Lions And Zoos

Could London Zoo bosses give dogs to Lions to cover admissions in the 18th century?

In the 18th century, visitors to London Zoo did not need to bring money for admission. Rather, they could access the exhibit by bringing a dog or cat to feed the lions. At least that’s the claim of a popular internet meme:

While we haven’t been able to definitively prove that 18th century zoogoers routinely fed stray animals to lions in order to gain admission, this claim is certainly plausible and comes from at least one credible source. It should be noted, however, that the “London Zoo” was not founded until 1826. The meme featured above refers to the Royal Menagerie, a collection of exotic animals that have been kept at the Tower. of London between the 13th and 19th centuries.

The meme displayed above was created by and repeats a rumor that has been posted by a number of websites. The Londoner, for example, wrote in 2020:

“Under Elizabeth I, the public was allowed to enter the menagerie for the first time. Admission came at a price, but with a cruel caveat: it was free if you bought a dog or cat to feed the lions.

Again, there were no “zoos” in London in the 18th century, so the meme could only refer to the Royal Menagerie. According to the Historic Royal Places of London, the first animals in the Royal Menagerie were three leopards (which may have been lions) that had been offered to King Henry III by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in 1235.

This “zoo” did not really look like the institutions we have today. The Tower of London was not designed to house hundreds of animals and the keepers were not trained to care for these exotic animals. Living conditions for the animals were poor at the Royal Menagerie, to say the least, and many of them did not survive long:

The King of France sent an elephant to the tower in 1255, and Londoners flocked “to see the Roman spectacle”.

Although the elephant had a brand new 40ft by 20ft elephant house and a dedicated caretaker, it died after a few years.

Many other animals did not survive in the cramped conditions, although lions and tigers resisted better, with many cubs born.

While conditions at the menagerie have improved over the years, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to think that a stray dog ​​or cat would have been fed to lions. In fact, Wilfrid Blunt wrote in his 1976 book “The Ark in the Park: The Zoo in the Nineteenth Century” that this is exactly what happened. Blunt writes:

Over the years, the Tower Menagerie has seen its ups and downs, only thriving when a monarch (or his wife) became interested in animals, or the fortuitous receipt of rarities as gifts from foreign potentates. In 1436, there was not a single lion left; but nine years later, after Henri VI’s marriage to zoophile Marguerite d’Anjou, there was enough to justify the appointment of a guardian of the Royal Lions. Under Edward IV, the lions were moved to a location just beyond the present-day Lion’s Gate.


In the 18th century, the public was admitted to the menagerie of the Tower on payment of three halfpence or, alternatively, the provision of a cat or a dog to feed the lions.

While it certainly seems plausible that customers brought dogs and cats to feed the lions in return for their admission (even if only a few times during this centuries-long existence in zoos), we have not been able to find contemporary evidence to support this claim. . In fact, a guide to attractions around London published in 1776 mentioned the (monetary) entrance fee to see the “wild beasts” in the King’s Menagerie. This guide did not recommend bringing animals to feed the lions.

While we couldn’t find any documents from the 1700s announcing a dog for the ticket exchange, we did find a number of anecdotes about how animal fighting was such a big draw. Blunt writes in his book about an incident of 1764 in which the Duke of Cumberland pitted a tiger against a beautiful stag (or young horse). The deer apparently won the fight, received a collar, and then received his freedom. Blunt described another incident in 1875 in which a traveling menagerie pitted a lion against a group of mastiffs. The Paris Review writes:

The Lions were a big hit at the English court, although no one really knew what to do with them. (In some cases, observers were completely unsure whether they were lions. Later accounts suggest that the first lions were in fact leopards.) Their treatment was predictable and cruelly heartbreaking: in 1240, keeper William de Botton was given fourteen shillings to buy “chains and other things” which restrict cage movement. At about the same time, the cats were moved to a two-story “Lion’s Tower” where their movement was restricted to cramped enclosures, upstairs in daylight, downstairs at night. A few centuries later, James I was building a platform from which he and his pals could watch staged fights between lions and dogs.

While the lions of the Royal Menagerie were, on occasion, fed cats or dogs, we found no definitive evidence that this was a regular practice involving donations from clients. We have contacted historic places in London and will update this article if more information is available.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.