History and heritage

RZSS founder Thomas Gillespie, pictured at Edinburgh Zoo in 1959 IMAGE: Unknown

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) is a wildlife conservation charity with a bold vision: a world where nature is protected, valued and loved.

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

Wildcat at Edinburgh Zoo looking at the camera IMAGE: Amy Middleton (2023)

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 RZSS 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 2,500 amazing animals.

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

Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park are our gateways to the natural world through which people can experience nature. They can learn about the challenges facing wildlife and discover how we harness our expertise in conservation science and animal care to save species from extinction. Making nature more accessible is fundamental because people protect and value what they love and understand.

With the support of the RZSS family – our teams, visitors, supporters and partners – we can achieve our 2030 pledges to reverse the decline of at least 50 species, create deeper connections with nature for more than a million people and enable more than 100 communities to better protect nature.

Discover our 2030 strategy

How you can help

Together, we can create a world where nature is protected, valued and loved.

More than a million animals are at risk of extinction. Nature needs us all now more than ever. Now is the time to act.

Your support will help protect the nature that you love today, tomorrow and for generations to come.

Ways to support

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

Our work with beavers, pine hoverflies and wildcats is just the beginning for native wildlife, and our longstanding collaboration with the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda is a prime example of our global conservation work.

In our conservation genetics lab, RZSS WildGenes, our team of experts use genetic data to generate conservation action for threatened species across the globe. By working collaboratively and sharing valuable genetic tools and data, we aim to provide long-term conservation management.

Find out more about our conservation work