The first recorded captive tiger in England

The exact date of the foundation of the royal menagerie appears to be uncertain. My source tells me that around 1120 King Henry I established a 'flourishing menagerie near Oxford which included the first recorded captive tiger in England'.

Royal menagerie in 1816
Royal menagerie in 1816. Picture in the public domain.

Another source tells me that the menagerie was founded at the Tower of London during the reign of King John (1199-1216). I favour the first date! 

On that basis, the menagerie was moved to the Tower of London about 100 years after it was established. 

The animals were gifts from other royalty. Various other tigers were presented to the Crown by rulers such as Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor.

The zoo was closed to the public until the middle of the eighteenth century (around 1750). Until then royalty and guests were allowed to see the animals which were rare and exotic to the English of that era.

Knowledge of managing captive animals was relative poor and it is said that many died quite quickly. They lived in cramped conditions and were fed the wrong food. The cold English climate made matters worse for animals used to tropical conditions.

From the 14th century the animals were kept in a separate tower. Picture of London (1809) refers to 'Harry, a royal tyger (not a typo) from Bengal and one of the finest ever seen, given by Mr (now Sir Evan) Nepean in 1791. The tiger was quite tame. Admiral Rainier gifted a 'curious Ring-tailed Tyger from Bengal'.

The animals were moved to the newly opened Zoological Society of London, now London Zoo in Regent's Park in 1830. Some animals remained at the Tower. Alfred Cops the keeper continued to display his own animals. They were eventually sold to the American showman Benjamin Franklin Brown.

There are model animals at the Tower of London today reflecting the building's past links to being a zoo.

Source: Wild Cats of the World page 344.


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