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Recollections of the old London Zoo Monkeyhouse.

Discussion in 'United Kingdom' started by Pertinax, 16 Dec 2014.

  1. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

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    Mention of this in a gallery thread about London prompted me to add a few recollections of this most interesting house that predated the Sobell Pavilions for ZSL's larger primates.

    I believe the House was built in 1925(?- correct me if I am wrong Tim)). It was a long low building just inside the main Zoo entrance, roughly where Gorilla Kingdom( and formerly the Sobell Pavilions) is now. The glass-paned entrance doors were roughly opposite the existing Reptile House entrance, so it was one of the first buildings most people visited on entering the Zoo.

    The house itself consisted of two long rows of indoor cages all with connecting doors to outside ones. All were raised above ground level so the floors were mostly waist high or thereabouts. Inside the house the two rows of cages were divided by a public concourse and were roughly divided into four sections. Three sections(from the doors on entering, the whole of the left hand side, and the further right hand side) were for Monkeys and the fourth section,the right hand side nearest the entrance, consisted of larger cages for the Great Apes. Long gloomy service passageways ran along the length of the building behind and below the cages. The left hand row was divided by some steps leading down to the passage way and a quite spacious keeper's kitchen and food prep. area. Access to the righthand passage was also by steps roughly opposite by the Gorilla cage.

    The Ape cages were screened by a glass barrier, with a passageway at the front between glass and cage fronts that was large enough for keepers to walk along. The rest of the Monkey cages just had a simple rail barrier seperating the animals from the public.

    Most of the Monkeys could see their neighbours as the divisions between the cages were largely mesh. There was frequently a 'hub-bub' where all the monkeys in the house became excited and displayed around their cages, one cage after another along the length of the house would echo with calling and leaping and hitting doors etc.. Even any slight stimulus such as a strange sound, or a fight or mating in one cage, could set this chain reaction off. After it finished there would be a sudden silence before normal activity resumed. Another familiar sound in the House was that of the small metal trap doors connecting inside and outside cages,swinging as the monkeys came and went.

    Keepers entered the cages to clean them through small metal sliding doors in the lower sections, which were accessed from the service passageways behind. Food preparation was interesting; it was done on a big scale by cutting up a large amount of fruit and vegetables and with Monkey chow added, which were all then thoroughly mixed into a 'salad' and all shovelled into a wheelbarrow. Two keepers would then wheel the cart along the passageway,stopping at each service door which was opened and the required amount of food quickly thrown in (I seem to remember the Monkeys weren't even shut outside during this procedure!). The Apes' food was similar, but their portions were measured into labelled buckets, not served en masse.

    Species kept that I remember were Mandrill( single & pair, Drill(trio), Olive and Yellow Baboons, Gelada (pair) Assamese Macaque(pair), Pigtailed Macaque(group), Liontailed Macaque(single female) Owl faced Monkey(single male) Talapoins, Mona Monkey(albino) Sooty(?) Mangabey. I'm sure there were more.

    The Ape cages numbered about six. In the late 1960's the Orangutans normally occupied the cages nearest the entrance doors, then further along the adult pair of chimpanzees, Dick & Abena. Guy the Gorilla's cage was bigger than the others and the indoor was tiled in green. It had an indoor and 'middle' section, plus the square outdoor barred cage. One of the adjacent outdoor cages was later altered and raised significantly in height for Orangutans. Straw was always used for the Apes' bedding up until this era, when it was replaced with woodwool.

    There is a good aerial photo of this House in one of the International Zoo Yearbooks (sorry, don't know which). If anyone has any photos of this house they could add to the relevant Gallery, I'd be interested to see them.
     
    Last edited: 17 Dec 2014
  2. pipaluk

    pipaluk Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the description Pertinax, although I definitely went in this building as very young child, I have no recollection of it. My earliest memories of London Zoo are of Chi Chi, probably in 1971, when I was 4, I think the monkey house was demolished by then.
    I did see a few clips of the inside cages in ' The Zoo in Winter' programme filmed in the late 60s, which was repeated on BBC a few years ago. It reminded me a bit of what I can remember of Bristol's ape/monkey houses which I would have seen when I was around 6 or 7. Not great & very bare, but there is a major zoo in the UK which still has something similar nearly 50 years on!
     
  3. Tim May

    Tim May Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Many thanks, “Pertinax”, for your very interesting reminiscences of the old Monkey House.

    (A minor detail; this building replaced the earlier Monkey House of 1864 and was actually opened at the end of 1927.)

    Perhaps not surprisingly, my main memory of this building is of the famous western lowland gorilla “Guy” although I can also remember seeing the young mountain gorilla “Reuben” there when I was a small child. I didn’t appreciate then just how rare “Reuben” was or realise that I’d never see another individual (unless that rather contentious specimen in Antwerp really is a genuine mountain gorilla and not an eastern lowland gorilla).

    I especially remember the albino mona monkey too; sometimes it shared a cage with a red uakari.

    Those photographs “Nanook” posted certainly brought back lots of memories.
     
  4. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

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    You bested me there as I never saw him, at least that I remember anyway. I remember a visit once during the period when he would have been there but the house was closed- I think it was when one of the first Orangutans(Bulu or Dan) was born.

    Thanks for correction on the date.

    I believe the female Gorilla 'Amohoro' at Antwerp has been proven by DNA test to be an Eastern Lowland.
     
  5. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

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    I forgot to mention- the inside cages were on two levels with a higher platform at the back( this formed part of the 'ceiling' of the service passage beneath). From memory they were tiled in white. There was a single( or maybe two) wooden bar high up across the width of each cage and that was all the 'furniture' Typical of the period.:(

    Bristol's old Monkey House was a very similar design and would have 'worked' the same way, though just the one row of cages.
     
  6. garyjp

    garyjp Well-Known Member

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    I can only remember the Sobell to be honest and they did have a large group of pig tailed Macaques led by Porky - i always wondered what happened to them