Happy Birthday to Zoo…

ZSL London Zoo marks 192nd anniversary from behind closed doors with a look back through the archives.

As ZSL London Zoo today marks its 192nd anniversary in the midst of its toughest challenge yet, a fascinating set of photographs and artefacts from the archives have been released, dating back to 1828.  

Marking almost two centuries of unparalleled scientific study, conservation world-firsts and introducing millions of people to the wonders of wildlife, ZSL London Zoo is now calling on the British public for support – ensuring its vital work continues while it is closed to the public for the first time since World War Two.

A group of royal children feeding pengins at London Zoo

The world’s oldest scientific zoo, ZSL London Zoo was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles, the Lieutenant Governor of Java, who was perhaps best known for founding Singapore. It was his intention that London Zoo provide scientists the opportunity to study animals with as much attention and depth as Kew was giving to botany, creating the first menagerie in the world devoted to furthering understanding of wildlife.  

Opening its gates for the first time on Sunday 27 April 1828, the Zoo’s Daily Occurrences – records kept throughout its history - note that the Duke of Wellington, then Prime Minister, was among the high-profile guests to attend on opening day. Joined by eighty other visitors, it was a significant number considering the Zoo was open only to Fellows of the Society until 1847.

Illustration of people walking through London Zoo in 1831

It was during this time that ZSL London Zoo became a favoured spot for famous naturalist Charles Darwin to test his theories; his relationship with ZSL’s curator of birds and an orangutan named Jenny helped cement his ground-breaking ideas about evolution.

Home to many famous animals throughout its history, from Obaysch, Europe’s first hippo since Roman times, to Guy the gorilla, so named because he arrived at the Zoo on fireworks night, ZSL London Zoo’s residents have inspired millions of people to connect with wildlife – as well as inspiring hundreds of children’s story book characters and plots, from A.A. Milne’s world-famous Winnie the Pooh series to modern day tales like Toto the Ninja Cat, authored by ZSL London Zoo Ambassador Dermot O’Leary.

Credited for adding the words ‘zoo’, ‘aquarium’ and ‘jumbo’ to the English language, ZSL London Zoo has had a significant impact on British culture; and takes great pride as one of the oldest zoos in the world, in its part in launching the career of UK national treasure, David Attenborough – who was propelled to stardom working on BBC’s Zoo Quest.

David attenborough looks at a lizard through glass

ZSL Director General, Dominic Jermey CVO OBE, said: “It is somewhat bittersweet that we celebrate this remarkable anniversary with the Zoo closed to the public, for the first time since World War Two, and for the longest duration in our history - but we can certainly take solace in sharing some of our amazing achievements and milestones.   

“From world-leaders to world-firsts, ZSL London Zoo is an iconic institution which has achieved so much but has so much more to do. Founded as a place for the study of animals, that ethos still guides us today – everything we do is with the intent of creating a world where wildlife thrives.

“During the Blitz, the War Cabinet asked us to reopen quickly to raise the spirits of Londoners; today, we raise spirits and awareness across the UK with our stories and videos of zoo life going on behind closed doors.

We are now asking for critical support to ensure we can overcome these unprecedented challenges. With people needing to reconnect with nature more than ever, wildlife under threat from illegal wildlife trade, over-exploitation, and habitat loss, we’ve got a crucial job to do. Please, help us now by visiting www.zsl.org/support-our-zoos

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