In 1909 the Royal Zoological Society was formed and its vision was for a more open zoological park than the Victorian models where animals could live in something closer to their natural environment. In the summer of 1913 the Scottish National Zoological Park was opened for the public to visit and later that year the park was incorporated by Royal Charter. It wasn’t until 1948 after King George the sixth had visited the park that it was given the privilege of prefixing its name with Royal. To this day the Edinburgh zoo remains the only one in the United Kingdom to have a royal charter.
In the beginning of 1914 Edinburgh zoo began what was to become a long association with penguins, when three king penguins arrived from the Christian Salvesen whaling expedition when their ship docked in Leith. In 1919 Edinburgh zoo was home to the birthing of the first king penguin chick hatched in captivity. The penguins at Edinburgh zoo were the first to be seen anywhere in the world outside of the South Atlantic. In 1950 several of the birds escaped and the zoo keepers turned it into a penguin parade, which was so popular with visitors that it became a now famous permanent feature.
The Highland Wildlife Park, which is a safari park and zoo at Kingussie, thirty miles south of Inverness, was acquired by the society in 1986. Nowadays the zoo and the park together provide what is the closest thing to the animals’ natural habitat in Scotland. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland organises frequent trips for visitors between both of the sites. The zoo has an active breeding and biodiversity programme that is driven by its royal charter. The royal society gives the public opportunities to the public so that they can help support its mission and have introduced a membership club, donations, volunteering and animal adoption.
Nowadays Edinburgh zoo has around a thousand animals, predominantly species of mammals and birds, occupying eighty two acres of parkland. The zoo has two Indian rhinos and some Asiatic lions. Keepers are given areas of responsibility that include groups of animals including, carnivores, penguins and sea lions, primates and koalas, hoof stock, birds, reptiles and amphibians and others. There is what are referred to as touch tables around the zoo where they can see and feel animal artefacts close to. In the grounds there is the Mansion House, which is an old estate house that has a public restaurant, bar and café bistro.
The zoo holds a number of animals that have held military rank including Wojtek a Polish bear that was enlisted in the 22ns Artillery Supply Company and travelled wherever the troops were posted, including the battle of Monte Casino. Wojtek was retired to the zoo when the troops were billeted in Scotland. The society has some ambitious plans for the future of the zoo over the next twenty years and they have funding in place to begin this.