Whipsnade Zoo

Whipsnade Zoo
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Main entrance to Whipsnade Zoo
Date opened 1931
Location Whipsnade, nr Dunstable, England
Land area 600 acres (2.4 km2)[1]
Coordinates 51°50′59″N 000°32′39″W / 51.84972°N 0.54417°W / 51.84972; -0.54417 (ZSL Whipsnade Zoo)Coordinates: 51°50′59″N 000°32′39″W / 51.84972°N 0.54417°W / 51.84972; -0.54417 (ZSL Whipsnade Zoo)
Number of animals 6,405 (2006)[2]
Number of species 227 (2006)[2]
Memberships BIAZA,[3] EAZA,[4] WAZA[5]
Major exhibits Lions of the Serengeti, In with the Lemurs
Website zsl.org/zsl-whipsnade-zoo

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is a zoo located at Whipsnade, near Dunstable in Bedfordshire, England.

Originally the zoo was called Whipsnade Park Zoo, which was often shortened to Whipsnade Zoo or even just Whipsnade. In 1988 the name was changed to Whipsnade Wild Animal Park,[6] but in March 2007 it was renamed ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.[7]

It is owned by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), a charity devoted to the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats, and is a companion to ZSL London Zoo in Regent's Park, London.



Whipsnade hill figure seen from Ivinghoe Beacon

The park covers 600 acres (2.4 km2), and can be located from miles to the north and from the air because of the Whipsnade White Lion, a large hill figure carved into the side of the Dunstable Downs (part of the Chiltern Hills) below the White Rhino enclosure.

Due to its size, inside the park, visitors may walk, use the Zoo's bus service, or drive their own cars between the various animal enclosures, or through an 'Asian' area where some animals are allowed to roam free. There is also a narrow gauge train service.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is one of Europe's largest wildlife conservation parks. It is home to 6,405 animals, many of which are endangered in the wild. The majority of the animals are kept within sizeable enclosures; others, such as the peacocks, the South American mara and Australian wallabies, roam freely around the park.


Eurasian Brown bear at the zoo
Early years

The Zoological Society of London was founded in 1826 by Sir Stamford Raffles with the aim of promoting the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. To this end ZSL London Zoo in Regents Park , London was established.

Almost 100 years later, Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell (ZSL Secretary 1903-1935) was inspired by a visit to the Bronx Zoological Park to create a park in Britain as a conservation centre.[8]

Hall Farm, a derelict farm on the Dunstable Downs, 30 mi (48 km) to the north of London was purchased by the Zoological Society of London in 1926 for £480 12s 10d. The site was fenced, roads built and trees planted.

The first animals arrived at the park in 1928, including two Lady Amherst's Pheasants, a Golden Pheasant and five red junglefowl. Others soon followed including muntjac, llama, wombats and skunks.

Whipsnade Park Zoo opened on Sunday 23 May 1931. It was the first open zoo in Europe to be easily accessible to the visiting public. It was an immediate success and received over 38,000 visitors on the following Monday. The Brown Bear enclosure is a surviving feature from the earliest days of the zoo.[9]

The collection of animals was boosted in 1932 by the purchase of a collection from a defunct travelling menagerie and some of the larger animals walked to the zoo from Dunstable station.

The distinctive white lion hill figure was completed in 1933.

World War II

During the Second World War the zoo acted as a refuge for animals evacuated from the Regents Park London Zoo. The celebrity Giant Pandas Ming, Sung and Tang were among these animals but were soon returned to London to boost morale in the capital. During 1940, 41 bombs fell on the park with little damage to the zoo structure, however a 3 year old giraffe named Boxer, who had been born at the zoo, was frightened to death by the explosions. Some of the ponds in the park are the remains of bomb craters from this period.

Recent developments

In 1996, a new elephant house and paddock was opened to replace the architecturally outstanding but cramped original elephant house designed by Lubetkin & Tecton in 1935. The old house remains at the zoo as a Grade II listed building and its associated enclosure contains the zoo's lemurs.

In the early 2000s the zoo added a number of new exhibits including Lions of the Serengeti in 2005, a walk-through lemur enclosure in 2007 (officially opened on 28 March 2007 by Dominic Byrne from The Chris Moyles Show on Radio 1, who is a regular visitor to the park), the Rhinos of Nepal exhibit in February 2007, Cheetah Rock on Easter 2008, a sloth bear exhibit in May 2008, and Wild Wild Whipsnade in May 2009. In July 2008, the Cafe on the Lake was reopened after remodeling, with its name changed to the Wild Bite Cafe.

In May 2009, William Windsor (known as Billy), a goat mascot of the British Army's Royal Welsh regiment, retired to the Zoo after eight years' distinguished service performing ceremonial duties.[10]


A lemur in the walk-through enclosure.
Lions of the Serengeti

Lions of the Serengeti was opened in 2005 the zoo opened and is home to three African lions (one male and two females) that bred four cubs early in 2006.

Rhinos of Nepal

The Rhinos of Nepal exhibit was opened in February 2008, and is home to the zoo's Greater One-horned Rhinos. It is designed to allow visitors a close view of the rhinos, while allowing the rhinos to live in an environment which is both safe and comfortable, even including indoor heated pools.[11]

A cheetah at Cheetah Rock.

Lemurs are housed in a walk-through enclosure that was opened in 2007.

Cheetah Rock

Easter 2008 saw the opening of Cheetah Rock opened on Easter 2008, and is focused around the ZSL's conservation project in Tanzania. It includes large open viewing areas, natural surroundings and displays on the conservation programme. The new exhibit can hold up to 9 cheetahs at one time, and it is hoped that Whipsnade will be able to breed a rare subspecies soon.[12]

Sloth bears

In May 2008, the Sloth Bears from London Zoo moved into a previously built enclosure near the Asian drive-through area.

Wild Wild Whipsnade

Wild Wild Whipsnade was opened in spring 2010. This exhibit introduces Wolverines, Lynx, Wild Boar and Moose to the Zoo. Brown Bears, European Bison and Grey Wolves are also now part of Wild Wild Whipsnade.

Other attractions

Train taking visitors around the grounds
Discovery Centre

The Discovery centre at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo acts as a Reptile House, Primate house and Insect house. It houses crocodiles, leafcutter ants, small primates, and other reptiles and insects.

Free-Roaming Animals

Currently the zoo has several free-roaming species of birds and mammals which include Indian Peafowl, Prairie Marmots, junglefowl (the wild relative of the domestic chicken), Chinese Water Deer, Muntjac Deer, wallabies and mara. Macaws, cranes and parrots were previously given the freedom of the park but are not at present.

Jumbo Express

The zoo train will take visitors for a ride around the zoo, mostly through the area with Asian exhibits.[13]

Daily shows

Daily shows include the sea lions.

Animal demonstrations and include 'Sea lion splash' and 'Birds of the world'.

A number of talks also take place daily throughout the summer season including lemur talks, giraffe browse and penguin feed.


The park and ZSL receive no government funding, and rely mainly on entrance fees, memberships, its 'Fellows' and 'Patrons' scheme and various corporate sponsorships. The park takes advantage of the Gift Aid charity donation scheme.

Filming at the Zoo

Whipsnade was one of the sets for ITV's Primeval, where a ferocious predator from the future kills a lion and three people.

Whipsnade is also one of the locations featured in BBC's Super Vets.

Whipsnade featured in an episode of the popular Children's BBC programme Brum in 1991, titled "Safari Park".

Jamie Oliver and Sainsbury's have also used the zoo's background for a television advert.

The BBC's Merlin used parts of Whipsnade as a filming location for Season 1, and the famous lion landmark is featured in Behind The Scenes footage from the DVDs.

The zoo also served as one of the tasks for BBC Three's Young, Dumb and Living Off Mum.


In 2002, a 20 year old elephant named Anna died three days after giving birth to a stillborn calf. There was an allegation that the elephant suffered painful and unnecessary surgery during the birth. The zoo asserted Anna's death was due to an infection related to the still birth and did not "die in agony".[14]

Chimpanzee escape

In September 2007, two former 'tea party' chimpanzees named Koko and Jonnie, moved from London Zoo to make way for The Gorilla Kingdom, escaped from their enclosure.[15] Koko followed one of the keepers back to the enclosure but Jonnie started heading towards public grounds. Jonnie was shot dead by the zoo's specially trained firearms squad for fears about public safety. The Zoo has said that at no point were any members of the public in danger. When asked why they did not use a tranquillizer instead, ZSL spokeswoman Alice Henchley said "It's just standard procedure, if the animal cannot be quickly and safely recaptured it will be shot. We can't be sure with a tranquillizer".[16][17]

Photo gallery

Photographs from the zoo
Elephants being led around ZSL Whipsnade Zoo  
Indian elephant being led on a walk at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.  
Penguin area at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo  
In with the lemurs 2007 at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo  
LeeLee - born 19 January 2007 at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo  
An ostrich at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo  



  1. ^ "Corporate hospitality". zsl.org. ZSL. http://www.zsl.org/zsl-whipsnade-zoo/corporate-and-private-events/corporate-hospitality,154,AR.html. Retrieved 2008-03-19. 
  2. ^ a b "Animal Inventory". zsl.org. ZSL. 2006-12-31. http://www.zsl.org/info/about-us/animal-inventory,649,AR.html. Retrieved 2008-03-19. 
  3. ^ "Find a Zoo". biaza.org.uk. British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums. http://www.biaza.org.uk/public/pages/findazoo. Retrieved 27 September 2010. 
  4. ^ "EAZA Member Zoos & Aquariums". eaza.net. European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. http://www.eaza.net/membership/Pages/Zoos%20and%20Aquariums.aspx. Retrieved 27 September 2010. 
  5. ^ "Zoos and Aquariums of the World". waza.org. World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. http://www.waza.org/en/site/zoos-aquariums. Retrieved 27 September 2010. 
  6. ^ Pendar, L. (1991). Whipsnade Wild Animal Park: My Africa. Book Castle. pp. 8. ISBN 1-871199-80-8 (h/b), ISBN 1-871199-65-4 (p/b). 
  7. ^ "Whipsnade a zoo again". Dunstable Gazette. 2007-03-07. p. 19. 
  8. ^ L. Pendar, op. cit., page 15.
  9. ^ Lookout Cafe History panels #1
  10. ^ "Royal Welsh regimental goat retires". The British Army News. http://www.army.mod.uk/news/default.aspx. Retrieved 2009-05-21. 
  11. ^ "Rhinos of Nepal Exhibit". ZSL. http://www.zsl.org/zsl-whipsnade-zoo/exhibits/rhinos-of-nepal/rhinos-of-nepal-exhibit,846,AR.html. Retrieved 2008-03-19. 
  12. ^ "An African Adventure". ZSL. http://www.zsl.org/zsl-whipsnade-zoo/exhibits/cheetah-rock/cheetah-rock-new-african-adventure,855,AR.html. Retrieved 2008-03-19. 
  13. ^ "Zoo Map". zsl.org. ZSL. http://static.zsl.org/images/originals/zsl-whipsnade-zoo-map-2010b-1089.jpg. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  14. ^ "Death at Whipsnade". Captive Animals' Protection Society (CAPS). November 2002. http://www.captiveanimals.org/elephants/whipsnade.htm. Retrieved 2007-10-01. 
  15. ^ "Keepers shoot escaped chimpanzee". BBC News. 2007-09-29. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/beds/bucks/herts/7019720.stm. Retrieved 2007-10-01. 
  16. ^ Chimp Shot Dead After Zoo Escape in UK By Raphael G. Satter, Associated Press, October 1, 2007 , Retrieved October 2007
  17. ^ "Whipsnade Zoo Shoots Chimp Dead". Captive Animals' Protection Society (CAPS). October 2007. http://www.captiveanimals.org/news/2007/zoo_shoots_chimp.html. Retrieved 2007-10-01. 


  • A set of panels outlining the history of the zoo is located in the Lookout Cafe in the park.

External links

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