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Media:London's Animal Kingdom (1949)
Posted by: Thomas Dewar on July 18 2010 14:25

LONDON'S ANIMAL

KINGDOM

While Number 74 buses were carrying tired crowds away from the Regent's Park Zoo one evening last week, a quiet but important meeting was taking place.

In the Society's great hall, insulated from the sound of grunting leopards, peanut vendors and crying children, Professor Alexander Petrunkevitch, of Yale University, was talking about the family tree of the spiders; Dr. A Tindell Hopwood had quite a lot to say about a new fossil baboon, and Dr. R. E. Rewell explained that a lump on the snout of a capybara is a sexual characteristic.

Dr. Edward Hindle, the Zoo's Scientific Director, had previously told the Fellows about 23 additions to the Society's mengarie, including a lesser moorhen blown on to a ship off Beira, a Guereza monkey, a fruit bat, a yak, an Indian tiger and a camel, species bactrianus,

The Zoo's Three Parts

More than 100 learned Fellows and their guests listened intently, raised disputations points over the papers, and gave Professor Petrunkevitch a special if not discrete ovation.. Then they went home through the gathering darkness to reflect on the new and curious subjects of the animal kingdom.*

By such monthly meeting the Zoo manifests its dual personality. On one side there is a vast menagerie (one of the biggest in the world) which attracts more people than all the museums of London put together. On the other there is a Zoological Society which publishes descriptions of Zoo newcomers and their characteristics in thousands of scientific papers.

From an administrative viewpoint, the Zoo, like an Army Division or Gaul of old, is divided into three parts. The honorary Secretary is Dr, Sheffield Airey Neave, a famous entomologist. The titular administrator, he acts as a bridge between the menagerie, the Society and the 21 august Fellows of the Zoo Counci, headed by His Grace the Duke of Devonshire (President).

Mr. G. A. Cansdale, formerly in the Gold Coast forestry service, is the official superintendent of the animals. There are also financial organisers, head caterers and a superintendent of the Whipsnade open-air menagerie, Bedfordshire.

But one of the heaviest burdens falls on Dr. Hindle, the Zoo's Scientific Director, who was Senior Zoologist at the University of Glasgow at the time he was offered the Regent's Park appointment. He was already well known for his work on various insect-borne diseases, including yellow fever and a minor study on cat distemper.

Once he had even carried out some research in the Zoo's own pathological laboratories in a successful attempt to make a vaccine to immunise cats (of all biological kinds) against a speedy and horrible death. Even leopards and lynx were not immune from the fatal "flu".

Full Circle

Professor Hindle had also periodically brought numbers of animals to the Zoo, and had organised a new Zoological Society in Scotland with its own zoo at Calder Park, near Glasgow.

In serveral ways the Regent's Park appointment achieved the full ciricle of activity for this scientific Yorkshireman. The study of microscopic disease-bearing protozoa has occupied much of his life. In pursuit of the insects which transmit them and the animals, human or otherwise, which carry them, he has visited many countries. At Regent Park he is now within a hundred yards of a complete biological world in microcosm- behind bars.

As a boy in the West Riding he kept animals and formed a collection of beetles. After graduating at the Royal College of Science, he spent a year at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine under Sir Ronald Ross, the malariologist, and subsequently joined his parents, who were on a visit to California, thus opening the way for further work at the San Diego Marine Laboratories and the State University at Berkeley, Cal.

Bye Fellow at Magdalene, researcher at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, Dr. Hindle saw five years active service in World War I, and later occupied a Chair at Cairo School of Medicine. In 1924, he came home to the School of Tropical Medicine in London, but was away again after a year at the behest of the Royal Society.

War on Yellow Fever

In Northern China the peasants were dying (between bouts of revolutionary warfate) of Kala Azar or dumdum fever, thought to be tick-borne. Dr. Hindle nailed the culprit down to a little sandfly (Phlebotomus). He then turned his attention to yellow fever and was the first man to establish the disease in laboratory animals in Europe- a work of tremendous importance for its study.

After being awarded a special Belt Research Fellowship and many academic honours, including Fellowship and many academic honours, including Fellowship of the Royal, Hindle suceeded Sir John Graham Kerr as Regius Professor of Zoology at the University of Glasgow.

Dr. Hindle's concern at Regent's Park is with scientific advancement. Papers are presented to the Fellows monthly; a thousand pages of Proceedings have to be edited and published yearly; problems in systematics- the world-recognised names of animals by Latin genera and species- have to be settled. Publications include Zoo Life and the great world-catalogue, the Zoological Record. Autopsies have to be performed and recorded on all animals which die in the Gardens.

This entails masses of correspondence, abstracts, reports and reccomendations to kindred societies and institutions all over the world.

Though Dr. Hindle has ambassadorial statues in the international world of animals, neither Zoo secretaries nor directors are entirely free from public criticism.

In the days of Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell, a rumour spread that little animals "shrieked with pain as they were fed to the highly poisonous reptiles- alive." Questions were asked inn the House and one newspaper denounced the Zoo and its staff in an article entitled "Secrets of the Reptile House." Reptile food, incidentally, is supplied dead.

The Case of Jumbo

Jumbo, probably the most famous elephant in the world, brought the Zoo much unwanted publicity. A huge brute who becames dangerous after 16 years' faifthful service in the Gardens, he was sold for £2000, and the transaction would have passed off quietly had it not been for a too-lively Press.

It was said that Jumbo was in love with Alice, a female elephant at the Zoo whom he had never seen. The Society's "callous behaviour" was lampooned in music-hall ditties; more questions were asked in the House, and weeping crowds followed Jumbo out of the Gardens. Farewell presents included hothouse grapes, shawls, dolls and hot-water bottles.

The ferocious Jumbo eventually reached America, though his fame in the flesh was short-lived. He was hit by an express on a level-crossing and died.

Another elephant swallowed a woman's purse containing £5 in change-money for a week's holiday. The Zoo made good for the loss on the spot and the moneyw as patiently recovered- with the exception of a few odd shillings. Large coins withstood the gastric juices but were bent out of shape by the beast's huge molars.

Routine examinations of animals have provided some of the Zoo's most lively incidents. Something like an allin wrestling match took place when a pathologist tried to take a giraffe's blood pressure. Thirty keepers were required to tow a "harnessed" rhino across the Gardens. The walk ended in a furious gallop with all the keepers on their backs. Big pythons have to be handled like electrified hose-pipe.

When a death occurs in the Gardens, the animal is examined in the Prosectorium so that is internal and external characteristics can be recorded in scientific papers for all time.

As Scientific Director, Dr. Hindle has to decided whether the carcasses are more suitable for the Natural History Museum, the Royal College of Surgeons or fit only for general disposal.

For Regent's Park is right at the centre of the biological world. The two and a quarter million visiters who pass through the gates each year are contributing something to scientific knowlege as they gaze "at the new and curious subjects of the animal kingdom"

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