Wild London

View of Burmese elephants with their keepers at London Zoo in 1923. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

View of Burmese elephants with their keepers at London Zoo in 1923. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Summer is here!
With long, hot days forecast and the school holidays nearly underway, it’s a great time to get out and about to enjoy all London has to offer. London Zoo, situated in Regent’s Park, has long counted among Londoners’ favourite destinations for a fun-filled day out.

Founded in 1826 as the world’s first ‘scientific’ animal collection, this famous institution has a fascinating history, documented in the Archives Centre’s current Book of the Month.
Zoo, by J. Barrington-JohnsonJ. Barrington-Johnson’s illustrated volume The Zoo: The story of London Zoo examines the Zoo’s historic development, as well as telling the story of some of its most celebrated residents.

Despite the fond place it holds in Londoners’ and tourists’ hearts alike, London Zoo has faced challenges over its 185 year existence. Changing attitudes towards the captivity and display of animals for entertainment and curiosity threatened the Zoo with closure in the early 1990s. Although its survival was secured due to the introduction of better standards of animal welfare along with an enhanced focus on research and conservation, the ethics of zoological collections are complex and continue to be publicly examined and questioned.

The Zoological Gardens, Regent's Park, c.1828. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The Zoological Gardens, Regent’s Park, c.1828. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Do zoos provide unique and important opportunities for the appreciation, researching and preservation of wildlife?

Or are they an old-fashioned method of containing and classifying the natural world that is destined to become obsolete?

Why not research the history of London Zoo in more detail using resources available in our Archives Centre search room? While you’re there, take a look at our current display, which explores the history of animals in Westminster, from the Victorian menagerie exhibitions of the Strand to the varied wildlife thriving in our urban spaces today.

[Michelle]

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