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London Zoo was Europe’s very first facility dedicated to the study and display of wild animals. When it opened in Regent’s Park in 1828 it was spell-bindingly unique, but things have changed somewhat, and these days the zoo is a focus for conservation projects.
The grounds that we see today were chiefly designed by Decimus Burton, but the other architects involved include John Belcher, J. Joass and Hugh Casson.
The animals – garnered from the collections at Windsor Castle and the Tower of London – caused an immediate sensation. When the first chimpanzee arrived in 1835, the public went bananas! The first giraffes moved in a year later, and a steady stream of strange creatures followed for fifty years.
London Zoo set a multitude of records in its first half-century of operation: the world’s first Reptile House (1849); the first public Aquarium (1853), and the first insect house (1881). An elephant house and rhinoceros house were added in the 1960s, and a children’s petting zoo in 1995.
London Zoo pioneered the idea of showing off animals in their natural habitat. When the Mappin Terrace opened in 1913, it was the first time that members of the public could see animals in an arctic environment.
Giraffes, zebras, okapi and other African grazers can be seen in the Cotton Terraces, and the monkeys, chimpanzees and gorillas are housed near the entrance.
There is also a walk-through aviary – the Snowdon Aviary – and the Moonlight World House for nocturnal creatures.
Animal performances are still a big attraction, and you should remember to check the feeding times to make sure you don’t miss the Animals in Action show. If you want to learn about the world’s ecosystem, then get a ticket for the Web of Life. This contains 60 animal exhibits ranging from ants, termites and jellyfish, to flying birds and stinging bees.