One of the oldest surviving features of London Zoo, the East Tunnel was a vital link between the north and south sections of the growing zoological gardens. 

The East Tunnel was designed by London Zoo’s first architect, Decimus Burton, to connect up ZSL’s land on either side of the Outer Circle road in Regent’s Park. Burton was a leading Victorian architect, who also designed the grand entrance screen to Hyde Park at Hyde Park Corner, and made renovations to Buckingham Palace. 

Plans for the East Tunnel, and a £1,005 estimate for the works, were approved in September 1829. The tunnel was completed the following year.

East tunnel at London Zoo
Sketch of London Zoo East Tunnel

Designing the East Tunnel 

Unlike the (rather rustic-looking) early animal houses designed by Burton, such as the London Zoo Llama House , the East Tunnel was built in a classical style, with elegant entrance portals and balustraded parapets. It more closely follows the imposing architecture of John Nash seen elsewhere in Regent’s Park than any other Zoo building. Decimus Burton’s father, James Burton, had previously worked with Nash to build the latter’s designs for Regent Street and Regent’s Park.

London Zoo war effort

The East Tunnel was one of several areas of London Zoo that served as air raid shelters for employees and local people during World War II. Once the all-clear was given, wardens would first patrol the Zoo to make sure no dangerous animals had escaped, before people were allowed out. 

In morale-boosting news footage from the period, one of the Zoo’s chimpanzees, George, was filmed helping to pile up the sandbags that were used to bolster defences!

East Tunnel today at London Zoo

The East Tunnel remains a vital connection for getting around the Zoo, and retains its original southern entrance portal. It is often used for exhibitions and displays.

Although the original northern entrance of the East Tunnel has been covered by more modern buildings, this area has been livened up with a series of colourful animal murals by artist Louis Masai. The murals were added in 2018 to raise awareness of animals ZSL has identified as EDGE species (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered), and include a pygmy three-toed sloth, a Lake Oku clawed frog and a Philippine eagle.

Journey through our history

  • Winnie the bear at London Zoo which inspired Winnie the Pooh
    The real story behind Winnie the Pooh

    Winnie the Pooh origins

    Winnie was one of our most famous residents, a black bear taken in when her mother was killed by a hunter and she has an enduring influence on pop culture today.

  • A portrait of the gorilla 'Meng'. London Zoo, June 1939.
    One of Britain’s first modernist buildings

    Round house

    Designed for gorillas by Berthold Lubetkin, the building was home to our first gorillas Mok and Moina.

  • The London Zoo aquarium photographed in July 1981
    World's first public aquarium

    The Aquarium

    We were home to the world’s first public aquarium. We popularised the name “Aquarium” and pioneered the first environments to provide the correct living conditions for salt-water animals.

  • Black and white photo of giraffes at Decimus Burton's Giraffe House
    England's first giraffes

    Giraffe house history

    When giraffes arrived at London Zoo in 1836, they caused a public sensation. Our giraffes were the first to be seen by the public in England, and made Londoners instantly form a connection with the natural world.

  • A view of London Zoo by James Hakewill from 1835 and featuring the Raven's Cage and the Llama House. In the background a bear is being fed by visitors. The Raven's Cage has since been relocated.
    A monument of our history

    Ravens' Cage

    Designed by London Zoo’s original architect, Decimus Burton, this ornate ironwork aviary dates back to our earliest days.

  • Snowdon Aviary construction
    Now reimagined as Monkey Valley

    Snowdon Aviary

    The Snowdon Aviary made history as Britain’s first walk-through aviary, designed to enclose as much open space as possible, stretching up to 24m tall.

  • Zookeeper with a toucan bird
    Home to more than 50 different birds

    Blackburn Pavilion

    Blackburn Pavilion originally housed crocodiles, and is one of the only Victorian animal houses at the Zoo to remain in use today.

  • Our history