The Animals in the Zoo Don't Mind the Raids
There's No Danger of Bombs Opening the Cages
The Zoo in Regent's Park is not only one of the favourite resorts of Londoners but a national institution. Hence this account, reprinted by permission from "The Times", of how it is faring during the weeks of bombing will be of interest even to many who have not – as yet – passed through its gates.
The Zoo has not escaped its share of bombs any more than the rest of London; and, like the rest of London, it is carrying on. It has suffered material damage, but no casualties to its inhabitants beyond the death of Boxer, the young giraffe born at Whipsnade, who panicked when bombs fell in a paddock near the giraffe house and died from overstrained heart, and the escape of three humming birds through a hole in the birdhouse roof. Some serious damage to glass has been caused by the detonation of unexploded bombs – that task so gallantly performed by the bomb-disposal section of the R.E.s; but after representations were made in the right quarter, detonating is now done at a greater distance and with fuller precautions, so that it is no longer a source of trouble.
Looking after a Zoo in wartime involves its own peculiar responsibilities. For instance, if a bomb falls in it the inhabitants cannot be evacuated; yet they must continue to be fed and looked after. Luckily the two possible time bombs that fell in the Gardens without exploding were both small and not unduly near a populous district, and the animals' routine could continue until the R.E.s got round to digging the bombs up. Then, of course, there is the obvious danger of savage animals escaping after their cages have been damaged by a bomb. Luckily, the great majority of Zoo animals are not savage and could be easily dealt with by the Zoo's special A.R.P. staff.
The humming birds which escaped are doubtless gone for ever, but do not constitute a danger to the population of London. A demoiselle crane escaped into Regent's Park when its enclosure was damaged by a high-explosive bomb, but was recaptured by the offer of food after a few days; and a zebra which was liberated by a direct hit on the zebra house was rounded up without much difficulty and shepherded into a shed in the stores yard to await the morning.
Experienced keepers can manage to recapture most animals; but if a brown bear, say, or a chimpanzee, or a large antelope were to be liberated and to prove difficult, there are rifles and scatter-guns which could be brought into play as a last resort.
There remain the really dangerous animals. Of these, the poisonous snakes and spiders were all destroyed within a few hours of the declaration of war, since it was felt that, if released, they might elude capture. The only others in this category are the larger cats and Polar bears. All the dangerous larger cats have been placed in the lion house, and every night are shut up in the inner sleeping dens. These are so situated that it would take two bombs to release an inmate – one to break open the den and a second to break the bars of either the outdoor or the indoor cage. The odds against such a double event are so great that its possibility can be safely disregarded. The Polar bears (whom the keepers almost unanimously regard as the most alarming inmates of the Zoo) are each night shut in the underground tunnel behind their terrace, from which escape would appear to be impossible.
Bombs near the Zebras
The Zoo authorities feel that no apprehension need be entertained of danger from lions or tigers being added to danger from bombs. Meanwhile, they have kept the Gardens open as one of the few places of open-air entertainment in war-stricken London, and numbers of visitors have testified to the feeling of escape into a saner and more agreeable world that accompanies an afternoon's visit to the Zoo.
The animals themselves have been singularly little incommoded by the air raids. A bomb which fell just beside the old rodent house made it unsafe, and all its inmates have had to be transferred to the north mammal house and the adjacent isolation ward; but none of them shows any trace of ill-effects. A hasty inspection of the zebra house in the middle of the night when the bomb fell on it have the impression that at least half a dozen beasts must have been killed, yet none was even injured, apart from scratches. A roof beam came down between two zebras in a stall, but without touching them.
The stall with the female wild ass and her foal was smashed to bits; the mother escaped into the paddock, while the foal, slightly scratched, found a way out at the back over the ruins of the clerk of the works' office, and was found in the morning sheltering, as one lady put it, "under the hippo" – in sober fact, in the stokehole beneath the hippopotamus house.
Monkey Hill received a direct hit, which freakishly blew half-a-ton or so of the concrete of the hill over the parapet without damaging the latter at all. The monkeys escaped because, like good citizens, they had taken shelter. They were all in the inner fastnesses of the hill and none was injured. Next morning, far from showing any sign of shock, they were enjoying the new opportunities for gymnastic play afforded by the crater and the tumbled blocks of concrete around it.
For a time the Zoo was largely without running water owing to a direct hit on a main; but all needs were supplied by peripatetic water carts. Visitors had to be sent away unfed, as the top storey of the restaurant was badly damaged by fire; but now the catering service is re-established. The Zoo in fact is a microcosm of London. Hitler's bombs cause a certain amount of damage to it, and a considerable amount of inconvenience; but they have not destroyed the morale or the routine of its inhabitants, animal or human, and it continues to function with a very respectable degree of efficiency.