About RZSS

Our history


The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) was founded in 1909 by Thomas Gillespie

Above: RZSS founder Thomas Gillespie, pictured at Edinburgh Zoo in 1959.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) was founded in 1909 by Edinburgh lawyer Thomas Gillespie. A visionary and nature enthusiast, Thomas garnered sufficient support and funding to enable the Society to buy an 85 acre site to the west of Edinburgh in just four years, with help from the City of Edinburgh Council.

Edinburgh Zoo was opened to the public on 22 July 1913 and was incorporated by Royal Charter later that year. However it was only in 1948, following a visit by HRH King George VI, that the Society was granted the privilege of adding the prefix 'Royal' to its name. It remains one of only a few zoos with a Royal Charter in the United Kingdom. Today, Edinburgh Zoo is home to over 1,000 animals.

In 1986 the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland acquired the Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig. The Highland Wildlife Park is now home to over 200 amazing animals including native Scottish species as well as rare and endangered animals from the world's mountains and tundra regions.

In addition to operating Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland supports education, research and conservation projects in the UK and around the world.

 

Key dates from our history:

1909
RZSS is founded by Edinburgh lawyer Thomas Gillespie. 

1913
Edinburgh Zoo is opened to the public on 22 July 1913.

1919
A king penguin chick hatches at Edinburgh Zoo, the first ever to hatch in captivity.

1947
Wojtek arrives at Edinburgh Zoo. Also known as the Soldier Bear, Wojtek was a Syrian brown bear that lived a particularly extraordinary life as part of the 22nd Company Polish Army Service and Corps (Artillery) troops before retiring to Edinburgh Zoo after the war.

1948
Following a visit by HRH King George VI, the Society was granted the privilege of adding the prefix 'Royal' to our name. 

1951
The world famous Penguin Parade began when a gate was left open and a gentoo penguin escaped. The keeper decided to see what would happen and it was followed by other penguins to the front of the Zoo. The parade has continued voluntarily to this day

1976
The former cafeteria and souvenir shop was converted to an Education Centre to create awareness in the community of wildlife and environmental matters and was formally opened in 1976. Since then, Discovery and Learning at the Zoo has gone from strength to strength. The award winning education programme has reached over 1 million pupils both onsite and through outreach programmes.

1986
RZSS acquires the Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig. 

2005
RZSS starts supporting the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda.

2008   
Sir Nils Olav, a king penguin at Edinburgh Zoo, is Knighted by the Norwegian Guard.

2010   
RZSS opens the WildGenes Laboratory.

2011
Giant pandas, Yang Guang and Tian Tian, arrive in Edinburgh.

2018
The UK's first polar bear cub for 25 years emerges from his den at the Highland Wildlife Park