ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is 80 years young in 2011. Read about the the amazing achievements of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo over the past 80 years...
Although Whipsnade Zoo opened to the general public in May, 1931, the search for a suitable site began in 1925 after Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell (ZSL Secretary 1903-1935) was inspired by a visit to the Bronx Zoological Park to create a park in Britain as an ‘open zoo’.
Until 1927, the area which now makes up ZSL Whipsnade Zoo was known as Hall Farm. At the instigation of Sir Peter, the farm was purchased for £13,480 12s 10d and, over the next three and a half years, the area was laid out as a zoo.
The first animals to arrive at the Zoo included two Lady Amherst’s pheasants, a golden pheasant and five red junglefowl. Others soon followed including llama,wombats and skunks. The Duke of Bedford donated wallabies, muntjac and Chinese water deer from nearby Woburn Abbey in 1928, descendents of which still live at the Zoo.
In January 1932 the famous Glasgow based ‘Bostock & Wombwells Travelling Menagerie’ closed after 160 years on the road, and the animals came to Whipsnade. Most of the animals were transported to Whipsnade in their menagerie wagons. For the journey from Glasgow to Dunstable the wagons were carried by rail and then towed up to the Zoo. However, the elephants and camels were transported in railway horse boxes to Dunstable but then had to walk the last few miles over the Downs to the Zoo.
Whipsnade Zoo opened at Whitsun 1931 and the first paying visitor was admitted on Saturday 23rd May. On opening day some 1,080 people braved the rain to visit the Zoo, and on the Sunday, with the weather being drier, visitors numbered 10,892. On the 25th May, a fine, sunny Bank Holiday Monday, a staggering 26,946 visitors entered the Zoo - the highest attendance figure ever for a single day. The roads were jammed by cars for miles around. The train from St Pancras to Luton was cancelled to prevent more people arriving and adding to the congestion.