Dudley Zoo

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Dudley Zoo
Dudley zoo logo.gif
Dudley Zoo entrance, pic 2, England.jpg
Date opened1937 (1937)
LocationDudley, West Midlands, England
Coordinates52°30′50.18″N 2°4′37.68″W / 52.5139389°N 2.0771333°W / 52.5139389; -2.0771333Coordinates: 52°30′50.18″N 2°4′37.68″W / 52.5139389°N 2.0771333°W / 52.5139389; -2.0771333
Land area40 acres (16 ha)
No. of animals940 (2006)
No. of species163 (2006)[1]
Major exhibitsTigers, Chimpanzees, Lemur Wood

Dudley Zoological Gardens is a 40-acre (16 ha) zoo located within the grounds of Dudley Castle in the town of Dudley, in the Black Country region of the West Midlands, England. The Zoo opened to the public on 18 May 1937.[2] It contains 12 modernist animal enclosures and other buildings designed by the architect Berthold Lubetkin and the Tecton Group. The zoo went into receivership in 1977 and was purchased by Dudley Metropolitan Council. Dudley Zoo is now operated by Dudley and West Midlands Zoological Society, founded in 1978 and a registered charity.[3] The gardens also hosts multiple events.


William Humble Eric Ward, the Third Earl of Dudley, created Dudley Zoo in the grounds of his ruined castle

The owner of Dudley Castle, the Third Earl of Dudley, decided to create a zoo in the castle grounds in the 1930s.[4] The initial Board of the Dudley Zoological Society was made up of the earl, Ernest Marsh (director of Marsh and Baxter) and Captain Frank Cooper, owner of Oxford Zoo, who wanted to sell his animals[5] and it was Oxford Zoo, which closed in 1936, that supplied Dudley with the majority of its initial collection of animals.[6] The zoo was built between 1935 and 1937, with Dr Geoffrey Vevers, the Superintendent at London Zoo acting as an advisor. Thirteen zoo buildings were designed by Berthold Lubetkin and engineering was carried out by Ove Arup.[5] The steepness of much of the terrain and the presence of caverns produced by limestone mining in previous centuries presented the architects and builders with a number of difficulties.[7] Further constraints were presented by the castle being a scheduled monument, its structure and immediate surroundings being protected by a government department, the Office of Works.[7][5]

The architects chose a deliberately modern style for the animal enclosures, entrance and visitor refreshment facilities, making no attempt to match the appearance of the castle ruins. The main material chosen for the construction was pre-stressed reinforced concrete which gave the possibility of forming curved structures and projecting platforms. It was decided to avoid cages where possible and to display the animals in a deliberately artificial manner rather than create an imitation of natural surroundings.[7]

The zoo opened on 18 May 1937. The opening day was a great success, with over 250,000 people recorded as visiting the zoo on its opening day, 700,000 in its first year.[8]

The opening weeks of the zoo were not always so positive though as on 18 June 1937, a Malayan Brown Bear escaped from the zoo, bit a Dudley resident, was struck by a policeman's truncheon and spent a few hours in local gardens before recapture.[9] Just 3 days later the animal made another escape, this time being shot dead in the castle grounds.[10]

Elephant rides were one of the attractions of the zoo from the beginning, as it was reported in April 1937 that two Indian elephants had been brought to Dudley with that purpose in mind.[11]

A miniature railway was added in 1938 with two locomotives constructed by G & S Light Engineering, of Stourbridge.[12] The locomotives ran on a track about 1 mile long, carrying up to 150 passengers.

In 1958 a chair lift was introduced to take visitors from near the entrance up the steep grass bank to near the elephant house.[13] The chair lift was opened on 11 May 1958 by the comedian Richard Hearne.[14]

The zoo was bought by the Scotia leisure group in 1970. In 1977, the zoo went into receivership but was bought by Dudley Metropolitan Council. Finally, in 1978, a charity, The Dudley and West Midlands Zoological Society was set up to run the zoo, although the council still owns the grounds.[8]

In 1979, the Penguin Pool had to be demolished because of damage to the concrete caused by the salty water.[5] This was the one major original animal enclosure to be lost.

On 23 October 2018 zoo staff shot dead an 8-year-old snow leopard named Margaash, after he had left his enclosure when a keeper failed to secure it. In a post to its website on 30 November 2018 the zoo confirmed that it was closed with no visitors on site at the time of the incident, and there is no suggestion that Margaash posed any immediate threat to any human. The zoo described the killing as "euthanasia".[15] Protests followed as outraged locals strongly disagreed with the killing of Margaash, describing it as "needless killing".[16][17]


A tiger in Dudley Zoo in 2008.

In 2003, in common with other urban zoos, Dudley parted with their two female African elephants so that they could benefit from more spacious surroundings. The remaining large animals include giraffes, tigers, lions, reindeer, wallabies, and three snow leopards, the latest being born in May 2013. Primates are well represented, and there are several aviaries and a reptile house. The zoo has over 1,000 animals from over 200 species; most of these are endangered and are the product of captive breeding programmes.

There was a time where the Dudley Zoo housed polar bears and Southern elephant seals. Cuddles, a male orca, was housed at the zoo from 1971, until his death in February 1974. The dolphin and whale pools were modified seal and sea lions pools with the walls being built up to create more depth. However, these plans fell foul of the local planning laws and the zoo was ordered to return the pools to the original state. As the zoo was not prepared to invest in new purpose built pools the whale Cuddles was put up for sale, but died before being moved, from long-term gastro-intestinal problems. The pools were returned to their original design and now house sea lions.[18]

Modernist Architecture[edit]

One of the modernist structures at Dudley Zoo

The zoo buildings include twelve listed buildings, seven Grade II and five Grade II*, erected in 1937 by Berthold Lubetkin's Tecton Group which employed, among others, structural engineer Ove Arup. Most of the zoo buildings are in the International Style (architecture).[19][20][21][22]

In 2011, the zoo announced refurbishment and renovation plans for the zoo's listed buildings and parts of the zoo itself; totalling £1.15 million. Initial funding for the project has been met by the Heritage Lottery Fund.[23]

In January 2013, newly released construction proposals indicated the entrance to the zoo would connect with the Black Country Museum and the Dudley Canal Trust, creating a single entrance for the three attractions.[24] The new entrance was completed in September 2015.[dubious ][25][failed verification] Focus will then[when?] shift to the bear pits, which zoo officials say will be renovated to provide "a dramatic backdrop in the landscape".[26] This was the subject of an investigation by the Born Free Foundation in 2012.[citation needed]

In November 2018 a £6 million expansion of the zoo was announced, where tunnels running underneath the Castle Hill site from the Second World War could be brought back, so that visitors can glimpse the mining history of Dudley. The zoo's iconic 1930s Tecton buildings could also be refurbished with this £6 million expansion. This work is expected to begin in 2020.[27]

In February 2019 Dudley Zoo's Director, Derek Grove, has announced plans to renovate animal enclosures and improve visitor facilities. These new renovations include; refurbishing the Lemur walk-through exhibit, adding a new indoor adventure playground, extending the Sumatran Tiger exhibit, and bringing back the European Brown Bears.[28]

Listed Lubetkin and Tecton Buildings at Dudley Zoo[edit]

One of the sea lion pools
  • The Castle Restaurant[29]
  • The Elephant House[30]
  • The Entrance Gateway[31]
  • The Education Centre (formerly the Moat Café)[32]
  • Tropical Bird House[33]
  • Sea lion pools[34]
  • Brown bear ravine[35]
  • Kiosk south of the former brown bear pit[36]
  • Former Station Café, now the Safari Shop[37]
  • Polar Bear Pit and Lion and Tiger Ravines[38]
  • Kiosk east of the former brown bear pit[39]
  • The former reptiliary, now the Meerkat Enclosure[40]

A further Tectron building, The Penguin Enclosure, was demolished in the 1960s.

Artistic connections[edit]

Tropical Bird House, Dudley Zoo (c. 1939, by Percy Shakespeare)

A painting by Percy Shakespeare, Tropical Bird House, Dudley Zoo (c.1939), is in Dudley Museum and Art Gallery.[41]

In 2015, 89-year-old artist Rama Samaraweera, who was inspired to paint while a keeper at Dudley Zoo, donated three original oil paintings to the zoo to express his gratitude. His painting Clouded Leopard was a best-selling print in America in the 1970s.[42]


Access to Dudley Castle, a Grade I listed building built in the 11th century, is included in the zoo entrance fee.


A visitor chairlift was erected between the zoo's entrance and the castle in 1958. It was taken out of use in 2000 due to health and safety concerns. In August 2012 the chairlift was reopened after a 12-week, £117,000 restoration which included returning it to its original light cream colour.[43][44]


  1. ^ "Dudley Zoo Annual Review 2006". dudleyzoo.org.uk. Dudley Zoo. Archived from the original on 23 December 2007. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
  2. ^ "Worldwide plea over Dudley Zoo buildings". bbc.co.uk. BBC. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
  3. ^ "DUDLEY AND WEST MIDLANDS ZOOLOGICAL SOCIETY LIMITED, registered charity no. 507221". Charity Commission for England and Wales.
  4. ^ "Zoo History". Dudley Zoological Gardens. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d "ELEPHANT HOUSE AT DUDLEY ZOO". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  6. ^ "Lion was pride of short-lived Oxford Zoo". Oxford Mail. 1 February 2010. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Hitchman, Jill (2009). towers and tectons at DZG. Dudley: DZG. ISBN 978-0956303103.
  8. ^ a b "Dudley Zoo celebrating 75th anniversary". www.expressandstar.com. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  9. ^ "Bear hunt in Midland Town". The Times (47715). 19 June 1937. p. 11.
  10. ^ "Escaping Bear Shot". The Times (47718). 23 June 1937. p. 9.
  11. ^ "Elephants arrive for Dudley Zoo". Birmingham Daily Gazette. 17 April 1937. p. 7. Retrieved 17 July 2019 – via The British Newspaper Archive.
  12. ^ "1938: Miniature train arrives". Dudley Zoological Gardens. 5 September 2012. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  13. ^ "Up the bank". Birmingham Daily Post. 10 January 1958. p. 4. Retrieved 17 July 2019 – via The British Newspaper Archive.
  14. ^ "Mr Pastry". Birmingham Daily Post. 12 May 1958. p. 5. Retrieved 17 July 2019 – via The British Newspaper Archive.
  15. ^ "Death of Margaash – Dudley Zoo and Castle". www.dudleyzoo.org.uk. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  16. ^ Ashmore, Kelly (2 December 2018). "Protest at Dudley Zoo over snow leopard's 'needless killing'". birminghammail. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  17. ^ "Snow leopard shot dead after escaping". BBC News. 30 November 2018. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  18. ^ "Dudley Zoo - Dolphins & Whales: 1971 - 1974". marineanimalwelfare.com. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
  19. ^ "Endangered species—Dudley Zoo's Tectons on WMF Watchlist". riskybuildings.org.uk. The Twentieth Century Society. Archived from the original on 16 June 2011. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
  20. ^ "Building of the Month: Dudley Zoo". riskybuildings.org.uk. The Twentieth Century Society. Archived from the original on 16 June 2011. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
  21. ^ Flatman, Ben. "Tekton's Dudley Zoo". benflatman.com. Ben Flatman. Archived from the original on 7 July 2011. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
  22. ^ "Anna Keay speaks to Ben Flatman about Dudley Zoo and Berthold Lubetkin's buildings (short film)". youtube.com. YouTube. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
  23. ^ "All systems go for zoo revamp". .dudleynews.co.uk. Dudley News. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
  24. ^ "New-look Dudley Zoo entrance unveiled". Express & Star. 8 January 2013. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
  25. ^ "Making an entrance!". Archived from the original on 5 October 2015.
  26. ^ "Dudley Zoo revamp will start next year". Express & Star. 27 August 2012. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
  27. ^ Guttridge, Richard. "Going underground! Dudley Zoo to open tunnels in £6m expansion". www.expressandstar.com. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  28. ^ Large, Heather. "Dudley Zoo to invest £1million in 2019". www.expressandstar.com. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  29. ^ "CASTLE RESTAURANT AT DUDLEY ZOO". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  30. ^ "ELEPHANT HOUSE AT DUDLEY ZOO". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  31. ^ "ENTRANCE GATEWAY AT DUDLEY ZOO". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  32. ^ "ZOO EDUCATION DEPARTMENT AND VISITOR SHELTER AT DUDLEY ZOO". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  33. ^ "TROPICAL BIRD HOUSE AT DUDLEY ZOO". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  34. ^ "SEA LION POOLS AT DUDLEY ZOO". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  35. ^ "BROWN BEAR RAVINE AT DUDLEY ZOO". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  36. ^ "KIOSK TO SOUTH OF BEAR PIT AT DUDLEY ZOO". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  37. ^ "Former Station Cafe, now Safari Building, at Dudley Zoo". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  38. ^ "Polar Bear Pit and Lion and Tiger". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  39. ^ "KIOSK TO EAST OF FORMER BROWN BEAR PIT AT DUDLEY ZOO". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  40. ^ "MEERKAT ENCLOSURE AT DUDLEY ZOO APPROXIMATELY 2 YARDS TO EAST OF REPTILE HOUSE". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  41. ^ "Tropical Bird House, Dudley Zoo". Art UK. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
  42. ^ "Fired and inspired: Gift for Dudley Zoo from artist". Express & Star. 26 September 2015. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
  43. ^ "Dudley Zoo chairlift to reopen after work". Express & Star.
  44. ^ "Zoo's iconic chairlift to re-launch today". .dudleynews.co.uk. Dudley News. Retrieved 9 September 2012.

External links[edit]