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Which Exotic Animals Were Kept at the Tower of London?

The royal practice of keeping all manner of exotic animals at the Tower of London was commonplace over the course of about 600 years, from the early 13th century until 1835. It began when King John first kept lions at the Tower around 1210. During the reign of his son, Henry III, a polar bear was added to the royal collection, a gift from King Haakon IV of Norway. Henry decided that the bear should be allowed to swim and catch fish in the River Thames, so every morning the animal’s Norwegian handler would march the tethered bear down to the river, and allow him to fish for himself. The bear would allow the handler to muzzle him for transport, and the handler was able to control the swimming bear with a long rope.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

  • Interest in the Royal Menagerie began to fade in the early 1800s, and by 1830 the 300 or so animals living at the Tower were moved to the Zoological Society of London in Regent’s Park (now the famous London Zoo).
  • The only animals that remain at the Tower of London today are its ravens, looked after by an official Ravenmaster, who regularly posts updates about the birds on a popular Facebook page.
  • Thirteen galvanized wire statues of various animals -- from a family of lions to a troupe of baboons -- now commemorate the Tower’s most unusual inhabitants. They were created by artist Kendra Haste in 2010.
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