History Hive: 200 Years of Animals and Culture

Written by Paige Tamasi

Recently the Zoological Society of London has launched History Hive: a public resource where citizens and locals can contribute their personal histories to enlighten the past 200 years of ZSL’s societal contributions.

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is a popular conversation charity, most widely known as the force behind the London Zoo and the Whipsnade Zoo. Their publication of History Hive furthers the celebration of their upcoming bicentenary anniversary (which will be celebrated in 2026). 

But what are the goals of History Hive? And what is it?

Well, History Hive is a digital project where people can upload photos or send in physical objects reflecting on the past 200 years of ZSL’s experiences. By engaging with the public in this venture towards immortalising ZSL history, the ZSL is hoping to receive past zoo tickets, old toys, maps, written testimonies of personal memories people have in either of the ZSL zoos, or other souvenirs. In receiving past memorabilia and evidence of ZSL’s impact on London culture for the past 200 years, they hope to gain a deeper understanding of their history —from the public’s perspective.

For their upcoming bicentenary celebration in 2026, the ZSL hopes to display these publicly submitted artefacts alongside ones from the ZSL’s archive, creating a dual perspective experience for Londoners and the ZSL: one where the publics’ and corporates’ past combine to illustrate the full image of ZSL’s conservation, animal care, and cultural impact. 

The end of History Hive will be the exhibition during the 200th anniversary celebration for ZSL in 2026. The exhibition will be displayed throughout the 36 acres of the London Zoo, and the ZSL has promised to send invitations to anyone who participated in History Hive. ZSL is determined that the people’s involvement in the ZSL can celebrate this monumental event alongside those working with ZSL. 

Now the ZSL has a rich history— that is undeniable with 200 years worth of it. But included in the society’s archive are artefacts such as artwork created for the opening of Whipsnade Zoo (1931), as well as various limited edition memorabilia that celebrate the London Zoo and its events (such as the birth of a baby polar bear from the 1940s). But the star of the show, at least from the perspective of this history buff, is the first edition copy of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. 

If, somehow, you’re still not excited about this venture by ZSL, then perhaps you need to know more about them. They’ve had historically prosperous relationships with iconic scientific and cultural figures like Charles Darwin and Sir David Attenborough. Oh, and Winnie the Pooh, who was based on the real-life bear Winnie from ZSL’s The London Zoo. Winnie, the real black bear, had befriended AA Milne and Christopher Robin, who then went on to write the childhood favourite Winnie the Pooh

ZSL has contributed 200 years worth of scientific discovery and animal conversation and hopes to continue for many many more years. For those of you interested in submitting your story of ZSL, whether physical, digital, or ephemeral, you should look here at History Hive.

Written by Paige Tamasi, Edited by Paige Tamasi, Photography by the Zoological Society of LondonPublished by Paige Tamasi.