The architectural design of London Zoo dates back to the Zoo’s earliest days when it was founded. Some of the buildings were iconic as soon as they appeared against the skyline of London, others became appreciated over time. The architectural features of London Zoo in Regent’s Park, therefore, are recommended for aficionados of architecture, but not so much for zoo enthusiasts, unless interested in zoo history.
Thirteen of the historic buildings and architectural icons — work of some of the world’s most celebrated architects — became part of the National Heritage List for England and have been assigned as listed building, which means that they are protected and may not be altered. With the change in understanding of animal management in captivity some of the protected buildings became dysfunctional, because major changes are not allowed. And of course they may not be demolished. The Penguin Pool designed by Berthold Lubetkin, for example, is empty since 2004 when it was finally decided that the penguins’ welfare was impaired in this enclosure. So, an eye-catching masterpiece of architecture stands empty on the grounds, but requires money to maintain it in good condition. Other historic buildings, such as the Clock Tower (listed) and Blackburn Pavilion (not listed) have been adapted to serve a new purpose or other species.
Nonetheless, due to the listed buildings and other preservation activities an historical overview of architectural design is available at London Zoo, from Victorian influences and fascination for Mediterranean tiling and Art Deco pools to the current use of sustainable materials and adaptable structures to make animal welfare a top priority.
The grade of a listed structure is intended to be an indication of its special interest in a national context. Listed buildings and registered landscapes are graded according the following classification:
Grade I (exceptional interest);
Grade II* (particularly important, of more than special interest); or
The earliest extant building in the Zoo is the Clock Tower. Originally designed by Decimus Burton, the Zoo’s official architect at the time, it was home to llamas and later camels, while the tower and its clock were added not before 1831. It has been reconstructed in 1898 by architect Charles Brown Trollope, and rebuilt in 1946 – 47 by architects Burnet, Tait & Lorne due to air raid damage in World War II. It was converted into shops in 1988 and now serves as a First Aid post. The house is considered far too small for its original inhabitants, and many other species as well. However, it does still house one species — the Zoo’s resident colony of house sparrows. A series of nest boxes, which can be found under the eaves, are bursting with noisy fledglings in the spring.
This large ornate ironwork cage was the first permanent cage introduced on site and designed as the summer residence for macaws. In the 1840s it was converted to house a pair of king vultures. However, ravens soon moved in after it was decided the cage wasn’t big enough for neither macaws nor vultures. It was renovated in 1927 and WWII bomb damage led to its reconstruction in 1948. Then in 1971 it was moved to its present site on the Zoo’s members’ lawn (to the left of the Terrace Restaurant, the former Oasis Café). While it has been used as a sparrow feeding station, the aviary no longer houses birds, currently. It remains purely as a celebration of the Zoo’s long history, and a reminder of changing practices of animal care.
This pedestrian tunnel links the north and south parts (the main Zoo area to the Middle Gardens) of the Zoo grounds, going underneath Regent’s Park’s Outer Circle road. It is one of the earliest surviving structures at London Zoo, and part of the original Zoo layout. The south entrance is designed in a classical style, flanked by retaining walls probably added during the 1860s by Anthony Salvin (1799−1881) who was the Zoo’s architect from 1859 – 1878. The tunnel is built of stuccoed brick with incised lines imitating ashlar. The north tunnel arch is behind and beneath the Nuffield Building. During World War II, it served as an air raid shelter. It’s still in use to date, and a second tunnel has been added further west, close to the Zoo’s main entrance.
The Giraffe House was purpose-built for the first four giraffes (one female, three males) the Zoological Society of London received in1835, and still serves its purpose to date. It is one of the few buildings in the Zoo that houses the inhabitants it was originally built for. Wings were added in 1849 – 50. Like other buildings on the Zoo grounds it sustained serious bomb damage in World War II and had to be rebuilt as a result, done by Franz Stengelhofen and Colin Wears in 1960 – 63. As giraffes can be as tall as four-and-half metres the building boasts the tallest doors in the Zoo — a massive 5m high, while the building reaches 6.5m at the eaves.
The first pygmy hippopotamus to live at the Zoo arrived in 1913.
The Mappin Terraces is the Zoo’s first enclosure built around a naturalistic design. It was originally styled to replicate a mountainous landscape and provide a naturalistic habitat for bears and other animals. Architect John James Joass, based on an inspiration of Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell — at the time the Secretary of the Zoological Society of London, showed what could be done with reinforced concrete, a comparatively new material then. The cavernous interior, like that of a real mountain, holds reservoirs of water which is filtered and circulated into the Aquarium below. Once the place to see polar bears, the Mappin Terraces currently features an Australian outback exhibit with red kangaroos and emus.
The Mappin Café is an Italian Renaissance style tea pavilion that was added later at the southern angle of the Terraces, and completed in 1920. It is also designed by John James Joass and funded by John Newton Mappin. The building was closed as a tea pavilion in 1985 and restored in 2003. The building is now known as the Mappin Pavilion and as a venue available for hire for all sorts of corporate and private functions, overlooking the wallabies and emus in the Australian Outback and offering stunning views of Regent’s Park and Tiger Territory.
After World War I, the governing ZSL Council decided to place a permanent war memorial in a prominent position within the Zoo grounds to commemorate the twelve members of staff who had gave their lives during the battles. The design of the memorial is based on a medieval ‘Lanterne des Morts’ (Lantern of the Dead), a memorial to the dead at La Souterraine in the Creuse Valley, France.
The K3 telephone box was Gilbert-Scott’s second design of a telephone box. His first design, the K2, was for a competition and made of cast-iron. However, it was expensive and quite large. For these reasons there was a unofficial policy within the General Post Office to restrict installations of the K2 to London, with a few rare exceptions. The General Post Office looked to Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the man who later partly designed Battersea Power Station, to refine the design of his K2 into a more cost-effective solution, manufactured of concrete. There were originally 12,000K3 kiosks installed nationwide, but today only three remain — and the one in London Zoo is the only one in London, nowadays repainted in its original colours, which is not red but a cream stipple-paint finish. It can be found alongside the Penguin Beach.
Originally the Round House was an enclosure to house gorillas. It is considered to be one of the first modernist buildings, and therefore an important example of early modernist architecture, in Britain. Modernists used new and innovative technologies of construction for their designs based on the idea that form should follow function, embracing minimalism and rejecting ornaments. A style that dominated British architecture from the 1950s to the 1980s.
The Round House was made convertible so the gorillas had fresh air in summer and could be kept warm in winter. It is circular so that a half-drum shaped screen could be slid from within one half of it to enclose the other in cold weather, with the gorillas still on public display. Like the Giraffe House built a decade earlier, its simple shape is a direct response to its function, but they got rid of all ornaments and most references to classical architecture.
The House has since been home to an elephant in 1939 (an achievement of cruelty beyond comprehension) and Kodiak bears, chimpanzees and koalas, and is now home to lemurs and fruit bats.
Year(s) of construction
1932 — 33
Tecton Group (Berthold Lubetkin, Francis Skinner, Denys Lasdun, Godfrey Samuel, and Lindsay Drake)
The Penguin Pool is probably the Zoo’s most famous building. As expected the Tecton Group designed it according a modernist style, like the Round House (or Gorilla House). An impressive feat of engineering resulting from the close collaboration between Lubetkin and the structural engineer Ove Arup that needed an exempt from London’s building regulation to include the sloping ramps. The inventive design delivered an enclosure comprising a long elliptical pool with underwater viewing options and nesting boxes around the perimeter. The design sought to both mimic the penguin’s natural habitat and provide a stimulating environment while also creating a theatrical stage on which the birds would display themselves to visitors. The defining feature is a pair of impressively thin interlocking spiral ramps suspended over the pool not supported by visible beams, thanks to the use of reinforced concrete.
Despite its eye-catching design, and the advice of biologist Julian Huxley, who was consulted by Lubetkin to ensure that the design would best suit the penguins needs, the pool is regarded not fit for purpose any longer. The penguins contracted bumblefoot infection from micro abrasions caused by walking on the concrete, so, the flightless birds were moved out in 2004 and now live at Penguin Beach. The Zoo trialled if Chinese alligators would appreciate the pool’s aesthetics, but they didn’t.
Interestingly, Berthold Lubetkin’s daughter has said that the Penguin Pool, an icon of British modernist architecture, should be demolished, because it stands empty and is animal-less and therefore useless, as no other destination is foreseen in the near future.
The North Gate Kiosk was built as a refreshment bar and intended as a component element in a complete reconstruction scheme for the North Entrance to the Zoo. It was made as long as possible in order to accommodate large crowds. The eye-catching unusual curved canopy is made of an undulating slab of reinforced concrete supported by steel columns. The kiosk beneath, and office, are constructed in dark red brickwork. The design is a development of the 1934 – 38 kiosk and shelter at Whipsnade Zoo and this canopy concept was further elaborated by the Tecton Group in their entrance pavilion of Dudley Zoo. The North Gate reconstruction never materialised and the refreshment bar has been removed.
The West Footbridge was one element of the 1950 plan of in-house architect Franz Stengelhofen that still suited the 1958 redevelopment plan known as ‘The New Zoo’ drafted by Sir Hugh Casson. The Footbridge crosses Regent’s Canal and was built to improve access between the North and Middle Gardens as part of the Cotton Terraces development. This attractive bridge forms a successful link both visually and physically between the two banks of the canal. Visually it relates very closely to the Snowdon Aviary which it adjoins.
The bridge has cantilevered side spans of the type pioneered for road bridges. The broad deck divided into two pathways is designed for viewing, with two openings, enclosed by steel railings and teak handrails. At the centre of the deck, benches are located for relaxed viewing on the Zoo surroundings and Regent’s Canal.
Year(s) of construction
1960 — 61
Sir Hugh Casson, Neville Conder and Partners, Frank Shaw project architect
The Snowdon Aviary, one of the London Zoo’s most famous structures, is an iconic part of the Zoo’s skyline and a landmark of historic, cultural and architectural significance. Having received rave reviews for his birdcage at Mereworth Castle Lord Snowdon was commissioned to design the aviary in London Zoo. Together with architect Cedric Price and structural engineer Frank Newby he built an aviary that looked almost weightless. The design pushed architectural boundaries. The frame was pioneering in that it made use of aluminium, and tension to support the structure. A giant wire mesh net is wrapped around a skeleton of poles — paired diagonal ‘sheer legs’ at either end, each lined to a three-sided pyramid or ‘tetrahedron’ — which is held in position only by cables.
Truly unique for its time, it was Britain’s first walk-through aviary. It celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015, while still being majestic and visible from the nearby Regent’s Canal and Primrose Hill. Nonetheless, this pioneering structure of British architecture required essential repairs to be carried out. Together with the restoration the Aviary will be given a new purpose. As soon as budget permits, it will be rejuvenated by renowned architects Foster + Partners according the plans that have been approved in 2018. The bold makeover will transform the new exhibit into a walk-through colobus monkey enclosure. Moreover, the modernisation will ensure it serves as an educational hub for the visitors to be inspired by wildlife, and learn and care about the natural heritage of Planet Earth.
Restoration of the Snowdon Aviary:
(Source: ZSL — Zoological Society of London, YouTube channel)
Year(s) of construction
1962 — 64
Cedric Price, Tony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon), and Frank Newby (structural engineer)
The Casson Pavilion was not the first enclosure built to house elephants at London Zoo. Two had preceded Sir Hugh Casson’s prize-winning feat, designed by Decimus Burton in 1830 and Anthony Salvin in 1868 respectively. Moreover in 1939, plans for a new building had been prepared by the Tecton Group, but the outbreak of World War II prevented the work to commence.
The Elephant and Rhinoceros Pavilion, as the Casson Pavilion was called originally, was part of Sir Hugh Casson’s 1958 redevelopment plan for the Zoo known as ‘The New Zoo’. While being built at the same time as the Snowdon Aviary it was the absolute contrast to the lightweight construction of this birdhouse. The style of the building has been described as ‘zoomorphic New Brutalism, marvellously expressive of its inhabitants’ meaning that it was as heavy and solid as an elephant due to the architectural use of reinforced concrete. The concrete ribs covering the outside imitated an elephant’s hide, and they also prevented the animals from damaging the building. Also its conical copper roofs gave the impression from above of elephants gathering around a water-hole.
The building was developed according a brief by Desmond Morris, the Curator of Mammals at the Zoo. The landscape architecture was by Sir Peter Shepheard. The indoor enclosures are arranged around a central hall so that the public moves through the building at ground level on an “S-shaped” route. The paddock pool was added in 1971 and in 1988 the rhino moat was altered.
The elephants and rhinos have been moved, the elephants in 2002 — ending a 170-year presence in Regent’s Park, to more spacious accommodation in the countryside at Whipsnade Zoo and the pavilion now houses bearded pigs, camels and pygmy hippos.
This irregularly-shaped artificial pond is the only landscape feature to remain from Decimus Burton’s early layout of the grounds. The pond was first extended in 1852 and then altered in 1961 and 1976 — the south side is now part of the New Lion Terraces. The islands are planted with large willows, and populated by pelicans, flamingos and wild herons, which regularly fly in for a meal.
This Victorian building was originally designed and built as a reptile house. The sale of Jumbo, the Zoo’s most well-known and famous elephant, partly covered the cost of building this fine example of Charles Brown Trollope’s little-known portfolio. In 1927, the building was converted into a birdhouse and is now a tropical walk-through enclosure, home to more than 50 different species — from kookaburras to tiny sunbirds — that can spread their wings.
The Blackburn Pavilion is named in honour of David Blackburn OBE, Sir Stamford Raffles patron of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), in recognition of the Blackburn family’s longstanding support for ZSL London Zoo.
The first reptile house in London Zoo was built in 1849 and the second, the Blackburn Pavilion, was erected in 1882. The first one does not exist any more, while the Blackburn Pavilion has been converted into a walk-through birdhouse. The current Reptile House was designed by Joan Beauchamp Procter, Curator of Reptiles at London Zoo, together with the architect Sir Edward Guy Dawber. At the time, the building was hailed as one of the most sophisticated building of its type in the world. A key features of the Reptile House is the differentiated heating that provides ‘hot spots’ for the reptiles. Another interesting aspect is the relative darkness the visitors are surrounded by while viewing the animals that are highlighted in their vivaria by specific lighting. The reptile sculptures at the door frame of the building’s entrance are made by the sculptor George Alexander.
Although London Zoo has appeared in several films, it is well worth noting that in November 2001 footage was shot in the Reptile House for the film adaptation of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’.
When a visit-a-zoo-on-a-bad-weather-day championship would exist I probably will make it to the finals easily. Even today, already mid-March, I have to cope with freezing weather, strong cold easterly wind and some snow. In other words, don’t rely on me when making a bet. It is remarkable, by the way, how many people are visiting the Zoo today, despite the weather condition.
My main objectives of today’s visit are Tiger Territory, which I saw when it was still under construction two months before opening in March 2013, and Land of the Lions (opened on 17 March 2016), but while I am here it’s about time to visit the Aquarium and the Reptile House as well. Both exhibits near the entrance I skipped on all other occasions I visited this historic zoo. The Aquarium was the largest aquarium in Britain when it was built in 1924. It runs for 150 metres under the Mappin Terraces and has about 3,000 specimens of roughly 300 species on display. It consists of three halls divided in a hall for rivers, lakes and swamps; a hall for coral reef; and a hall dedicated to the Amazon, although you will find fish species from Madagascar and Mexico too. A wealth of information is provided about threats to marine species and conservation efforts, including the conservation status of all of the fish species on display, which I haven’t seen anywhere else to this extent. In the hall addressing lakes, there’s a tank with cichlid species, all classified as not yet threatened, from Lake Malawi.
In the Reptile House numerous vivaria with a large variety of species from different continents are available to view. Unfortunately, quite a few enclosures are being refurbished currently. A lot of attention is paid to the EDGE of Existence programme with focus on amphibian species, frogs in particular. The information panels at the exhibits give the species’ conservation status according the IUCN Red List, but the info is minimal and lacks graphics which is a common universal language used nowadays to inform the public. For instance, the distribution of the species is given by written info only and is not depicted on a map. In addition to explaining the efforts of zoological institutions about nature conservation, there’s a panel with clear instructions on how visitors can contribute to conservation in general and amphibian protection in particular — get a pond in your garden ?.
To be well-prepared for the adjacent Tiger Territory I have a quick lunch first, but then it’s tiger-time. Tiger Territory, with its typical entrance, supposed to be a journey through Indonesian habitat, but the time of the year ruins the experience. Not only is it colder than it will ever be on the island of Sumatra, additionally, the carefully selected vegetation is not able to mimic the lush tropical foliage. That is what winter does to deciduous trees and other non-hardy greenery in countries such as the United Kingdom. Due to the weather it is not strange that the tigers want to stay comfy in their indoor enclosure, called tiger’s den. Situated right after the entrance, all four Critically Endangered Sumatran tigers, two of them born on 27 June 2016, are enjoying their warm den. Five times the size of the previous tiger enclosure, the new exhibit (2,500m2) has been designed to ensure that it suits the tigers’ needs. Both the outdoor enclosures have a wire mesh roof covering the large areas, featuring tall natural trees for the cats to climb or use as scratching pole and high feeding poles to encourage their natural predatory behaviour. As tigers like water, one of the outdoor enclosures has a large pond. Unfortunately, the tigers have access to only one high level observation post. It’s just because this vantage point is so close to the visitor’s viewing deck that I start to realise that the tigers are very exposed in this exhibit, especially during the winter period. Showing a bit more consideration for the tigers and less for the public in this € 4m enclosure would have done the tigers more justice in my opinion. After all, when serving the tigers’ needs, it should be possible for them to retreat and hide from the inquisitive public when they feel like it.
The Tiger Territory is also home to the northern white-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus leucogenys), another species of Asian origin. From the upper viewing deck the sights on the gibbon tree house are good (see video). Although the tree house is not very high, it provides opportunity for the gibbons to brachiate using the numerous ropes and trunks. Showing their natural behaviour, as they do swinging in the rainforest canopy. From the viewing deck I go downstairs again and follow an elevated boardwalk in a corridor between the gibbon tree house and the tiger pond enclosure. When outside the boardwalk leads to the exit of Tiger Territory and to the path along the Komodo dragon exhibit, back to the Aquarium and Reptile House again.
The Gorilla Kingdom is next on my tour schedule and more or less opposite the main entrance of the Tiger Territory. When the Gorilla Kingdom project materialised and the exhibit was unveiled in 2007 it was viewed by the Zoological Society of London as the most significant re-structuring of London Zoo for forty years. It soon attracted many visitors, but unfortunately the keeping staff and resident animal behaviourist began to identify reasonably common undesirable stress related behaviour, expressed by the captive western lowland gorillas in their new and unfamiliar environment. The new exhibit was constructed according the wider Zoo strategy of providing enlarged and enhanced animal enclosures and removing (where possible) bars, cages and the visually obtrusive barriers separating animals from visitors. Such enclosure design allows ‘face to face’ encounters with the animals in captivity, which is one of the objectives. In this case it led to stress related behaviour of the gorillas. Apparently the stress was caused by excessive and undesirable visitor behaviour, such as banging on the glass and using flash photography. The Zoo has explored the introduction of digital devices to engage and attract young visitors’ attention with entertaining information leading to a reduction of the interaction of the resident gorillas with Zoo visitors1. Today’s visit makes me conclude that it was decided that such devices weren’t the solution, because I don’t see them and apparently they introduced two other physical measures. One that effectively prevent visitors to get close to the glass windows of the enclosure by introducing an additional barrier — an additional glass fence of about 1.25 metres high at considerable distance from the window panes of the exhibit. While the other measure, a subtle green leaf-shaped glass window vinyl that reduces exposure, improves the gorilla’s privacy. It was said that after only a few hours of the vinyl’s being up, there was a noticeable improvement in general mood and demeanour of the gorillas.
To meet my targets today, I now move on to the Land of the Lions. This impressive new exhibit for Asian lions was opened on 17 March 2016 by HM Queen Elizabeth II. Here for the first time, as far as I know, geographical depiction of the species distribution range is delivered on the information panels. Three species are on display, Asian lion, Hanuman langur and Rüppell’s vulture. Land of The Lions is a re-creation of an authentic Gir village, with its smells and sounds, street food vendors, and even a railway station. In other words, the visitor is taken on a journey through the streets and surroundings, including a temple ruin, of a small village in the Gir National Forest, Gujarat, India. Probably due to the time of the year (and the weather) the Zoo doesn’t expect a lot of visitors, so, the streets are empty and quiet, while the smell of food is lacking because the street vendors are wise and at home near the fireplace. This, on the one hand, makes the journey less exciting of course, but on the other hand the whole package could be overkill and distract the visitor from the message London Zoo wants to get across. The Gir National Park is the last stronghold of Asian lions, that once roamed across Greece, the Middle East, North Africa and India, but are reduced to a small population of about 500 in the wild. The far too small Gir National Park causes several threats to the remaining lion population, such as inbreeding, a parasitic disease (Babesia) and close contact with humans, domestic livestock and dogs. Hence, lion-man conflicts are always lurking, while recently a canine distemper virus outbreak has been recognised among the lion population2. Additionally, forest fires and habitat destruction can further increase the pressure on the lion population. To secure the genetic diversity, and species viability, of Asian lions coordinated captive breeding is helpful. London Zoo is involved in such ex-situ conservation, but even more important is in-situ conservation by identifying and preserving other suitable habitats for the lions, in India or elsewhere.
What inspired Land of the Lions?:
(Source: ZSL — Zoological Society of London YouTube channel)
The old outdoor enclosure of the Asian lions still exists, but it is extended with other outdoor exhibits and incorporated in this brand new setting, a real landscape immersion exhibit. Three walkways cover the 2,500m2 exhibit that besides the fantasy village comprises a forest guard hut as well, and a ruined fort which houses the Hanuman langurs. The visitor’s experience of this extraordinary surroundings can be enhanced by spending the night in one of the nine lodge cabins within roaring distance of the lions.
As a grand finale of my tour around the premises I decide to visit the Rainforest Life exhibit, which I think is a great semi-walk-through mixed-species exhibit. More importantly, I know for sure it will be warm inside. Rainforest Life is an excellent exhibition of South-American wildlife, kept in different types of enclosures. The hall in the centre of the building with its balcony for visitors to walk around is a small piece of South-American rainforest in London. The species, such as southern tamandua, two-toed sloth, golden-headed lion tamarin, emperor tamarin, red titi monkey and sunbittern, are free to roam the area. The animals may decide to use the balcony even when there are visitors around, but it is up to them and visitors are warned not to touch the animals. After about thirty minutes nothing much is happening any more in the rainforest, and I’m feeling warm again. That cannot be said of the red-faced black spider monkeys (Ateles paniscus paniscus) which are cuddling together in their outdoor enclosure.
Again I had the opportunity to visit London Zoo, so I went for the enclosures I hadn’t seen yet, and of course I had to see the new Penguin beach, advertised as England’s biggest penguin pool. There was quite a lot of work in progress, but that’s what happens in many zoos during winter. Refurbishment is mostly scheduled when less visitors are expected, which is better for all, the labourers as well as the public.
Well, as the Penguin beach is close to the entrance I first had a look at this new enclosure. Indeed, it has a very large pool, which allows the penguins to ‘fly’ through the water over quite some distance. The several viewing windows provide ample opportunity to see the spectacle of these birds moving rapidly below the water surface. The banks around the pool contain large plastic pipes that serve as nesting facilities. A considerable number of specimens of two penguin species are on display, Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti), and black-footed penguin (Spheniscus demersus), and one single Northern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi) called Ricky. Nevertheless the size of the enclosure offers enough space for the animals to have their own territory, when necessary. The Zoo exploits the attraction of penguin beach to visitors to generate additional income. Next to the common merchandise, there is a grandstand to see the penguins go wild and dive through the water during daily feeding times. Moreover, the Zoo has launched ‘Meet the Penguins’ encounters where visitors can get up-close with the penguins, and actually touch the animals, within penguin beach for £45 per person. Such animal exploitation is not what I like to see in zoos, because I doubt if it really adds something to the important educational message about nature conservation that zoos try to get across to the public. People will absolutely remember their moment of contact with the live animals vividly, but will this experience not supersede the message about the plight of these animals in nature? But I may be wrong, of course.
Butterfly paradise is a walk-through enclosure that showcases a vast array of butterfly species. While walking around in this environment you can enjoy not only the butterflies, but there are also many beautiful plants, which the butterflies feed upon. Although this enclosure was launched in May 2006, already in 1881 London Zoo created the first exhibit developed exclusively for invertebrates. Most of the animals kept there were butterflies and moths, effectively making it the world’s first butterfly house. They breed some butterflies on the premises, but many have come as pupae from butterfly farms in their native area. The Zoo support these community businesses because it gives local people a sustainable income in a way that doesn’t further damage the forests. The enclosure design supposed to resemble a giant caterpillar according to the Zoo’s website, and in a way it does. But to be perfectly honest, when the original childish entrance (caterpillar head) is missing, I think it looks more like a temporarily enclosure — a greenhouse designed like a tunnel. But as soon as you enter the enclosure you are overwhelmed by the hot and humid environment, and the colourful display of fluttering little creatures. The sound of oriental music adds to this atmosphere.
Surprisingly, as it was just a few degrees above 0 °C, a lot of animals originating from warmer climate could be seen in their outdoor enclosure, even when they had the choice between indoors and outdoors. For instance the lions, the servals, the Sumatran tigers and a hornbill seemed to enjoy the cold weather. The squirrel monkeys were the only primates I saw in their outdoors facilities, the walk-through enclosure.
One of the major undertakings at the moment within London Zoo is the construction of the new tiger enclosure, called Tiger Territory. This new tiger exhibit is being built around one side of the Casson Pavilion, and will be 5 times bigger than the current enclosure for Sumatran tigers. It is scheduled to open in March this year, and from what I could see of the work in progress it contains a rather large pool and the size will indeed be a huge improvement for the Panthera tigris sumatrae.
The Blackburn Pavilion is a redevelopment of the bird house that once was a reptile house. They turned this old building into a wonderful modern birds exhibit with in the entrance hall several small aviaries, but behind this area you will find a walk-through exhibit with free flying tropical birds, including tropical plants and a rainforest humidity. Outside the Pavilion there are outdoor aviaries where the hornbill enjoyed the cold weather, which I mentioned earlier.
The Zoos’ two Komodo dragons, starring in the latest James Bond movie ‘Skyfall’, are kept separate in two large indoor enclosures both with a small pond, tree trunks, bushes and shrubs, designed to resemble a dry river bed, the Dragon’s natural habitat. The dragons also have access to a small outdoor enclosure. Apart from being movie stars the dragons are subject to research, conducted to see how often the dragons will go into the sun by measuring UV radiation. The next door building contain reptile and amphibian vivariums which are nice, but are just a row of small exhibits very similar to many other zoos.
Not having time enough to see it all during my visit two years ago, I needed to return and at least see the animals and exhibits I had to skip last time. First exhibit to see was the ‘Rainforest life’, which opened to the public at Easter 2010. Closed for refurbishment two years ago the building now offers an excellent exhibition of South-American wildlife, kept in different types of enclosures. The most impressive one is the small theatre in the centre of the building. I call it a theatre, because it gives you the idea of walking on balcony level of a theatre while the animals give a performance of their everyday life. It is just as if a small piece of South-American rainforest has been transferred to London Zoo, and the visitor can walk around this equivalent of rainforest to enjoy close encounters with southern tamandua, two-toed sloth, golden-headed lion tamarin, emperor tamarin, red titi monkey, sunbittern and others. About every five minutes water is atomised on the plants and trees to keep the humidity of the exhibit at the right level. This increases the experience even more. The animals are allowed to use the balcony even when there are visitors around, and visitors are warned not to touch the animals. It is like you are intruding into their world, which is true of course. It literally removes barriers and turns you into a member of this jungle life, not so much the observer anymore — if you like to think so.
Next to this jungle imitation there are several other enclosures along the outer wall of the building. These enclosures do not allow for close encounters, because the visitors and animals are separated by glass window panes. Nevertheless, the Goeldi’s monkeys, golden lion tamarins, cotton-headed tamarins and Geoffroy’s marmosets enjoy their enclosures and play to their heart’s content. Their indoor exhibits are small in size, but they have access to outdoor enclosures on one side of the building.
Not far from the ‘Rainforest life’, the Asian small-clawed otters are resting and enjoying the sunshine in their beautiful enclosure, which contains 2 pools and a small stream. Lots of bamboo add to the naturalistic look and hides some of the fences. The enclosure provides many hideouts and enrichment for this playful animals, which are absolutely indifferent to the visitors while they are ‘chilling’ on the rocks. At the time of visit major refurbishment is ongoing with regard to the indoor facilities.
The elongated enclosure of the African hunting dog seems empty, but this could be due to two new arrivals which recently have been added to the pack. This enclosure is opposite Snowdon’s aviary, just across Regent’s canal. It has got big outdoor facilities that can be split into two separate enclosures, for reasons like allowing new arrivals get acquainted with the existing animals without having big fights all the time, or separate an injured specimen from the pack.
Something I already saw during my first visit in 2009, struck me even harder this time after having seen the rainforest exhibit. It’s the design of the cages of the white-cheeked gibbons and the colobus monkeys. These enclosures are really old-fashioned when compared to the enclosures of the gorillas (the ‘Gorilla Kingdom’) and those of the white-naped mangabeys, the red-faced spider monkeys, the Francois langurs, the Sulawesi crested macaques and the squirrel monkeys. All of these animals are provided with plenty of (natural) enrichment like trees, shrubs, and ropes which is in sharp contrast with the steel bars that should the gibbons give the chance to exhibit natural behaviour. Especially the ‘Gorilla Kingdom’ and the ‘Meet the monkeys’ enclosure show that modern design and modern standards are rewarding to both the animals and the public. For instance the black-capped squirrel monkeys inhabit a walkthrough exhibit that is just like a little forest. The animals can hide from the public in the trees, but they could get close if they want to. There is lots of space for the 16 monkeys (13 female, 2 three-day old babys) to do what they normally do, and it still gives the public the chance to get a close look of the animals.
One of the most extraordinary enclosures is the ‘Mappin Terrace’, especially for the period when it was designed by John Newton Mappin. This imitation of a mountain landscape was designed to provide a naturalistic habitat for bears and other animals, and was completed in 1914. The construction of the terraces showed what could be done with reinforced concrete, which was then a comparatively new material. The cavernous interior, like that of a real mountain, holds reservoirs of water which is filtered and circulated into the Aquarium below. The Mappin Terraces currently houses Bennett’s wallabies, emus, black swan and Brolga crane (Grus rubicunda). The red soil and red earthen wall indeed provides this exhibit with the feel of the Australian outback.
When looking for the serval house I passed the Sumatran tigers, where a notice said that the Zoo plans a brand new enclosure for this beautiful large but endangered predator. The new enclosure will be as large as 2500 m2 and is to be opened in spring 2013. This will be an enormous improvement for the tigers, but though they are confined to a much smaller area now, it has got a nice landscape. The same can be said about the servals (2 specimens) enclosure, which got an indoor room adjacent to the outdoor space. The indoors is quite small, but they have done the utmost to have it look a lot bigger, with a painted landscape on the walls. Outside, with trees, grass and shrubs, the servals could imagine themselves in the savannah, except that there is a wire mesh roof at about 3 – 4 meters above ground. This is a bit low perhaps for predators who are able to catch birds in their flight. Inside as well as outside the long-legged cats are provided with high level observation posts.
It is obvious that things have changed in London zoo. They made some clear-cut choices. And they had to, because of the crisis in the nineties of the last century, when the zoo almost had to close down. In the limited area in Regent’s Park in London’s city center they have been able to provide all the animals (more or less) spacious enclosures. There has been a dedicated decrease of species to achieve the current situation. Probably thanks to this drastic decision they managed to preserve the park-like appearance. And together with its historical monumental buildings it creates an oasis of tranquility in a big metropole. When there are no school classes around, of course.
Many large animals have been moved to Whipsnade zoo in Dunstable, which is also managed by the Zoological Society of London. The elephant, bear and rhinoceros now are to be seen in Whipsnade. As is the cheetah, which flourishes and shows it by a very high reproduction rate.
One of the most famous zoos in the world, started as a scientific zoological research center. Unfortunately, like in many other zoos, there is no information given on ESB or EEP membership of London zoo species, neither at the information kiosk or on the signs near the enclosures. These kind of manifestations of the zoo’s specialties, would increase the information value for the visitors interested in zoology and nature conservation.
Som e architecturally striking buildings have been erected over the years, though not all were fit for purpose. Like Lubetkin’s Penguin Pool is a beautiful design, but it is acknowledged as unsuitable for penguins, finally. It is empty now, and the penguins have been transfered to a more suitable enclosure. Snowdon’s Aviary, however, is still a state-of-the-art enclosure that provides plenty of space for the birds to fly and as a walk-through exhibit provides the opportunity for close encounters. The Casson Pavilion, with its high concrete walls, was fit for purpose, but the elephants left the premises and many visitors consider it as ugly.
A minute in the life of emperor tamarin in Rainforest Life
Watch emperor tamarin go about their business in the patch of rainforest that has been established at London Zoo, while in the meantime interacting with a red titi monkey who seems to disapprove. Rainforest Life, as the exhibit is called, is a magnificent example of how an exhibit can support a thriving community of a variety of species, such as emperor tamarin, red titi monkey, golden-headed lion tamarin, Linne’s two-toed sloth, southern tamandua, and Rodrigues fruit bat.
A white-cheeked gibbon braving the cold
A northern white-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus leucogenys) enjoys its veggie meal in the outdoor enclosure while the temperature dropped to just above zero Celsius and some snowflakes come down occasionally. He is even making you jealous by showing how much he likes the food. The video shows the size of the enclosure and the enrichment features to allow the gibbon express its natural behaviour, swing through the treetops.
Some additional information, such as contact details and involvement in breeding programmes.
Address: Regent’s Park London NW14RY United Kingdom
By National rail
The nearest mainline station is Euston. At Euston Station go to bus stop G and take bus number 253 towards the Narroway/Hackney Central to Camden High Street. At Camden High Street go to Stop T and take bus number 274 towards Victoria Gate to ZSL London Zoo.
By Underground (Tube)
ZSL London Zoo is within walking distance of Camden Town and Regent’s Park stations and short bus ride from Baker Street station.
Visitors are advised to check the services to these stations before starting their journey. For more information visit Transport for London’s service update page.
From Regent’s Park station (20 minute walk)
Exit the station and turn right
Cross the Marylebone Road and turn left immediately into Park Square East
Continue until you reach the entrance to Regent’s Park on the corner of the outer circle
Walk through the Park along the Broad Walk (heading north) until you reach the outer circle again. Turn left onto the outer circle
ZSL London Zoo’s entrance is 200 metres on the left
From Baker Street station
Catch the 274 bus from Baker Street to Ormonde Terrace Or if you fancy a 30 minute walk:
Exit the station on Baker Street
Turn right and walk to the end of Baker street
Cross over Park Road and turn left onto the outer circle
Follow this road until you reach the Zoo’s main entrance on your right.
From Camden Town station (15 minute walk)
Camden Town is the nearest tube station to ZSL London Zoo with its Northern Line connection.
Exit the station on the right-hand side and walk along Parkway
Continue walking up Parkway for about 6 minutes until you reach Prince Albert Road
Turn right into Prince Albert Road and continue for about five minutes until you reach the traffic-light controlled pedestrian crossing
Cross left here and walk over the Regent’s Canal footbridge
Turn right and ZSL London Zoo is then 200 metres up the road on the left-hand side
Alternatively, ZSL London Zoo visitors can use Regent’s Park Tube station (Bakerloo Line) or Baker Street Station (Jubilee, Bakerloo & Metropolitan lines):
Please note: Camden Town tube station is exit only on Sunday afternoons between 12pm and 4:15pm. Visitors wishing to use the Northern line should use Chalk Farm or Mornington Crescent stations during this period.
274 bus route
Service number 274 runs from Marble Arch and Baker Street, to Ormonde Terrace. View the 274 bus route and times here.
C2 bus route
Pick up the C2 from Victoria station, Oxford Circus or Great Portland Street to Gloucester Gate. View the C2 bus route and times here.
By London Overground
The nearest London Overground station is Camden Road station.
Turn right out of the station and follow Camden Road until you get to Camden Town Tube station.
Cross the road and walk along Parkway
Continue walking up Parkway for about 6 minutes until you reach Prince Albert Road
Turn right into Prince Albert Road and continue for about five minutes until you reach the traffic-light controlled pedestrian crossing
Cross left here and walk over the Regent’s Canal footbridge
Turn right and ZSL London Zoo is then 200 metres up the road on the left-hand side
The London Waterbus Company runs a scheduled service along the Regent’s Canal between Camden Lock or Little Venice and ZSL London Zoo. For full details call the London Waterbus Company 0044 (0)2074822550.