When I envision London, the imagery I draw on is strongly Victorian: I see the city of Charles Dickens, Sherlock Holmes, and Dorian Gray. I imagine the tightly-packed row of houses inhabited by the city’s bygone poor and the ornate carriages of its wealthy elite. Even now, over a century later, I am still fascinated with the Victorian mystique of London’s many improbable juxtapositions.

So, to be honest, I did not know how I would react to present day London or the London Zoo which was one of my top ‘to see places’ as this was my first trip to London. I was looking forward to visiting the zoo as I needed some respite from the worldwide furore about Walter Palmer, the American Dentist who lured Zimbabwe’s much loved lion, Cecil from a protected game reserve and savagely killed Cecil for fun. I wanted to immerse myself in the good news about the new arrival of a baby sloth at London Zoo. Baby animals tend to remind me of being a child and feeling safe and I  love creating mother and baby art.

I had experienced wildlife through a lifetime spent spoiled by the vastness of Canada. Some of my earliest memories involve perusing through the 710-hectare wilderness expanse of the Toronto Zoo, taking for granted the wealth of life there. Later, as I moved farther north, I was treated to the technological miracle that is the Montreal Biodome, where I meandered through areas precisely designed to artificially mimic different climates. These early experiences left a powerful imprint for a love of nature and animals.

The experience that truly made me fall in love with the London Zoo was a human one: I got to see one of the zoo’s passionate staff members give a presentation on the wilderness of Canada. Against a painted backdrop of pine forests and soaring mountain peaks, I witnessed an engaging presentation about the wonders of my home country, which was both surreal and sublime. It culminated in the presenter bringing out a tame skunk on stage and showing it to the audience, instilling in them a charming sense of wonder at the docile foreign species. After years of seeing skunks framed as a pest animal here in Canada, I finally saw one truly appreciated, and that memory has remained with me as something truly special.

I visited the zoo with my mother who recounted the zoo is even more impressive from her last visit in 2006, with many modern facilities added including a state of the art penguin pool and a beautiful green area for tigers to roam in (“Tiger Territory”). At the same time, it retains its Victorian heritage, having thirteen listed buildings of architectural and historic importance (including some by famous architects such as Decimus Burton and Sir Hugh Casson).







The London Zoo is clearly coming into its own, a microcosm showing the best of what London is: A blend of old and new, a place of both great history and infinite potential.Today the zoo is involved in numerous conservation efforts, many of which are geared towards the kind of smaller animals the zoo houses well, such as frog rare species. I find this admirable, and every bit as worth supporting as the vast modern zoos here in North America. After all, it’s not just large and magnificent animals which are threatened by extinction, many smaller animals—often ignored by the public—are facing the same risk, and places like the London Zoo provide the ideal location and facilities to help preserve them and bring them to the attention of a large human population. For this reason alone, the zoo is well worth a visit: Every pound spent for admission helps to save some of nature’s most precious and under-represented creatures.

My experience at the zoo came full circle with that presentation—the relationship of civil society with animals was evident in the young man’s demeanour, creating a sense of great hope.As I signed up to become a wildlife champion, I left the zoo feeling inspired and somehow rejuvenated. My faith in humanity remains robust.

Our Guest Contributor Jade lives in Canada  and wishes she could visit London more often. Jade is saving up to travel to Zimbabwe as she would love to  draw mother and baby animals in the wild.

 Recommended further reading about London Zoo.


About Yewande Okuleye

Cultural Historian|Londoner
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