London has such a long history, filled with great churches, monuments, art, and history museums that seeking nature here often isn’t what immediately comes to mind. But that’s an error since London is home to one of the oldest zoos in existence and one of the newest aquariums.
The London Zoo was first established in 1828 to house animals for scientific study. (At the time, Britain could boast the foremost naturalists in the world. Probably no single country could claim the number one spot today. Science, like a business, has gone global.) Nearly twenty years passed before the facility was opened to the public.
When it did it was, of course, a smashing success. Most Londoners of the day – bereft of photographs, not to mention television and the Internet – had never seen such exotic animals as a pygmy hippopotamus or a lowland gorilla or even a simple penguin.
Today’s visitors are more fortunate. Along with the interesting Victorian architecture, there are hundreds of species to see. Everything from snouted cobras to Komodo dragons to Partula snails is still on display. The Reptile House was opened in 1849, the Insect House in 1881. More ‘modern’ facilities have been added over the years, such as the Round House (1933) to hold gorillas and the Penguin Pool (1934). The penguins have been moved to a new facility since.
But far from being stuck in the past, the London Zoo has made efforts to alter the habitats to conform to the latest conservation efforts. Though old by some standards, the Snowdon aviary (1964) is still one of the most popular attractions.
Visitors here can walk through and observe dozens of exotic bird species. A winding path and bridge over a stream provide a tranquil setting to observe African Waterfowl. Hornbills make their presence known as visitors encroach on their territory.
The Mappin Terraces remain a favorite. An artificial mountain built to house bears, it has an aquarium underneath. And the ‘Meet the Monkeys’ continues to attract kids and adults alike. The squirrel monkeys took up residence in 2005 and proved to be very popular. The facility carefully recreates its natural Bolivian rainforest habitat.
Innovative programs continue today. The Zoo recently began a selective program that allows residents to ‘adopt’ animals. For a fee, they can care for penguins and others under the guidance of a trained staff member. Many of the larger species have been moved to Whipsnade Zoo, 600 acres about 59km (35 miles) outside London.
The Zoo is about a 10-minute walk from Camden Station in Regents Park.
Across town is one of the newest animal attractions in the area. The London Aquarium opened in 1997 and continues to draw. With over 350 species in 50 displays, it houses species of shark and native fishes.
Two large tanks cover two floors and house rays that visitors can actually pet. They seem to like the interaction, according to many. Fortunately, the piranhas housed in the aquarium are harder to reach. Although they might enjoy the interaction, too!
The aquarium is easy to reach via the London Underground, i.e. ‘the tube’ or subway. Exit at Westminster, directly across from the Houses of Parliament.