Since the early 1200’s the Tower of London has been home to more than monarchs, lords and prisoners. Keeping exotic animals at the tower became a tradition started by King John in 1210. Everything from lions to tigers to bears, oh my, have been kept in and around the tower grounds. Today not much remains of the fantastic menagerie except a few trained crows and metal statues where the real beasts once stood, but the stone walls pulse with the history that they have seen.
King John first kept lions at the tower, something known from the records of payment made to the keepers. The lions, who had been lucky enough to survive the harrowing journey from Africa were kept as playthings for the courts entertainment. Everyone wanted to come to see the fantastic beasts that were being kept in the Tower of London. This was soon expanded to include an elephant given to Henry III, a polar bear who swam on a leash in the Thames, ostriches and monkeys. Though these animals were often cared for with good intentions it did not always go as planned. Once the menagerie was opened to the public rumors spread that ostriches preferred to eat iron. Needless to say, the ostrich did not fare well on a diet of nails. Other animals were also not very lucky. Baiting was a popular form of entertainment where the lions, and sometimes dogs and bears, would be put together in hopes that they would put up a good show as they fought each other to death. Though this tradition was not the main purpose of these animals for long, it is still a tradition that can been seen in the form of dog fighting and cock fighting all around the world. But by the 1800’s, after a few mishaps with some animals eating unruly guests and attacks on keepers, it was decided that the animals should be moved to a different home. The royal menagerie was sent to live out the rest of their days at the London Zoo in Regents Park. The London Zoo has grown with the times and is now an excellent example of a zoological park. In my own opinion, each animal was given ample space and everyone seemed to be enjoying the sunshine and fun enrichment on my last visit. If you’re in the area I recommend stopping by both the Tower of London for a tour and to see their piece on the Beasts of the Tower and hop on over to the London Zoo, neither will disappoint.