The Tower of London is known for its rich and rather dark history having been a royal palace, prison, fortress, place for executions and at one time a zoo housing a menagerie of animals including leopards, a polar bear, elephant, monkeys, zebra, ostrich and lions, most of which were given as ‘gifts’ from foreign countries to the monarchy. In 1937 two very well-preserved lion skulls were excavated from the Towers moat and later confirmed, through genetic testing, to be the now extinct pure Barbary lions. Interestingly the skulls were carbon dated back to between “1420 and 1480 for one, and between 1280 and 1385 for the other, making it the oldest lion found in the UK since the extinction of wild cave lions during the last ice age.” Lions being symbols of nobility and strength of the monarchy did not prevent them from mistreatment, and the skulls revealed evidence that they suffered from nutritional and physical stress which would have been in addition to the stress caused from their initial capture, transport to the zoo and a life in captivity.
Visitors were allowed to view the animals and apparently during the 18th century the price of admission was “three half-pence, or the supply of a cat or dog to be fed to the lions.” The collection of animals continued to grow and expand in species until it was realized that the Tower was no place to keep them. Suffice it to say the attitude towards captive animals, and animals in general was not very good, but as people’s views of animals in captivity started to change most of them, except for those in the private collection of Keeper Alfred Cops which were later re-homed in 1835 after a series of accidents, were sent to the Zoological Society of London in Regent Park in 1831 and early 1832 to establish the London Zoo. The Tower’s zoo was officially closed in 1835.
By current standards the conditions these animals were kept in must have been appalling or close to what we see in some of the modern worlds worst zoos. Thankfully the only remaining animals on the Tower grounds today are those made of galvanized wire.
To celebrate the history of the Royal Menagerie, contemporary animal sculptor, and a member of the Society of Wildlife Artists (UK) and a signature member of the Society of Animal Artists (USA), Kendra Haste was commissioned to create life-size replicas of the wild creatures that were once held at the Tower.
These amazing and incredible life-like sculptures were created by using layers of galvanized wire, twisted and even painted to produce the results which give a sense of “a living, breathing subject in a static 3-D form.” The result can be seen in these photos, in person one can easily imagine them coming to life a haunting tribute to those creatures, victims of wildlife trafficking, who were imprisoned and perished at the Tower.
Currently on display until 2021, this incredible exhibit is a must see if you live, or will be in London, so be sure to check it out if you have the chance.