This month we continue to commemorate the centenary of Alfred Russel Wallace by featuring birds of paradise. Wallace brought the first living birds of paradise to ZSL London Zoo; he arrived with them in 1862. Before their display at ZSL, it was generally thought that the birds had no legs and were continually flying. The dead specimens previously seen in Europe were prepared skins with legs removed! Linnaeus himself named these birds Paradisa apoda – footless bird of paradise. The fact they had feet was not confirmed until they were observed in the nineteenth century by Rene Primevere Lesson on a voyage of the French ship La Coquille; he also observed how the birds were prepared by local people. However the myth about them continued until Alfred Russel Wallace reported observing them in the wild. The Lesser birds of paradise displayed at ZSL London Zoo stimulated a great interest in birds of paradise and bower birds and several beautiful, illustrated folio volumes were published describing the many species.
Wallace provided a written account of his narrative of his search for birds of paradise and this was published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society in 1862. This article and an introduction by Steve Le Comber 'The Scientists! Adventures with Pirates' is freely available to read online as a Hidden Gem.
ZSL Archives contains 40 letters by Wallace to Philip Lutley Sclater, the then Secretary of ZSL. These include a receipt for the purchase of the birds of paradise as well as letters en route from Singapore, Ceylon and Folkstone. We also have a letter from Wallace thanking ZSL for awarding him Fellowship.
Information about the Wallace collection online and Wallace 100 celebrations can be found at the Wallace 100 page
Wallace's publications and items in the ZSL Archives form part of the 'special collections' of ZSL Library. You are welcome to visit and consult/view them but an appointment is necessary.
Please email email@example.com or telephone 020 447 6293 to make an appointment.
We will be offering talks/tours about Wallace to Fellows in early October. Places are limited and must be prebooked with the Fellowship & Development Department. All Fellows should receive booking details in a mailing about Fellowship Events by 13 September.
Many resources are available in ZSL Library and no appointment is necessary to use these, however if you are a ZSL member please bring your membership card. Non-members will need proof of address and photographic ID if you are not already a member of ZSL.
Use our online catalogue to find more detailed information about specific items in our holdings. It also contains links to relevant online resources:
Enjoy reading the Journal of Zoology Virtual issue celebrating Wallace one of the greatest zoologists of all time!
Select a blog
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.
Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!
We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.
From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.
Ever wondered what a typical day as a zookeeper looks like, or what it's like to be a videographer at ZSL? Now you can find out!
Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.
Read extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.
Get updates on our latest ranges, be the first to hear about special offers, and find the perfect gift for animal lovers!
The Chagos archipelago is a rare haven for marine biodiversity. Hear from the team about our projects to protect the environments in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
ZSL Institute of Zoology researchers are embarking on an exciting fieldwork expedition to Nelson’s Island in the Chagos Archipelago. Throughout the month, the team will share their research and experiences on an uninhabited tropical island!
ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.
An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.