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London Zoo is situated at the northern end of Regent’s Park and was the first facility dedicated to the study and display of wild animals in Europe.
The zoo’s original layout and buildings were chiefly designed by Decimus Burton, and the animals came from the collections at Windsor Castle and the Tower of London.
The zoo set many records during its first fifty years of operation: it had the world’s first reptile house (1849), first insect house (1881), and first public aquarium (1853). An elephant house and rhinoceros house were added in the 1960s.
London Zoo pioneered the idea of showing off animals in their natural habitat, and when the Mappin Terrace opened in 1913 it was the first time that Londoners could see animals in a mountain landscape. (The Mappin Terrace has been turned into an Australian outback environment today, but it originally housed the polar bears.)
Another architectural highlight is the gigantic Snowdon Aviary – a walk-through aviary covered in wire mesh.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
The last time I went to London Zoo I was about six-years old and couldn’t see into the cages, and because there were no rollercoasters or dodgems like Chessington Zoo I thought it was rubbish (I was a kid, so you can forgive me). But now I’m an adult so I thought it was great.
I had originally planned to do a couple of hours and then leave for something else, but I ended up spending all morning and most of the afternoon there. I now recommend setting aside a good three or four hours to get it all done.
The first exhibit I visited was the aquarium, which wasn’t all that great to be honest. The SeaLife London Aquarium is definitely better. The problem is that most of the fish are only a few inches long, and the longest they’ve got is three feet. There are no sharks, or anything like that. Nothing that could kill you if it fell out of your bath taps. It’s just everyday angel fish and catfish, and pretty little tropical fish swimming around the coral… nothing that you haven’t seen a million times before.
Things get better at Penguin Beach because there are rows of stadium seats around the edge, and you can sit there watching those black and white tufty ones get fed by the keepers.
After that you pass Into Africa and see the giraffes, zebras and warthogs. They’ve also got some bizarre looking half-zebra, half-horse, kind-of creatures that I reckon must have been bred for a bet. He decided to stay inside his shed for most of the day and I don’t blame him, because as soon as he came out everyone laughed at him.
I also felt a bit sorry for the warthogs, because I’m guessing that they belong in the mud. They certainly had a lot of mud, but it was of the bone-dry variety, and flaking away in the wind. Their whole enclosure was a dust bowl, and if I have one criticism of London Zoo then it’s the lousy state of some of the cells. I walked past a few that had danger signs up saying “Beware of the deep water”… inside a bone-dry riverbed of emptiness.
After the giraffes you cross over Regent’s Canal to the Snowdown Aviary. This place reminds of that scene in Jurassic Park when they enter a cage of pterodactyls. It’s exactly the same as that: a huge metal cage about three-stories tall, in which you can walk freely amongst the birds – with no barrier! The only difference is that instead of pterodactyles, it’s filled with ducks and geese and peacocks.
After that comes a row of about twenty-odd bird cages, but they were so thickly overgrown with foliage that I could hardly find any of them inside. I even tried doing a few bird impressions to tempt them out, but no luck.
Don’t forget to go inside the Butterfly House. And yeah, I know exactly what you’re thinking… boring boring zzzz. But it was actually one of my favourite bits. They are literally buzzing around your heads, inside a tent full of butterflies. There are bazillions and bazillions of them, thousands of pretty little colourful ones, plus a lot of giant moths that are twice the size of your hand. There are so many flying around that you actually have to be careful not to tread on them.
The BUGS! house is full of creatures that you might find crawling around my kitchen at home: beetles, spiders and maggots. They’ve got an ant colony as well with a million billion ants carrying leaves from one end to the other. It reminded me of one of those old flea circuses that you sometimes see in the movies, where they build an assault course to give them something to do.
Next up is Rainforest Life which is a big building done up like the Amazon rainforest. When you step inside it’s very hot and humid because they’re constantly pumping a fine mist from the ceiling. You can see a few monkeys and sloths hanging from the trees, and people wilting around the edges.
If you go down a level then everything suddenly becomes pitch-black for the night animals. When I tell you that is dark, what I actually mean is that it is darker than dark – you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. They’ve got boxes of bats and rats in there, but unless you’ve remembered to bring your army issue night-vision googles with you they are a struggle to see.
After that comes the monkeys, gibbons and gorillas. Gorilla Kingdom is definitely a highlight because their enclosure is quite large, and the apes are satisfyingly huge. Put it this way: you wouldn’t want to jump in and stroke them. When they come up to the glass all the kids start screaming because they think they’re about to die.
The best bit in the monkey zone is another walk-through exhibit, where you stroll around the trees whilst cute little squirrel monkeys clamber all over the ropes around you. They can literally get close enough to rip your wig off. You can stand underneath the tree, whilst he sits on a branch above your head.
Then comes the dangerous stuff: lions, tigers and sheep. The lions and tigers were particularly lazy today, and decided to have a kip on the far side of the enclosure. I was going to throw one of the annoying school kids in to try and get them to move, but after five minutes waiting for them to move instead of snooze I walked back through the petting zoo (pigs, sheep, boring) and the camels. I dont know what was wrong with the camels… it looked like they had the hump to me.
The final thing I saw was the Mappin Terrace. The Mappin Terrace looks fantastic when you first walk up to it, because it looks like a huge desert-style mountain range that’s a few stories tall. I was expecting there to be some more lions lazing on the summit, or something like that, but all I saw were two skinny emus and a wallaby. Their river was bone dry as well. But I guess they live in Australia so they must be used to it.
> Read Craig’s latest review of London Zoo “Back to London Zoo today. I’m sitting here watching the giraffes getting fed at the moment. The zookeeper is walking around brushing all the leaves off the floor and the giraffes are dropping about a million more. He’s a funny looking fella (the giraffe I mean, not the zookeeper). He’s got two bony tufts coming out the top of his head and a neck that’s longer than his legs. I think God must have been having an off-day when he came up with that. Or maybe he got his sheets of paper mixed up in the wind and couldn’t be bothered to sort them out. And what’s going on with… continued.”
> Read Craig’s review of the London Aquarium “I had a fish tank once, a tropical fish tank filled with electric-looking stripes of light and a Siamese Fighting Fish, but they only lasted for a few years and then it all ended in tears (terrible sobbing scenes). It was all red eyes and goodbyes as I buried them in the dustbin (actually, I think I might have flushed them down the toilet). I’m still emotionally raw about it. I’m a very emotional guy. Whenever I go down the fish and chip shop it brings back painful memories. But I’m going to brave the… continued.”
> Read Craig’s review of Chessington World of Adventures “The last time I went to Chessington World of Adventures was when it was still called Chessington Zoo – that was thirty years ago. The only rides you could do then were the donkeys, but these days it looks more like Disney World. They’ve got rides and rollercoasters, shows and hotels, and the animals have been shunted off to a sideshow. I’m not really looking forward to the rides, by the way. I am willing to give them a go, but I’m at an age now where the ground is my friend. I’ve had a quick look around and I can already see about twenty different ways to die. I don’t mind ending my days in a theme park, but I’m not spending my… continued.”
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There’s one more zoo in London: Battersea Park Children’s Zoo. You’ll find some bigger animals at Chessington World of Adventures, sharks at the London Aquarium, and live horses at the Royal Mews. If you want to see some stuffed animals and skeletons then try the Natural History Museum. We also have a guide to animal events in London.
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Meet the animals up close, at London Zoo From London ZooLondonHere's your chance to enter the animal enclosures, watch them feed, and get close to some of the animals at London Zoo.
Be a Zoo Keeper for a day, at London Zoo From London ZooLondonGet closer to the animals at London Zoo, and help to feed and muck them out, by becoming a London Zoo keeper for a day.
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