The London Zoo was the first zoological garden in the world to exhibit
thylacines in 1850. Between 1850 and 1931, a total of 20 thylacines
were exhibited; more than any other zoo outside of Australia. An
additional 5 specimens that were sent to the zoo either died in transit,
were dead on arrival, or died shortly after arrival.
Map of London Zoo, 1857.
of the vulture
cages where the third thylacine obtained by the zoo was
temporarily housed. Place your pointer over the map to magnify.
A map from 1874 showing
the kangaroo sheds (highlighted in red) in the north-eastern corner of
the London Zoo, which contained two thylacine enclosures.
Ronald C. Gunn (1850), in a letter to the Zoological Society in London,
detailed his arrangements for the transit of London Zoo's first thylacines.
Gunn's letter, dated 29th December 1849, states:
"Sir - I have shipped
on board the barque Stirlingshire, Chris Gwatkin, master, two living Thylacines
(male and female) for the Zoological Society of London, and which I trust
will reach you alive and well. Captain Gwatkin, whom I have known
for some years, has promised his utmost personal care and attention to
them during the passage home. I have put on board twelve fat sheep
(together with hay for their sustenance) as sea stores for the Thylacines,
and have made every arrangement I could think of to ensure their safe arrival
in London. I have had the female in confinement for upwards of six
months, and it has become sufficiently tame to permit its head to be scratched,
or to be otherwise touched through the bars of its prison, without showing
any anger or irritation. The male, for which the Society is indebted
to my friend Dr. James Grant of Launceston, was only caught a month ago.
We placed it at once with the female, with which it seems to be on the
best of terms, but it is not yet so familiar with the presence of man.
I have purposefully kept their cage close to the side of the path where
many of my servants pass daily, and where my children are in the habit
of playing, and I find that beyond a hissing noise made by the male, they
do not seem to be disturbed by anyone going close to them. I have
fed them exclusively on mutton. They prefer the parts containing
bones, and do not seem to relish the liver, heart, lights,
& c. Both these animals have been caught in snares
upon the upper part of the St. Patrick's River, about thirty miles N.E.
of Launceston. The female, which was first caught, was placed for
some time in a small unfurnished house at the St. Patrick's until I could
devise a means of getting her down here: and when I sent a trustworthy
person up for her, he assured me that she was excessively agile - springing
from the floor to the top of the walls, 6 to 8 feet, and from joist to
joist near the roof with the activity of a cat. He also informed
me that the Thylacine will not eat the Wombat, an animal exceedingly abundant
on the St. Patrick's River, and with which they attempted to feed it during
the month it was there, previous to my having it brought down to my residence.
Otherwise I have not had any great opportunity of observing any peculiar
habits. Both Dr. Grant and I continue to offer high rewards for living
specimens, and you shall have all the benefit of our success, whatever
it may be. The great increase in sheep in all directions obliges
the shepherds to destroy them by every possible means, and they are rarely
caught alive, or if so caught, are killed whilst in the snares. I
am therefore more than usually anxious that these should reach you safely,
and I have offered the Captain a proportionate reward for their delivery
Both of Gunn's thylacines
arrived safely; the male survived in captivity from 1850 to 1853 and the
female from 1850 to 1857. They were portrayed soon after their arrival
in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society by the artist Joseph Wolf.
Illustration of London
Zoo's first thylacines. Artist: Joseph Wolf, 1850
Broderip (1852) in his book "Leaves from the Note Book of a Naturalist",
gives an early description of thylacines observed at the London Zoo:
"Thylacinus cynocephalus, the dog-faced opossum, vulgarly
known as the zebra opossum and zebra wolf in Van Diemen's Land, is about
the size of a young wolf. The short, smooth, dusky brown hair, is
barred on the back, especially at the lower part and on the rump, with
some fifteen or sixteen black transverse stripes, broadest on the back,
and narrowing as they extend down the sides. Two or more of these
zebra-like marks descend down the thighs considerably. The ground colour
on the back is of a blackish-grey hue. The tail is long, but not
large, nor does it look well-proportioned or symmetrically set on.
It has forty-six teeth: eight incisors in the upper jaw and six in the
lower, two canines above and two below, and twenty-eight molar teeth, fourteen
in the upper jaw and the same number in the lower. There are five
toes on each of the fore-feet, and four on each of the hind-feet.
Mr. Harris has described this, the largest of the Australian carnivorous
animals, in the Transactions of the Linnaean Society. He remarks
that it utters a short, guttural cry, and appears exceedingly inactive
and stupid, having, like the owl, an almost constant motion with the nictitating
membrane of the eye. The animal described by him was taken in a trap
baited with kanguroo [sic] flesh, and lived only a few hours after
its capture: in its stomach were found the partly-digested remains of a
The native abode of this curious animal is among the caverns and rocks
of the deep and almost impenetrable glens near the highest mountains of
Van Diemen's Land.
I first clearly saw a pair of these animals fairly out in the light on
the 26th May last, in one of the dens appropriated to the carnivorous animals
in the Garden of the Zoological Society in the Regent's Park. They
had been presented to the Society by Mr. Gunn. I had, on a former
day, seen them imperfectly by getting into the outer apartment of their
den and looking into their dormitory. When fairly exposed, they presented
to my eye the images of the most extraordinary animals that I had seen;
creatures, I repeat, such as one has beheld in dreams - uncouth,
loggerheaded, oddly made up, as if Nature had been trying her 'prentice
han' at wolf-making, and as if they belonged to a very ancient state
of things in this planet, as all the native Australian quadrupeds look.
The clumsy, ill-defined forms of these thylacines have puzzled men to give
them a name. 'Wolves, 'hyaenas,' are some of the appellations applied
to them by the colonists, who saw a dog-like or wolf-like head on a body
striped with marks resembling, in a degree, those of some of the hyaenas.
It is impossible for a palaeontologist to look at them, without fancying
that he sees some fossil animal recalled to life; and, indeed, the extinct
zoophagous marsupial Thylacotherium
must, as its name implies, have borne some resemblance to the animals now
under consideration. There cannot have been any very wide zoological
interval between the forms of the thylacine and of the thylacothere.
The thylacines, like all the true Australian mammals, are strictly marsupial;
and the female rejoices in as good a pouch after her kind as the best-provided
kanguroo [sic] of them all.
And what a beautiful provision this is; how admirably adapted to the region
in which the marsupials live, and move, and have their being. Australia
is proverbially wanting in rivers, and during a considerable portion of
the year the supply of water is very precarious. Most of these quadrupeds
drink very little; and the mother, instead of dragging her young about
wearily to look, perhaps in vain, for water, has them comfortably wrapped
up in her pouch, and thrives where a fox and her cubs would miserably perish".
thylacine at the London Zoo, circa 1910.
The last thylacine to have been displayed at the London Zoo was a female
purchased for the sum of £150 from Bruce Chapman the animal dealer.
She was shipped to London together with another female which is reflected
in the purchase price. Chapman had obtained the thylacines from the
Beaumaris Zoo (QD) in exchange for an elephant. Unfortunately, due
to strike action at UK ports, the ship transporting the two thylacines
was unable to dock and was forced to stay at sea for nearly six months.
During this time, one of the females died (view
The Mercury of the 29th January 1926 (p. 6), in an article entitled "The
Tasmanian Wolf", reports:
"A cablegram from London yesterday announced the arrival at the London
Zoo of a specimen of the Tasmanian 'tiger,' or wolf, which, it was stated,
was considered to be one of the rarest animals in the world. The
animal was one of a pair sent last August from the Hobart Zoo to Chapman's,
the wild animal dealers, in exchange for foreign animals. As mentioned
in the cablegram, one of the pair died at sea. Among English, American,
and Continental Zoos, the Tasmanian 'tiger' is a highly prized
now so rigidly protected
by the authorities, however, that the London dealer who imported the wolf
was not allowed to take a male out of the country, and had to content himself
with two females. Owing to the shipping strike, the two voyagers
were six months aboard ship. One of them died, but the survivor is
in fine condition, and, being the only specimen of its kind in a European
menagerie, and the last, it is said, to be allowed to be exported alive,
it is not likely to suffer from a lack of attention".
chiefly because of its antiquity and its confinement to Tasmania.
In fact all the indigenous animals of Tasmania, including the devil, are
much sought after by dealers and Zoo agents".
In an article entitled "Tasmanian Wolf", the Daily Mercury of the
14th April 1926 (p. 9) states:
"One of the rarest of living animals - a Tasmanian wolf, or thylacine -
has arrived at the London Zoo (say the 'Daily Chronicle'). This large
and ferocious animal, though wolf-like in shape, is a marsupial, the female
having a pouch in which the young is developed. Black stripes on
its tawny body have earned for it the name of Tasmanian tiger. At
one time the thylacine, by its habit of preying upon sheep, was a terror
to the Australian settlers, and it has now been almost exterminated, the
few remaining specimens being confined to the mountains of Tasmania.
The animal is
No. 62 North Mammal
House (circa 1930).
Courtesy: Zoological Society
The surviving female
was resident at the London Zoo from 26th January 1926 until her death on
the 9th August 1931. She was housed in the North Mammal House, which
can be seen in an enlargement of the London Zoo map from 1930. The
North Mammal House is noted as No. 62 on the map above.