Edinburgh Zoo: A roaring success for a century

King George V and Queen Mary visit the penguins
King George V and Queen Mary visit the penguins
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Laughing schoolchildren hold on tight as they are taken on a tour of Edinburgh Zoo astride a huge elephant.

Laughing schoolchildren hold on tight as they are taken on a tour of Edinburgh Zoo astride a huge elephant.

A trunk route for kids

A trunk route for kids

The black and white picture, taken in 1949, is just one of a number of images which illustrate the story of the attraction over the past 100 years.

Another snap captures a royal visit in 1935 by King George V and Queen Mary, who were particularly fond of the collection of penguins.

So amused were they by the penguins’ antics that although they were due to stay for 20 minutes, they stayed more than two hours.

But it wasn’t until 1952 that the world famous penguin 
parade began.

A rhino enjoys a beer

A rhino enjoys a beer

When a gate was left open and a Gentoo penguin escaped, the keeper decided that rather than haul it back, he would follow and, pursued by other penguins, it marched down to the front of the zoo, along the pavement on Corstorphine Road.

There will be plenty of reminiscing over years gone by as the zoo prepares to mark its centenary year in 2013 – and staff are appealing to people of all ages to contribute their memories, memorabilia, film clips and photos.

But there won’t be any rhinos celebrating with a sip of beer . . .

Chris West, chief executive at The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), says: “With 100 years of Edinburgh Zoo history to cover, there is a phenomenal amount of memories and special moments that visitors have experienced.

“It is these personal and fond memories that we are hoping to collect from a wide range of people at any age who have visited the zoo over the years – be it on film, photos, or anything, we would love to hear from those who have experienced Edinburgh Zoo, no matter the year of visit, and hear about their very own little piece of zoo history.”

The grassy hills on which Edinburgh Zoo was built were purchased for £17,000 by the RZSS with the help of the local council.

Today, the zoo is on track to welcome 800,000 visitors through its door by the end of 2012 – many of whom are excited by the prospect of meeting the giant pandas, the envy of zoos across the world.

But Tian Tian and Yang Guang are not the first residents to have become star attractions, and some of the zoo’s most famous guests over the years are to be commemorated in 2013 with sand sculptures.

The well-known floral clock in Princes Street Gardens will be getting the centenary treatment, with a special dedicated floral design which will feature the zoo’s anniversary logo.

It was on July 22, 1913 that the zoo opened its doors to the public for the first time.

On that date next year, the attraction will mark its special moment by giving away 100 prizes throughout the day, ranging from keeper experience gifts to food and drink.

Mr West says: “The centenary is a truly exciting time for the society and the zoo, it’s a fantastic opportunity to 
reflect on the past years, looking back to the origins of the zoo and the journey it’s been on from when we first opened our doors through to the present day.

“Whilst looking back at the past, it’s also the ideal time to look forward, to the future of Edinburgh Zoo and where we see ourselves in the next 100 years – a remarkable and exciting prospect for all.”

To well and truly celebrate the upcoming centenary year, the zoo will be hosting a vast and diverse range of events, some of which include many firsts.

A series of centenary screenings are to be held at the state-of-the-art Budongo Trail enclosure, home to 19 lively chimps.

Documentaries will include Wild About Pandas, which chronicles the arrival of Tian Tian and Yang Guang to their new home.

On top of all this there will also be a range of themed talks and lectures which will focus on the role of a modern zoo in the 21st century, as well as a unique Edinburgh Zoo Centenary Exhibition, and lots more.

Tale of the century

Edinburgh Zoo opened its doors to the public in July 1913, just four months after work began.

Construction first began on the polar bear enclosure, now the Steller’s Sea Eagle, with the quarried rock used to build the roads.

In 1938, the first giraffe ever seen in Scotland arrived from Bristol, but at 11ft George was too tall to pass under railway bridges and travelled by sea from Avonmouth to Glasgow.

In 1963, the Duke of Edinburgh accepted honorary fellowship and visited the zoo.

Chimpanzees Ricky – who had been a mascot on a merchant navy ship – and Cindy arrived in 1966.

The Education Centre was officially opened by the duke in 1976 and over the past four decades the zoo’s education programme has reached more than a million pupils.

An agreement was signed in 2011 for the ten-year loan of giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian.

• To share a special memory, e-mail details of your experience with your name, year of birth and a contact number to Sandie Robb, srobb@rzss.org.uk or send to Sandie Robb, Senior Education Officer, Edinburgh Zoo, 134 Corstorphine Road, Edinburgh, EH12 6TS.