Opened in 1828, London Zoo is the oldest scientific zoo in the world. Built originally to house subjects for scientific study it was eventually opened to the general public in 1847. Today the zoo is home to 755 different species and approximately 17,000 individual animals. Situated on the northern boundary of Regents Park the zoo was the first of its type to open a dedicated reptile house (1849), insect house (1881), public aquarium (1853) and children’s zoo (1938). London Zoo took part in the first piloted international co-operative breeding programme in 1962, when an Arabian Oryx was lent to Phoenix Zoo in Arizona and there are now breeding programmes in place for over 130 different species, many of which are facing extinction.
Habitats and Enclosures
With the huge shift in public opinion regarding keeping wild animals in captivity, the zoo has invested greatly in upgrading and improving animal habitats to meet the ideals of a 21st century audience. The renovation project to replace the old cages with enclosures that recreate the animal’s natural environment has been popular with animals and humans alike. ‘Walk through’ areas allow the visitor to mix with birds, butterflies and monkeys, perfectly at home in an open and natural space.
Many of the habitats allow the visitor to have hands on experience with the animals, especially in the children’s zoo which features the usual inhabitants of pet’s corner as well as aardvarks, meerkats and porcupines. At 65,000 sq ft Gorilla Kingdom is a reproduction of a forest clearing, planted with edible plants and herbs that the residents can help themselves to. As well as the four impressive gorillas in the enclosure, Nile Monitors, Sooty Mangabeys and Diana Monkeys also share the space.
Famous Animal Residents
Winnipeg Bear, aka Winnie was an American Black Bear donated to the zoo in 1914 by Canadian Lieutenant Harry Colebourne. A young boy by the name of Christopher Robin was so taken with the bear that his father A. A. Milne created a series of stories for him, and Winnipeg Bear is now known by millions as Winnie the Pooh. On Guy Fawkes Night in 1947 a Western Lowland Gorilla arrived at the zoo from Paris, his keepers named him Guy and over the 32 years he lived at the zoo he became one of its best loved residents, Guy died in 1978 and is commemorated in a life sized bronze statue in the zoo’s Barclay Court.
The Zoo on Film
Used as a film set more than once the zoo has appeared in blockbuster moves like Harry Potter, the Burmese Python scene was filmed in the reptile house. An American Werewolf in London sees the lead character waking up naked in the wolf enclosure. The cult classic Withnail and I has a sad Withnail standing in the pouring rain next to the former wolf enclosure reciting Hamlet. The zoo has also been used as a backdrop to television series like Primeval and has also appeared in music videos.