In the fall of 2015, Sarah and I took our first trip to the UK. The catalyst was our friends’ wedding but we turned it into a visit, the wedding, and then a holiday for just the two of us. We spent our first few days in England enjoying the generous hospitality of the Cheesman family of Basingstoke, and on November the 3rd – while the family was busy at work or school, and after a very late night of ales and fascinating storytelling – Sarah and I sleepily staggered off to visit the ZSL London Zoo in Regent Park. The “ZSL” in the name stands for the Zoological Society of London, which was founded in 1826 – two years before the London Zoo first opened. Originally intended to be a scientific zoo (the world’s oldest of its kind), the London Zoo first opened its doors to the public in 1847. Some of the original superstructure is still there, but it has been extensively modernized over the past 1 3/4 centuries, even though there is very little opportunity for expansion because of the geography of the surrounding area.
Before we left Canada, I had a chat with my Volunteer Supervisor at the Toronto Zoo, who had been to the London Zoo not that many years earlier. She had also, it turned out, made acquaintance with a wonderful Volunteer from London by the name of Arfan, who had visited Toronto and arranged a tour through Karen while he was in town. She told us to look him up when we got there, but she also took it upon herself to contact him on her own, so he left two passes for us at the main gates and made himself available to be our tour guide on what was, ostensibly, an “off day” for him. He was a gracious, knowledgeable, and thoroughly delightful host (even though I feel I spent most of that day in a sleep-deprived fog) and we have been fortunate to return the favour on a couple of his visits to Toronto in the years since. The photo here was taken at the “In with the Lemurs” exhibit, a walk-through that had opened just a few months before our trip. In fact, at all three animal-related institutions we visited in the UK, there was a similar exhibit and they were all wonderful. I’d love to see one in Toronto in the coming years; the Calgary Zoo opened their own version earlier this year.
I was drawn, as you will no doubt be shocked to learn, to the Penguin Beach exhibit, at which we arrived about an hour after entering the Zoo. A large colony of over 90 Humboldt penguins resides there, and at that time they had exactly one very sociable rockhopper penguin named Ricky living amongst them. He has since moved on to their sister institution, the ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (which we hope to get to next time we’re in London), to “find love” under the recommendations of the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme, or the “EEP” for short. (No, I don’t know where the “S” or the “B” went, but I certainly think I’m going to try to find out.) One of my favourite things about this exhibit was how close a visitor could get to these adorable birds (see the first photo of me at the top of this page); in fact, this was a recurring theme for both Zoos we visited (in London and Edinburgh) as well as the Monkey World sanctuary in Dorset, which I spoke of in last month’s “Baby” post. Theirs must be a far-less-litigious society (how could it not be?) and I envy the way they treat grown-ups like grown-ups. But that’s a discussion for another time. However, if you take a look at the cover photo for this calendar – Sir Nils Olav – you will see that I was so close when I took that photo that I couldn’t fit anything other than his head into the frame through my zoom lens – close enough, in point of fact, to have reached down and picked him up, had I so desired:
Obviously – or perhaps not obviously, but trust me on this – we did not spend our entire day at the penguin exhibit. The entire Zoo was as fascinating to me for its architecture and history as it was for its animals. The Reptile House, seen here, was erected in 1927 – a full 80 years after the Zoo first opened to the public, and yet 90 years ago. When you consider that our own Toronto Zoo has only been open for 45 years (next summer) itself, that’s a very impressive amount of time. And speaking of the Toronto Zoo: when it opened in 1974, it was the first Zoo in the world to arrange its animal (and plant) collections by “biomes” or regions of the planet, rather than by family, genus, or species. Buildings like “reptile houses” or “cat houses” or such were the “norm” up until that point in time. The ZSL London Zoo has done its best to recognize this better way of displaying its animals; as far as I can tell, the Reptile House and the B.U.G.S. building are the only two still being used to group creatures in this way.
That B.U.G.S. pavilion was pretty fascinating, though. In the same vein as “In with the Lemurs” attraction, this building offered an “In with the Spiders” exhibit. If memory serves, I may have visited this space on my own, sadly. It was incredible. This golden silk orb-weaver spider (sometimes called “giant wood spider” or “banana spider”) was really impressive. Apparently, its webs are strong enough to capture small birds, bats, or even tree-dwelling snakes! It was absolutely beautiful to see in real life; I don’t think my photo truly does it justice. There were many other incredibly cool arachnids in that exhibit, and plenty of amazing “bugs” in the pavilion proper, such as a fascinating “leaf insect” that has to be seen to be believed. I’ll include a photo of that in my mosaic at the end of this post.
The “Tiger Territory” exhibit (featuring Sumatran tigers) was stunning and incredibly well done. The signage was amazing all throughout, but obviously my runaway favourite was the one pictured at left. Brilliantly cheeky – and not wrong! The “Land of the Lions” was under construction when we were there, but has since opened and features a pride of Asiatic lions, headed by one of the boys Sarah and I saw when we visited the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg in 2013 to visit Hudson, the polar bear cub. And the Education Centre was really well put-together, as was the one in Edinburgh. I must say they appear to understand the importance of Education much better there than they do closer to home. I am really hoping that will be brought into focus under the Toronto Zoo’s new CEO, but time will tell.
That’s it for this month, everyone! The 2019 Calendars are now available for purchase if you so desire; I’ve decided to only produce one type of calendar for next year and use only the latest photos which I have taken with the kit I bought last December. I am really happy with the way it turned out; hope you are, too! Next month: two of my favourite girls from the Toronto Zoo, a pair of sisters who are going on 18 years old! See you back here then!