Your behind the scenes guide to ZSL London Zoo

by ZSL on

Hello, I will be your tour guide for the next few minutes, taking you through the gates of ZSL London Zoo to uncover some of its hidden gems…

Life can get a bit hectic, you work all week, then Monday rolls round again… when was the last time you heard a lion roar or felt the wind as a bat swoops past you? Londoners you have a Zoo in your back garden… Come and see it! 

A familiar bear…

ZSL London Zoo is intertwined with your childhoods, whether you know it or not…

We know Winnie-the-Pooh as a big yellow bear wearing a red crop top… however Winnie the bear really did exist! Winnie came to London Zoo in 1914 with the Canadian army, she was their mascot. They left her in the care of London zoo as the front lines would have been too dangerous for her.

Winnie the Bear statue at ZSL London Zoo
There is a memorial to the little black bear in the form of a statue, to tell the tale of the real Winnie

A little boy and his dad used to love visiting Winnie, and they would imagine all the things that she would get up to when no one was around. The little boy’s dad decided to write stories about the little bear and his son going on adventures together and that little boy’s name was Christopher Robin! And so, Winnie-the-Pooh was born – and it’s true, the real Winnie did have a love for honey!

The record card for Winnie the bear at ZSL London Zoo
Here is Winnie’s original record card (every animal at the Zoo has a record card)

From one well known resident to another…

And a great pub quiz fact for you…

Where did the word Jumbo (as in very large) originate from?

One of our most famous elephants – Jumbo! 

Jumbo the elephant
Jumbo was ZSL London Zoo's very first African elephant

His name didn’t mean ‘large’ at the time, it was a corruption of the word Jumbe which was a Swahili word which meant ‘Chief’. But he was absolutely huge, even by elephant standards, so his name ‘Jumbo’ became synonymous with objects of extraordinary size. When the aeroplane manufacturer Boeing designed a new super-sized jet there was really only one way to describe it...the Jumbo Jet!

The elephants have since moved to our sister Zoo – Whipsnade – the biggest Zoo in the UK! 

Two elephants at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

More than just a zoo

Most Londoners know the Zoo exists but many people are unaware of the conservation work which is made possible by our Zoos. We work in over 50 countries around the world, protecting animals and their habitats, trying to create a world where wildlife thrives. A huge part of that is connecting with the communities around us….right here in in London Town! 

If I told you there were wild seals in London, would you believe me?

One of our projects running right now is our Mother Thames project. The Thames was declared biologically dead in the 1950s. But since then organisations including ZSL have been working hard to get wildlife back in the Thames… and now… porpoises, seals and even seahorses call the river their home alongside cockney eels and smelt – which incidentally is a fish that smells of cucumber! All these amazing things are happening in our big city!

Photo - Two young seals on the sand by the water's edge, looking at camera

Staff that never leave… For those thrill seekers out there!

As well as being home to countless animal species, lots of our keepers have reported sightings of apparitions in the Zoo…  First, there’s ‘The Sweeper’: As London Zoo’s keepers glance up a corridor a keeper can be seen sweeping in what appears to be a Victorian keeper uniform, and at a second glance the sweeping apparition has disappeared… Then there’s ‘The Whistler’: Keepers have reported that if they are alone closing an animal house, they will round a corner and begin to hear very faint human whistling, the whistling will get louder and louder until it feels as if it’s in the room with them…. and then just as quickly will begin to get quieter, as if the owner of the whistle has walked right past them and has continued on their journey, whistling while they work…. I guess our ghosts are more helpful than scary!

A Victorian keeper at ZSL London Zoo

An oasis in Regent’s Park

So in a nutshell…. Come and re-live your childhoods, get up close to hundreds of amazing animals, walk in the footsteps of historical giants (and little bears!), and know that a day at the zoo is a really great day out that makes a real difference. Come explore this wonderful wild oasis right on your doorstep…

Delve deeper into our incredible past with our History Tours - limited dates available! Find out more

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