THE ROYAL NAVY'S ZOO

There are several bits on the WWW showing [or mentioning] details of the Royal Navy's Zoo which was sited on Whale Island Portsmouth in the famous naval gunnery school. In its day it was much visited and had many wonderful animals, many of them buried on the Island.  Quite a few of them were transferred to the Zoo from ships, kept on board until they were too large, at a time when it was a cruel act to keep them incarcerated with little room for exercise, not to mention the ever present danger of the animal hurting somebody. This picture is the sole copyright of the IWM.

 

It shows a polar bear called Barbara greeting old shipmates. She was rescued as a cub from drifting ice off Greenland and was for some time the ship's mascot, until she became too large for the mess decks of a light cruiser and moved to a new home at Whale Island. The picture text suggests that the bear recognises two of her old ship mates, and true or not, that is a lovely thought and story. Hopefully the bear would have gone on to live a good and long life, growing to a stand-up height of  approximately 8 feet for a female [10 to 12 feet for a male]. I suggest that it is cruel to keep such an animal in captivity [although better than than dying at sea on a slowly melting ice-island] for they are known to wander far and wide in their natural environment, so this tiny restrictive cage must be depressing for her.

This snippet is not on the WWW and comes from the newspapers. NAVAL ZOO.pdf  The Zoo started in 1893 and this cutting comes from a 1921 edition.

There were lots of additions and sadly deaths, and this is just a typical one, without giving you a whole host of other examples. This comes from May 1936 one of the last arrivals at the zoo. The Zoo had closed come 1940 and the animals had been relocated to other zoo's around the country, especially to Zoo's away from large town's and cities which would be obvious target for German bombs.

That became one of the overriding factors in the decision to dispose of the naval zoo at Whale Island. The Germans would very quickly start to bomb military/naval targets especially high profile targets like a naval dockyard which came to fruition in the earliest months of the war. Apart from the welfare of the animals in the zoo, what would happen were the animals to escape after bombs had destroyed their cages, pens and secure areas?  This article was designed to assure people living near zoo's that all would be well.

Read the 5th article in this list of "Today's News" from August 26th 1939    1939-08-26 Today's News Zoo;s.jpg

I mentioned above the potential size of a full grown polar bear, in this example a female up to 8 feet tall whilst standing on its hind legs. What about an elephant standing on all four legs: what might be its height from toe to top of shoulder?  Well the type of elephant in this case would be of the Indian [Asian] species and that could be anything from 7 foot to 10 foot [African elephants are very much taller and heavier]. Long after the Whale Island naval zoo had closed {fast forward to 1952}, another cruiser [you will recall that the polar bear was rescued by the crew of an unnamed cruiser] this time HMS Ceylon, decided that they wanted a mascot to match the ships crest which was this

an Indian [short eared] elephant standing between two palm trees, presumably on the island of Ceylon. Reading the following article, the sudden requirement for an elephant, note, a baby, was when the ship was in Singapore, so they clearly had designs on a beast from up country in Malaya. The article comes from the Singapore press but it doesn't tell of the outcome of this rather bizarre requirement. I doubt whether anything came of it but it was a nice thought, albeit a potty thought! That bit about an ammunition locker for its cage confuses me, and I naturally assume that they are talking about an upper deck ready-use locker. She was a small cruiser, main armament being 6" guns supported by 4" guns fed from magazines with traditional small AA guns fed from lockers - small lockers!

2.9.1952 wanted a baby elephant.pdf

From the Navy List for 1952 I have retrieved the following data

The CO's of HMS CEYLON from April 1951 to August 1952 were Captain [X] George Arthur Thring DSO succeeded by  Captain [X] James Coverley Stopford OBE.  Neither were Gunners. Had they been, they might have poo-pooed the idea of the proposed elephant house.
The ships Commander was Cdr (O) (Met) Terence Waters Brown Shaw DSC. His specialisations were [O] = Fleet Air Arm Observer further specialising in [MET] = Meteorology