Tag Archives: London zoo

The Great Zoo Escapes

Both my father and grandfather were head keepers at the London Zoo, having spent some of my childhood ‘assisting’ Dad at work, I’m always interested in anything zoological related pertaining to Zoological Society of London.

It must have been a quiet news month in February 1965, when Goldie the Eagle escaped and for two weeks London’s press was giving updates of ‘Goldie Sightings’.

When he escaped from the Bird of Prey aviary he was a bird with no name. A newspaper reporter asked a Zoo official, quite reasonably, how was he affectionately known. Not wishing to appear callous he blurted out ‘Goldie’, now London’s population had a purpose. Spotted as far afield as Camden Town, Tottenham Court Road and even Euston. Goldie spotters caused traffic jams in Regent’s Park Outer Circle; the Royal Navy was engaged to use special equipment to effect a capture; veteran BBC presenter, John Timpson played an Ethiopian bird pipe in an attempt to lure him.

Goldie attacked an elderly lady’s two terriers, but was seen off with a well-aimed handbag; he was even referred to in a House of Commons debate, and a diplomatic incident was averted when he was rumoured to have killed and eaten a duck in the American ambassador’s garden.

Goldie was finally caught on 11 March after the zoo’s deputy head keeper tempted him to earth with a dead rabbit. The Zoo’s attendance nearly doubled in the days after his return.

Goldie escaped once again on 15 December 1965 and was recaptured on 19th December 1965.

The roles of the keeper and a caged animal’s dinner were nearly reversed in a well-told Zoo anecdote, which just might have been possibly true. The old lion house had the animals raised on a concrete platform behind bars, with a series of steps to allow spectators to view these large cats (whose faeces are remarkably pungent…I was always amazed at just how many families would bring their lunches to this bit of the zoo, trying to consume a scotch egg with watering eyes within the enclosed and unventilated space of the enclosure).

One evening, after the public had left, the lion’s keeper, who was no stranger to alcohol, was showing his friend, who was also partial to a tipple himself, an old arthritic, virtually toothless, the lioness who at this stage was fairly sober. In his enthusiasm the keeper opened the cage, so his inebriated friend could become better acquainted with the queen of the jungle.

Unfortunately, the old lioness was powerless to stop herself from sliding off its platform. A witness described seeing the two drunks, pinned under an old lion, trying to shove the creature back into its lair.

According to J. Barrington-Johnson’s book The Zoo: A History of London Zoo tells of Cholmondley the Chimp who in 1948 didn’t need an Oyster Card to board a bus:

On one occasion, while temporarily in the Zoo hospital, he managed to escape: he got out of the Zoo, walked across the corner of Regent’s Park, and hailed a bus in Albany Street. Having got on the bus, he sat down next to a lady and put his arm around her shoulders. He then — probably because the lady was having hysterics – bit her!

More recently in 2009, a red panda was spotted during the night sitting in a tree, after spending several hours trying to lure the panda down a tranquillizer dart was used to return it to the enclosure.

In 2014 Belsize Park residents had a year of entertainment, even creating a Twitter account when a peahen escaped when a visitor left a door open to the aviary.

All these tales were nearly eclipsed when in October 2016 Kumbuka a male silverback gorilla managed to enter the service area, allowing him to get into the area used by zookeepers. He didn’t get the chance to explore the rest of the Zoological Gardens.

Featured image: Panthera leo in London Zoo by Pelican (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

A calm before the storm

Ihave a pretty good idea what my father and grandfather were doing almost exactly 83 years ago.

On Thursday 2nd June 1938, the children’s zoo at London Zoo was opened by Robert and Ted Kennedy, two sons of United States ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.

Six-year-old Teddy (Edward) Kennedy (later Senator Edward Kennedy), was given the task of cutting a ribbon to open a new children’s playground and pets corner. Twelve-year-old Bobby (Robert) Kennedy (later Attorney General and Senator Robert Kennedy) stood beside his brother while younger sister Kathleen, as a girl, clearly couldn’t be trusted with a pair of scissors as she stands in the background with her father.

The future 45th President of the United States didn’t accompany his siblings, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), who had celebrated his 21st birthday that Monday and was in all probability still nursing a hangover.

A Pathé Pictorial film shows penguins, ponies, a baby goat and a baby wallaby being petted by the children.

In all probability, my 28-year-old father and his father who were both zookeepers were there in attendance.

This happy scene precluded events that were to take place in Europe. Just a year later my father married, my parents spent their honeymoon in Germany and within the decade my father had been called up.

Featured image: Honeymoon picture

Penguin Pool Regents Park

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building which you might have passed without noticing.

The Penguin Pool is now a shadow of its former self as all its inhabitants have flown.

Strictly you are not going to pass this little Grade I Listed gem without having first shelled out to get into the London Zoo but once inside its well worth seeking out.

[A]pparently our dinner-jacketed friends suffered aching joints having to walk on concrete all day. So the penguins were first replaced with Chinese alligators, plants and mud quite unsuitable for a structure designed for an aquatic bird.


Built in 1934 modernist architect Berhold Lubetkin who also designed the Gorilla House, it was intended to display penguin’s most distinctive characteristics. That of waddling, sliding, graceful swimming, nesting and penguin calls. Typically in the tradition of the modernist way was make the design fit the occupant, and not the other way round.

Spectators could easily see the penguins waddling on the concrete staircases that led up to the ramps. The penguins would slide on their stomachs – much like you see in BBC documentaries – down the ramps into the pools, which due to mosaic tiles were strikingly blue in contrast to the white of the ramps and walls.

Nesting boxes were provided alongside the edges and corners, and keepers provided them with twigs for that purpose.

One of the triumphs of design was that the high walls that contained the birds allowed their calls to echo allowing the cry to be heard by both penguin and spectator. This promoted the birds to breed and the sounds were a source of entertainment for the visitors.

The new penguin enclosure provides little interest compared to its predecessor. Apparently when the black footed penguin was introduced, a native of South Africa, it was not well suited to the old pool. The birds burrow, lay eggs but provide little of the amusing characteristics we have come to associate with these delightful creatures.

In contrast the Lubetkin gem looks shockingly sterile now as it purpose was utterly dependent upon the inhabitants. The double-helix ramps still look impressive, but it could be just a rich man’s patio pool. Now overlooked by visitors, children peer over the parapet and walk away disappointed.

Now it stands testament to a time when the ZSL was at the cutting edge of commissioning leading architects to enhance the zoo.