As Whipsnade celebrates its 90th birthday, we're looking back through the archives at our incredible history.
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, or Whipsnade Park Zoo as it was then known, opened to visitors in 1931 as the first “open zoo” in Europe to be easily accessible to the visiting public. The Zoological Society of London, ZSL, was founded in 1826 with the aim of promoting worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats, and, while London Zoo was already part of their work, there was a desire to expand the charity’s remit to include an “open zoo” in the countryside.
A derelict farm on the Dunstable Downs was purchased by ZSL in 1926 for £13,480 12s 10d and building work began immediately. Animals began arriving at Whipsnade in 1928, with pheasants, llama, wombats and skunks among the first to arrive.
When Whipsnade Park Zoo opened on 23 May 1931, it was an immediate success and welcomed tens of thousands of excited visitors in its opening week. The Zoo’s distinctive, chalk, hill figure of a white lion, which measures a gargantuan 147m from nose to tail, was completed in 1933. During the Second World War, the Whipsnade White Lion had to be camouflaged with green paint, turf and netting. The Zoo also acted as a refuge for animals evacuated from London Zoo during the war years.