its work. It then began the huge task of restoring its buildings and creating environments more suitable for animal behaviour in the late 20th century.

New enclosures, providing more natural environments for the animals, continue to be created on the large site. They include: Land of the Lions; Tiger Territory; Gorilla Kingdom; Into Africa, which opened April 2006; Rainforest Life and Nightlife; the Aquarium, which started in 1853, with the present one being built in 1921; the Reptile House; Giants of the Galápagos, opened in 2009 to coincide with the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin; Komodo Dragon enclosure, opened by Sir David Attenborough in July 2004; Penguin Beach; and many other recent enclosures.

Since its earliest days, the ‘Zoo’ has prided itself on appointing leading architects to design its buildings. It has two Grade I buildings and eight Grade II listed structures. The initial grounds were laid out in 1828 by Decimus Burton – the Zoo’s first official architect, from 1826 to 1841. Burton concluded his work in 1837 with the Giraffe House, which, due to its highly functional design, still remains in use today. Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell and John James Joass were appointed to design the Mappin Terraces. Completed in 1914, the Terraces imitate a mountain landscape to provide a naturalistic habitat for bears, goats 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 was also designed by Tecton. The last two buildings are both are now Grade I listed. In 1965 the Casson Pavilion, designed by Sir Hugh Casson and Neville Conder, was opened as an elephant and rhinoceros house.

While the public opinion of keeping animals in a Zoo is mixed, the need for zoos as a sanctuary to keep animals safe from hunting in the wild has become a powerful argument to a zoo’s existence. Breeding programmes across the world, in which the London Zoo is an active participant, have tended to strengthen the argument for such environments.


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