Real Winnie the Pooh

There’s a story behind every sculpture at London Zoo, but one of the most extraordinary belongs to this statue of Lieutenant Harry Colebourn and his beloved pet bear Winnie. Born in Britain in 1887, Harry Colebourn emigrated to Canada as a young man and trained as a vet before going on to join the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps. While travelling across Canada to join his regiment and serve in World War I, he bought a female black bear cub in White River, Ontario, from a hunter who had killed her mother. Colebourn named the bear ‘Winnie’ after his then home-town, the city of Winnipeg. 

When Lieutenant Colebourn’s regiment was sent to train in England in 1914, Winnie accompanied him. She became a pet and unofficial mascot to the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade during their time on Salisbury Plain. Colebourn was not, however, permitted to take Winnie with him when the brigade deployed to the battlefields of France. He left her in the keeping of London Zoo on 9 December 1914, hoping to return after the war to reclaim her. 

Colebourn served heroically during the war, rising to the rank of Captain. Although he visited his beloved Winnie when he was on leave from France, he ultimately decided that the Zoo was the best place for her to live. He donated her permanently in gratitude for her care in 1919.

Inspiring Dumbo's name

Jumbo at riding steps, probably March 1882. Jumbo was London Zoo's first African elephant.
Uncovering Jumbo's life

Jumbo the elephant

The remarkable life story of Jumbo the elephant - the animal superstar who is said to have inspired the movie Dumbo.

Winnie the Pooh at London Zoo

Living at the Mappin Terraces, tame and gentle Winnie had become hugely popular with visitors to the Zoo, particularly children. Among her many regular visitors were a certain Alan Alexander Milne and his young son, Christopher Robin Milne. Christopher Robin was such a fan that he even renamed his teddy bear Winnie. 

When his father – known to generations of readers as AA Milne – began to write stories for Christopher Robin featuring his favourite stuffed toys, the name Winnie stuck, and his bear hero became known as Winnie-the-Pooh. The first Winnie-the-Pooh book was published in 1926, and the series would go on to be loved by children worldwide.

This bronze statue of Winnie and her original owner was sculpted by Canadian artist William (Bill) Epp, and donated to London Zoo by the Canadian province of Manitoba. A copy of an identical statue in Assiniboine Park Zoo, Winnipeg, it was unveiled in 1995.

Winnie the black bear statue

Today you’ll still find this touching statue of Winnie and Lieutenant Colebourn at the Zoo, close to Butterfly Paradise and our war memorial to those who lost their lives in both World Wars. And it’s not the only sculpture of Winnie you’ll find here! Look out for another bronze of Winnie, shown as a young cub, by sculptor Lorne McKean. Located near Animal Adventure, it was unveiled by Christopher Robin Milne in 1981.

Journey through our history

  • 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 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.

  • Historic photo of flamingos at Mappin Terraces at London Zoo
    Built over 100 years ago

    Mappin Terraces and Pavilion

    At the time of their creation in 1913, they represented an innovative step to provide more naturalistic settings for animals at the Zoo. Over the years, the terraces have been home to goats, bears, penguins, ibex and snow leopards

  • 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.

  • Outside Tiny Giants building
    Taking inspiration from nature

    Sustainability at Tiny Giants

    Opened by Queen Elizabeth I and Prince Philip, we built our Tiny Giants building to be as sustainable as possible.

  • Our history