Last week was the ZSL London Zoo’s annual stocktake in which they make a count of all the creatures, great and small, that are residents of the zoo. Some 750 species live at the zoo totalling more than 19,000 animals, meaning it’s quite a mammoth effort which takes almost a week to complete. The information gained is then shared with other zoos around the world via the Species360 database to aid in managing worldwide conservation breeding programmes for endangered animals. While some animals, like the Asiatic lions are easy to count, others are less so due to their tiny size (although ant colonies are simply counted as one). Among first-timers this year were two gibbons – Jimmy and Yoda – as well as 11 Humboldt penguin chicks, eight new Galapagos tortoises and a Hanuman langur baby (a species of leaf-eating monkey). For more on the zoo, see www.zsl.orgPICTURES: Top – Humboldt penguins; Below – Squirrel monkeys, llamas and an Asiatic lion. 

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It’s 70 years ago this November that a gorilla named Guy arrived at London Zoo and went on to become one of its most famous residents. 

A Western lowland gorilla, Guy was captured as a baby in French Cameroon on behalf of the Paris Zoo which then exchanged him for a tiger from London Zoo. He arrived in London while still a baby, clutching a tin hot water bottle, on Bonfire Night – 5th November, 1947, hence his name ‘Guy’ (after Guy Fawkes).

Guy went on to become one of the zoo’s biggest stars (on a par with a contemporary, Chi-Chi the Giant Panda, another of the zoo’s most famous residents).

The giant ape, who lived for the latter part of his life in the zoo’s Michael Sobell Pavilion ( it opened in 1971), weighed some 240 kilograms and had a nine foot armspan but was known, despite his size and occasional outbreaks of bad temper, for having been a ‘gentle giant’ – there are stories that he used to hold out his hands and carefully examine small songbirds that flew into his cage before letting them go.

He was introduced to a mate, Lomie, after 25 years in solitude but they never produced any offspring.

Guy died in 1978 of a heart attack during a tooth extraction. He continues to attract sightseers, however – Guy was stuffed and put on display at the Natural History Museum in 1982. He was later moved into storage but went back on permanent display in 2012.

A bronze statue of Guy, by William Timym, can be seen near the zoo’s main entrance (pictured).

PICTURE: Chris huh/Wikimedia Commons

 

Queen-with-lionsQueen Elizabeth II had a chance to get up close and personal with resident lionesses Rubi and Heidi at the official opening of Land of the Lions – London Zoo’s new interactive lion enclosure – last week. The new £2.5 million Asiatic lion exhibit recreates the setting of Sasan Gir in Gujarat, India – the last remaining stronghold of Asiatic lions, of which only about 500 remain in the wild – and has, at its centre, a 360 degree ‘Temple Clearing’ where the lions can be viewed from just a few metres away. The exhibit, which spreads over 2,500 square metres, opens to the public this Friday, 25th March. For more, see www.zsl.org.

Lion

Dwarfed by the towering form of Nelson’s Column in the southern part of Trafalgar Square, the four lions at the base of the column’s plinth – known to some as Landseer’s Lions – are now a favourite of tourists and Londoners alike. But it wasn’t always so.

While the column was erected in 1843 and the fountains in 1845, it wasn’t until 1867 that the lions – designed by Sir Edwin Landseer – appeared in the square. The reasons for the delay were apparently several including arguments over the artistic vision of the sculptures and funding and Landseer’s own ill-health.

Indeed, Landseer, best known as a painter of animal subjects, wasn’t the first choice as sculptor but was only commissioned after the models of the first sculptor – Thomas Milnes –  was rejected (there’s a terrific painting by John Ballantyne of Landseer working on the lions in the National Portrait Gallery).

As a result when the lions were eventually unveiled, they were held to general ridicule when they finally arrived, costing thousands of pounds more than what had been budgeted for them.

While the lions were initially going to be made of granite, Landseer’s 20 foot long lions were cast by Baron Marochetti in bronze at his Kensington studio. The form of the lions was apparently modelled on a dead lion which, according to Ed Glinert in The London Compendium, were brought to his studio in St John’s Wood by cab from the London Zoo, although all four lions have distinct faces.

Legend has it that the Grade I-listed lions will come to life if Big Ben chimes 13 times.

There has been concern in recent years about the damage people are doing to the lions in climbing on them with one report recommending that the public be banned from climbing on them.

For more, see our previous posts on Nelson’s Column and Trafalgar Square.

For more on London’s monuments, check out Peter Matthews’ London’s Statues and Monuments (Shire Library).

A former hunting chase, The Regent’s Park in London’s north-west was extensively developed in the 19th century and remains a good – if not complete – example of a Regency landscape.

As with many of London’s Royal Parks, Regent’s Park (it’s formal name is actually The Regent’s Park but we’ll shorten it for our purposes here) once served as King Henry VIII’s hunting grounds – he seized the park, then known as Marylebone Park Fields after the nearby village and boasting thick woods as well as more open forests, from the Abbey of Barking in 1538.

Used by royalty for the next 50 years, it remained largely unaltered until after the Civil War when, between 1649 and 1660, the Commonwealth ordered many of the trees to be chopped down to pay debts. It was restored to royal ownership with the restoration of the monarchy but, with hunting falling out of fashion, was then leased out to tenant farmers.

It was John Nash who created the park that we know and love today. Friend of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), he was among a number of architects who responded to the Prince Regent’s calls for the creation of a new design featuring a palace for himself.

Nash’s original designs included a round park featuring a lake and canal and surrounded by as many as 56 villas and a palatial summer home for the Prince Regent which would be linked to his other home at St James’s by a processional road.

But only eight of the villas were ever built and only two of them – St John’s Lodge and The Holme – remain (both are private residences but part of the lodge’s gardens are open to the public) while the plans for the Prince Regent’s palace were put on hold when he turned his attention to developing Buckingham Palace instead. The canal, meanwhile, was moved to the park’s northern boundary where it still stands today (see our earlier entry on Regent’s Canal) while the processional route Nash had proposed became Regent Street.

While the park was initially only for the exclusive use of residents and what Royal Park’s call the ‘carriage set’, in 1835, the eastern part of the park was opened to the public for two days a week. Other sections of what is now included in the park, including Primrose Hill, were opened later.

Meanwhile, the fact most of the villas had never been built had left a large amount of free space and so both the Zoological Society and the Royal Botanic Society moved in – the latter laying out what is the Inner Circle with lawns and a lake of its own. Another society to operate in the park was the Royal Toxophilite Society which introduced archery there.

Not much has changed since but for the creation of Queen Mary’s Gardens in the 1930s – these were laid out on the space formally occupied by the Royal Botanic Society which had decided not to renew its lease. The Open Air Theatre performances, which are still held in the gardens today, started at about the same time. The park was damaged by bombing during World War II but has been fully restored.

Other facilities now in the 166 hectare (410 acre) park include a sports facility known as The Hub as well as several cafes, tennis courts and boat hire. The London Zoo, of course, also remains there.

WHERE: The Regent’s Park (nearest tube station is Regent’s Park); WHEN: 5am to at least 4pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/The-Regents-Park.aspx

A new exhibition has opened at the Tower of London celebrating the Royal Menagerie which was located there for more than 600 years.

Over the years featuring everything from lions and leopards to elephants, camels, kangaroos and crocodiles, the menagerie was founded at the Tower of London during the reign of King John (1199-1216), although as far back as the reign of King Henry I (1100-1135) animals were being presented to the king as gifts. Some notable early animals included a ‘white bear’ believed to be a polar bear from Norway and an African elephant, a gift of King Louis IX of France, both of which were presented to King Henry III.

While the early location of the menagerie – which had a long history of attracting curious sightseers – remains unknown, during the rein of King Edward III (1327-1377) there is reference to it being in a position near the Middle Tower (now the main entrance to the Tower) which suggests it was then already located in what became known as the Lion Tower – a now ruined barbican built by King Edward I in 1276-77.

Animal accommodations in the Lion Tower were substantially upgraded during the reign of King James I (1603-1625) – James was noted to have enjoyed watching the lions fight other animals in the tower’s exercise yard). Further upgrades were made under the watchful eye of Sir Christopher Wren, then Surveyor of the King’s Works, between 1672 and 1675.

The office of the menagerie’s ‘keeper’, meanwhile, had been  formalised in the 1400s with the title awarded for life – it was subsequently held by some important officials.

While in 1687 some of the beasts and birds were transferred to new accommodations at St James’s Park, the menagerie remained at the Tower until 1830 when, following the death of King George IV, the decision to move the animals – then said to number 150 – to the recently founded Zoological Society of London’s zoo at Regent’s Park. Initially only some animals were sold to the zoo but by the end of 1835 the menagerie had been completely emptied with many of the remaining animals apparently sold to an American ‘showman’ Benjamin Franklin Brown who exported them to the US.

The new exhibition, Royal Beasts, is housed in the newly opened Brick Tower (entry via the Martin Tower, itself entered via the wall walk), and gives visitors views from a hitherto closed-off part of the north wall. There are also a series of life-size sculptures of various animals (see the three lions pictured), created by artist Kendra Haste, located around the tower. And, to gain a feel for how the menagerie was viewed during different eras, you can watch the short live action show featuring some of the “rarees” and “curiosities” which were housed within the tower (check with staff for times).

For more on the menagerie’s history, see Geoffrey Parnell’s guide, ‘The Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London’, available for sale at the Tower (£3.99).

WHERE: ‘Royal Beasts’, Tower of London (nearest tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm Sunday to Monday (until 31st October); COST: Included in Tower of London admission – £19.80 adults; £10.45 children under 15; £17.05 concessions; £55 for a family (prices include a voluntary donation); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.