London Zoo

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Coordinates: 51°32′08.39″N, 00°09′21.51″W

London Zoo
Date opened 1828
Location Regent's Park, London, England
Land area 130+  acres (0.53 km²)
Coordinates 51°32′08.39″N, 00°09′21.51″W
# of Species 651+

The giant London Zoo aviary
The giant London Zoo aviary

London Zoo was the world's first scientific zoo. It was opened in 1828, and was originally intended to be used as a collection for scientific study. It was eventually made open to the public in 1847. Today it houses a collection of more than 651 different species of animals.

It is managed under the auspices of the Zoological Society of London (established in 1826), and is situated at the northern edge of Regent's Park, London (the Regent's Canal runs through it), a short walk from Camden Underground Station. The Society also has a more spacious site at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park in Bedfordshire and the larger animals such as elephants and rhinos have been moved there.

As well as being the first scientific zoo, London Zoo also opened the first Reptile house ( 1849), first public Aquarium ( 1853), first insect house ( 1881) and the first children's zoo ( 1938).

The zoo is currently undergoing a massive renovation project aimed at replacing cages with enclosures which recreate the animals' natural environments, giving a better lifestyle to the animals, and a more realistic experience to visitors. For example, the new "Into Africa" and "Butterfly Paradise" exhibits opened Easter 2006 and the new "Gorilla Kingdom" and South American rainforest exhibits that are underway are due to open Easter 2007. BBC News story.

Bird's eye view of the Gardens of the Zoological Society, circa 1828
Bird's eye view of the Gardens of the Zoological Society, circa 1828


Since its earliest days, the zoo has prided itself on appointing leading architects to design its buildings. These include:

  • The Clock Tower (1828, originally built to house llamas) and the Giraffe House (1836-1837) by Decimus Burton (both Grade II listed buildings)
  • The Mappin Terraces (1913-1914) by Sir Peter Chalmers-Mitchell (1864-1945) and John James Joass (listed Grade II).
  • The Penguin Pool (1934), the Round House (built 1932-1933 to house the zoo's gorillas) and the North Gate Kiosk (1936) were all designed by Berthold Lubetkin's Tecton firm, with inputs on the Penguin Pool from leading structural engineer Ove Arup. The Penguin Pool and Round House are now listed Grade I, whilst the Kiosk is listed Grade II. The Penguin Pool is no longer considered suitable for penguins, so the birds have been moved to a pool elsewhere in the zoo, near "Barcley Court". As of summer 2006, Lubetkin's structure was home to two African porcupines, and the zoo was considering options for its long-term use.
  • The Snowdon aviary (1962-1964) by Lord Snowdon, Cedric Price and Frank Newby (Grade II* listed).
  • The Elephant and Rhinoceros House (1962-1965) designed by Sir Hugh Casson and Neville Conder (Grade II* listed). These are now no longer considered suitable for large creatures.

Filming at London Zoo

Keepers Tim and Jane with London Zoo's black footed penguins at feeding time.
Keepers Tim and Jane with London Zoo's black footed penguins at feeding time.

Many films and television programmes have been filmed at London Zoo. A scene from About a Boy was filmed there and famously the reptile house scene from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. (Note the corresponding scene from the original novel couldn't have taken place in the London Zoo, because later on it was stated that Harry had never been to London.)

Famous Animals

  • London Zoo was home to the only living quagga ever to be photographed, along with a number of thylacine. Both species are now extinct.
  • Obaysch: When Obaysch arrived at London Zoo in 1850, it became the first hippopotamus to be seen in Europe since the Roman Empire, and the first in England since prehistory.
  • Jumbo: in 1880 the largest elephant known at the time. His name has become an epithet for anything of large size. He unfortunately, in old age, became aggressive and had to stop giving rides; he was sold to Phineas Barnum.
  • Winnie: In 1914 the zoo was given an American Black Bear by a Canadian Lieutenant. The famous author 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.
  • Goldie, a golden eagle, became a national celebrity when he escaped for two weeks in 1965, and flew around the roads and trees of Regents Park.
  • Guy the Gorilla, a lowland gorilla who lived at the Zoo from 1947 until his death in 1978 and in his later years became one of its best-loved residents.
  • Chi Chi, the Giant Panda was a resident of London zoo. She moved to the zoo in 1958. She was one of the first Giant Pandas in a western zoo.

Unusual Animals on Exhibit

  • Human beings, Homo sapiens sapiens. A four-day exhibit entitled the " Human Zoo" ran in late August 2005, with people put on display in such garments as fig leaves. (see zoo website, )

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