Watch: Zoological Society of London launches nationwide appeal for history

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ZSL (Zoological Society of London) – the conservation charity behind London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo – is launching History Hive: a public appeal for memories and artefacts to bring its 200-year history to life.

Launching exactly two years before the world-famous institution’s bicentenary, History Hive aims to build a collection of memories – from the tangible to the intangible – to reflect the varied voices and lived experiences of everyone who has played a part in ZSL’s rich history.

ZSL is asking the public to submit everything from vintage zoo toys and historic tickets to correspondence and maps, enriching the charity’s understanding of its own history.

The objects will form part of an exhibition to celebrate the 200th in 2026 alongside fascinating artefacts from ZSL’s existing archive, which all help to tell the story of ZSL’s impact not only on animal care and conservation, but on the very fabric of London and British culture.

ZSL archivist Natasha Wakely holds a 1930s ostrich egg, decorated with a map of Whipsnade Zoo and once owned by the first Whipsnade Zoo superintendent, Captain W P Beal © Jas Lehal, PAZSL archivist Natasha Wakely holds a 1930s ostrich egg, decorated with a map of Whipsnade Zoo and once owned by the first Whipsnade Zoo superintendent, Captain W P Beal © Jas Lehal, PA
ZSL archivist Natasha Wakely holds a 1930s ostrich egg, decorated with a map of Whipsnade Zoo and once owned by the first Whipsnade Zoo superintendent, Captain W P Beal © Jas Lehal, PA

Notable artefacts already in the Zoos’ archive include a first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, a limited-edition bear-shaped soap from the 1940’s which was produced by Cullingfords to mark the birth of baby Brumas the polar bear at London Zoo, zookeeper uniforms from decades past, and a decorated ostrich egg, painted by an unknown artist, to mark the opening of Whipsnade Zoo in 1931.

Those with memories of ZSL and its zoos are also invited to share these as part of the charity’s Oral History Archive, which will preserve first-hand testimony and celebrate the charity’s long history of connecting people to wildlife.

The words ‘zoo’ and ‘aquarium’, now embedded in mainstream lexicon, were coined by the charity, revolutionising public interaction with wildlife. Its long-standing associations with the world’s most influential figures in wildlife science and conservation range from Charles Darwin to Sir David Attenborough, who featured animals from London Zoo in his very first natural history documentary, The Pattern of Animals. Even fictional bear Winnie the Pooh found his origins at London Zoo, based upon a black bear named Winnie, befriended by A A Milne and his son Christopher Robin.

Tina Campanella, ZSL’s bicentenary project manager, said: “ZSL will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2026 – a landmark milestone that is just two years away. Everyone who has had a connection to ZSL – from world-famous biologists and renowned TV broadcasters to visitors to our two conservation zoos – is as much as part of our history as we’re a part of theirs. It's only right we celebrate our bicentenary together, so we’re excited to see what people share.”

Keeper Alden with an African Grey Parrot perched on his hand. London Zoo, December 1935Keeper Alden with an African Grey Parrot perched on his hand. London Zoo, December 1935
Keeper Alden with an African Grey Parrot perched on his hand. London Zoo, December 1935

Natasha Wakely, ZSL’s archivist, said: “History Hive is an incredible opportunity for us to unearth the objects and material culture which bring to life our 200 years of history. We can’t wait to share the submissions alongside our fascinating archive, which plays a critical role in preserving zoological knowledge and championing conservation action for generations to come.”

Matthew Gould, ZSL CEO, said: “2026 will mark two centuries of ZSL’s pioneering work for nature. Our work has never been more vital than it is today.

“In those two hundred years, we have evolved into a global conservation charity, but stayed true to our roots as a scientific society. We are proud of our extraordinary story, and our History Hive project will help us tell it.”

History Hive will culminate in an exhibition in 2026 – ZSL’s bicentennial year – bringing its history to the 36-acre grounds of London Zoo. Those who have contributed their stories and ephemera will be invited to the exhibition’s launch, celebrating both their role in two centuries of natural history and the start of a new century of critical conservation work. 2026 will also see the launch of a programme of interactive displays, talks and trails, vividly illustrating the story of the charity and the public support which makes its conservation work possible.

Submissions to ZSL’s History Hive can be made via www.zsl.org/historyhive.