“SERIOUSLY, WHY ARE THE PENGUINS HERE?”
ZSL London Zoo not only is the embodiment of dense biodiversity, but also a Pantheon of the 20th Century contemporary architecture. The Australian-themed Mappin Terraces, designed by Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell in 1913 is now Grade II listed. On the other side, Lord Snowdon’s pioneering use of aluminum in 1962 held the giant aviary structure in tension and created a weightless look, just like a bird, or a fairy godmother’s hat. Among all, the most famous architecture was the Penguin Pool designed by the legendary firm Tecton led by émigré Russian architecture Berthold Lubetkin, who placed, within the very limited space, two spiral slides so that the playful penguins could exercise elegantly; at the same time, all the visitors’ curiosity could be satisfied by watching the penguins moving in a row. From different angles, one can see the pool manifests in a variety of forms; it was a masterpiece in architectural history. Upon its opening, young Princess Elizabeth came down to send her regards and held a penguin’s hand. However, the glory all belonged to the year of 1934, in fact, ever since the penguins were moved, for unknown reasons, to the ducks enclosure; they seemed to be reluctant to move back to that luxury mansion.
The new penguin beach resembles the animal’s native South American beach landscape, it is four times the size of the old pool, and the water is twice as deep. In this wholly open space, the colony of penguins can swim as freely as they want. When they are tired, they can rest in the shades of the trees. Around the water tanks, the visitors get to see underwater view through tempered glass windows. In the springtime of 2012, right before the London Olympics opened; large outdoor displays advertising on the grand opening of the new Penguin Beach can be found in all underground stations. On the opening day, surrounded by the bustling encouragement by the zookeepers through portable sound amplifiers, primarily for the hundreds of children visitors, and after trying out the water temperature, the penguins went into the water in a liberal manner. They bathed in the bird chirpings and flower scent and roamed the sprouting spring. All the children were excited, and that made all the adults happy, except for one the heron that has lived by this pond couldn’t seem to accept the unexpected fact.
The heron was stunned, looking at the never-seen-before black-and-white animals, not only they appeared in its own day-to-day scenery out of thin air, but also swaggered back and forth between the trees and the water. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never seen a heron idling for such a long time, long enough that even after I had taken its picture, it was still in the same position.
It used to take thousands of years for one in a million species to travel across the ocean to another continent, until the colonial ships sailing from Europe brought legions of exotic animals to lands they didn’t belong to. Such displaced residencies can all be described rhetorically as magical greatness of human achievement. However, the action of taking a species away from its origin is abnormal and overbearing by nature.
A surprised heron reminds me of that little boy who blurts out the truth of the emperor’s nonexistent new clothes.
“SERIOUSLY, WHY ARE THE PENGUINS HERE?”
Out of the equally unexplainable reasons, I boarded on an aircraft and came across the continents and oceans, arrived in this faraway island country, followed Google maps, rode the underground train, transferred on a bus, and purchased the costly zoo ticket at 23.5 pounds; and at the moment when the penguins entered their new water pond, I took a picture of a heron’s dumbstruck look. And this Zoo of London, one of the first public zoos in the world, is just the beginning of my journey.
Excerpt from the chapter “London Zoo: The Rise of the Zoo-goer Class”
The Grand Zoo was Written and photographed by M. Nadia Ho