Once one of the most famous residents of ZSL London Zoo, Winnie the Bear was brought to the city by a Canadian soldier – Lt Harry Colebourn – during World War I.
Colebourn, a member of the 34th Fort Garry Horse Regiment of Manitoba and the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, had purchased the black bear cub at White River, Ontario, for $20, on 24th August, 1914, from a hunter who had killed the cub’s mother.
Colebourn, who named the bear Winnie after his hometown of Winnipeg, subsequently took the bear with him to England where his regiment, the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade, was training on Salisbury Plain ahead of their deployment to France.
The female bear became the mascot’s regiment but when the regiment left for France in December, 1914, she was left at the London Zoo in Regent’s Park for safekeeping.
Colebourn was a frequent visitor during leave from the front – he had initially intended to take Winnie back to Canada at the end of the war. But when the war ended in 1918, Colebourn instead donated the bear to the zoo in appreciation of the care staff had given her.
Among those who came to see the bear at the zoo were writer AA Milne and his son Christopher Robin – Milne subsequently named his famous fictional creation Winnie-the-Pooh after the bear.
Winnie the bear died at the zoo on 12th May, 1934.
There’s a statue of Lt Colebourn and Winnie at the zoo (pictured). The work of Bill Epp, it was presented to the zoo by the people of Manitoba, Canada, on 19th July, 1995. It’s a copy of an original Epp work which was unveiled in Assiniboine Park Zoo, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on 6th August, 1992.