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A Visit to the Zoo

Having just enjoyed an annual visit to one of the UK's larger Zoos, I thought I would investigate the origins and see what books on the subject that we have in stock here at Stella & Roses Books.

On looking at some online dictionary definitions under 'Zoo', the most popular is: 'An establishment which maintains a collection of wild animals, typically in a park or gardens, for study, conservation, or display to the public'. The term 'Zoo' started to be used in the mid 19th century and is an abbreviation of Zoological Gardens, originally applied specifically to that of Regent's Park in London.


The predecessor of what we know as Zoological Parks or Zoos would be the Menagerie. 2009 saw the archaeological discovery of what is thought to be the earliest of these. It was near Heirakonpolis, Egypt and thought to date to around 3500 B.C. Among the remains were found evidence of elephants, baboons, wild cats, a baby hippo and other animals. However, this menagerie was collected together for very different reasons to Zoos we know today. It is thought that they were used to show a ruler's power and wealth and for their personal entertainment.

Above: Rhinos and Elephants are always popular attractions at the zoo...

1752 saw the founding of Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna, Austria. Initially a private collection, built for the Imperial family and court of the time, this seems to bridge from menagerie to modern zoo, as it was opened to the public in 1779 and is still visited by over 2 million people each year.

London Zoo (also know as Regent's Zoo), opened in April 1828, was originally intended to be used as a collection for scientific study and is often seen as the world's oldest scientific zoo. It has undergone many changes over the decades and can still be visited today.

In 1963 in Japan, the first 'Safari Park' was opened. Bigger than a zoo, the visitors would tour the larger enclosures in buses. Many other similar venues were opened.

For those that wish to visit animals in their more natural and much larger surroundings, there are now a variety of Nature Reserves open.

Whatever personal views we may develop of zoos, for many of us a visit to one of theses parks may be our first encounter with all manner of animals, from Big Cats to Elephants, Rhinos, Hippos, Meerkats to the fascinating Reptile and Insect houses. With many keepers and information boards about the animals; they can be a great educational tool for children and adults alike.

Above: Another visit to the Elephants, and then on to the Capybara...

My favourite animals at the Zoo:

The animals I always look out for at a Zoo or Safari Park? Mmm... that's difficult, as most times, there's such a variety to choose from!

Like many others, if there are elephants or other larger animals like big cats, I can stay and watch these for very long periods! However on our most recent visit, we stayed and watched the Capybara for an extended period. There were many out, including a baby. Perhaps it's something to do with them being the largest rodent – and everyone knows how I like rodents.

On the theme of rodents – 

we also were engrossed in watching the Malagasy giant rat; also known as the Giant Jumping Rat. They are native to Madagascar and are now considered an endangered species due to their habitat loss, among other reasons.

Above: just hanging out with the bats and unwinding in the Reptile House...

Bats: Since doing a class project on bats, back when I was 6 – 7 years old, I have always held a fascination for watching bats. Sometimes, at the right time of day, I am lucky enough to watch some out of my kitchen window. So every place that has any variety of bat is always a favourite to visit. This time, we encountered Rodrigues Fruit Bats and Seba's Short-tailed Fruit Bats. We were told that they can live in the same area of the zoo, as the Rodrigues Fruit Bats live in the trees, where as the Seba's bats live in caves, both of which are present in the large 'forest' area. It was quite amazing to go through the cave tunnel and feel the Seba's brushing past to check us out, but never landing on us!

There really are SO many others I could talk about: Sloths (my husband's favourite), Bears, Tapirs, Hippos and have you ever watched the leaf-cutter ants?...very mesmerizing! I really could go on, and on and on and get the picture.

On looking at our stock of books under 'Zoo' and Zoological, we have a small variety of titles. Many are children's story books about visits to the Zoo. Although, if you wish to know more about one particular animal, you could always look at our extensive Natural History section. I think this is what I will be doing now – until the next animal encounter, wherever that may be!

Contributed by Jo

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