22nd July 1913

Edinburgh Zoo opens to the public

The Scottish National Zoological Park, as Edinburgh Zoo was originally known, isn’t the city’s first menagerie. The Royal Edinburgh Zoological Gardens had opened 70 years earlier in the grounds of Broughton Hall, a grand house owned by publisher James Donaldson. It lasted just 18 years.

The menagerie was established by Thomas Gillespie who founded the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which purchased Corstorphine Hill House and 85 acres of grounds as a home for the collection. The site was chosen because it was easily accessible and fairly sheltered.

The zoological park was designed and constructed in its grounds in less than four months, and took inspiration from Hamburg’s ‘open zoo’, which had much larger enclosures than was usual at that time. Indeed, the cramped living conditions that animals at the Royal Edinburgh Zoological Gardens had been forced to endure were blamed for their frequent ill health and sometimes death.

Edinburgh Zoo opens its gates

Edinburgh Zoo opened to the public on 22 July 1913 and was incorporated by Royal Charter later the same year. It was the first zoo to house penguins and the first to successfully breed a penguin in captivity. It is now known for its penguin parade, which sees most of the resident penguins taking a walk among the human guests every day, led by a keeper.

Over subsequent years, the number of enclosures grew as new and more exotic animals arrived. Sometimes they turned up before their new homes were ready. On 24 May 1913, the Perthshire Advertiser noted that “a fine male Nylghai (an Indian antelope)… a very large and handsome specimen, arrived in Edinburgh last week, and has been temporarily lodged in private grounds till the accommodation in the Garden is ready.”

Dog in a lion cage

Despite the zoo officially opening on 22 July, The Scotsman of 21 July 1913 carries a letter dated 18 July from “a fellow of the Scottish Zoological Society” who writes, “I have been at the Zoological Garden to-day and write this to protest against the cruelty of shutting up a retriever dog with two lions. It is not natural for a dog to be confined with two animals much stronger than itself. As I and my friend looked into the cage to-day we thought the dog was dead, so worn-out and utterly prostrate as it was. If this is done to attract people, I am sure it will not do so to real lovers of animals and I for one would cease to be a subscriber as I could not go again to witness such cruelty.”

Zoo a success

The zoo was an immediate success, and, on 26 September 1913, the Musselburgh News revealed that “since the opening in the beginning of July from 6000 to 15,000 people have passed through the entrance gates weekly, and the institution promises to be as popular with educationalists and the public generally as the Museum of Science and Art in Chambers Street.”

The paper also gave more information on the dog that appeared in the letter in The Scotsman. “In one of the cages where two young lions are housed a retriever dog is daily introduced. The dog is quite happy in his strange environment, the ‘young kings of the forest’ being ever in a playful mood no matter the vagaries the retriever may have recourse to. The ‘youthful kings’ evidently quite realise that the dog is not a forman worthy of their steel, and it is amusing to notice the gentle manner they bring and end to the movements of ‘Oscar’ by covering him with their huge paws.



Other events that occured in July

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