1. Jumbo the Elephant
The original Jumbo was an African bull elephant who arrived at the Zoo in 1865. He rapidly became enormously popular and, for nearly twenty years, gave thousands of rides to delighted children. He was seen as a national institution and there was outrage when the Zoo proposed to sell Jumbo to the American showman Phineas T Barnum. The wily Barnum, scenting publicity, encouraged the controversy and Jumbomania swept Britain. Letters were written to The Times and other newspapers. Lawsuits were threatened. Even the Queen appealed to the Zoo not to go ahead with the sale. Jumbo made his own contribution to the unfolding saga by refusing to enter the box in which he was supposed to make his transatlantic passage. Barnum, however, was adamant that the sale should go ahead. Jumbo, who was to be accompanied by his favourite keeper, was eventually tempted into his travelling cage and was shipped to the United States to become as big a star in New York as he had been in London. Tragedy, however, was waiting in the wings. Three years after making the journey across the Atlantic, Jumbo was killed in a train accident when travelling with the Barnum show. Barnum, never one to lose an opportunity for profit, had Jumbo stuffed and continued to display him around the country for several more years.
2. Guy the Gorilla
Guy the Gorilla, so called because he arrived in the Zoo on Guy Fawkes Day 1947, remained one of the most popular attractions for more than thirty years. He grew from a tiny baby to a giant adult male in captivity but his fearsome appearance disguised a sweet temperament. When he died of a heart attack in 1978, following an operation to remove a tooth, he was mourned by many who had seen him over the years. The Zoo commissioned the sculptor William Timym to create a more-than-lifesize statue of Guy which still stands near the main entrance.
3. Goldie the Golden Eagle
The Zoo’s great escape occurred in 1965 when a golden eagle known as Goldie exited his cage as keepers were cleaning it and headed for the trees in Regent’s Park. For nearly twelve days he eluded all would-be captors and became a national celebrity. He appeared on the front pages of all the newspapers and traffic jams were caused by the thousands of cars carrying people to the Park to watch him enjoying his freedom. He was even mentioned in a debate in House of Commons, where his name was greeted with cheers and shouts of approval. Goldie was eventually recaptured when he was lured by the prospect of his favourite food. Deputy Head Keeper Joe McCorry tied a dead rabbit to a rope near one of the eagle’s regular haunts and, when Goldie swooped down to tuck in, McCorry seized him.
4. Obaysch the Hippopotamus
The first live hippopotamus to be seen in Europe since the time of the Roman Empire, Obaysch arrived at the Zoo as a one-year-old in 1850. He had been brought there by Sir Charles Murray, British Consul-General in Egypt and soon became the Zoo’s greatest attraction. Visitors to the Zoo more than doubled in the first year after Obaysch’s arrival. Victorian London went hippo mad. Cartoons appeared in Punch, silver models of Obaysch were sold in the shops and a ‘Hippopotamus Polka’ was one of the music hits of the season. Murray would occasionally visit his protege in the Zoo, calling to him in Arabic, and Obaysch would lumber towards the sound of his former master’s voice, grunting in recognition.
5. Belinda the Mexican Red-kneed Bird-eating Spider
Belinda, who died at the age of twenty-two in 1993, was one of the more surprising stars of London Zoo, appearing on TV programmes from Blue Peter to the national news and taking a lead role in one of the Zoo’s advertising campaigns. She was also used by hypnotherapists to help people overcome their arachnophobia.