Guy the gorilla.

Guy the gorilla on display outside the Treasures gallery.

London calling: nine specimens from our city

When you think of London fauna, your mind may leap to pigeons, squirrels and rats not pandas, hippos and whales. Yet the capital has been home to an equally diverse group of animals as people, and the Museum's collections can prove it. These exhibits all have a story rooted in London, from the banks of the River Thames to Trafalgar Square and all the way to the Tower of London. 

Guy the gorilla looking into the camera.

1. Guy the gorilla

Famous residents from Regents Park's surroundings have included Amy Winehouse, Sylvia Plath, Jude Law and Charles Dickens, but don't forget a surprising member of the Primrose Hill set: Guy the gorilla.

A much-loved former resident of London Zoo, this western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) lived there from 1947 until his death in 1978. A gentle giant, Guy was known for his placid nature  and received hundreds of birthday cards each year.

Guy now resides in the Museum and remains a crowd magnet. He can be seen dominating the right-hand entrance of the Treasures gallery. To pay him a visit, pop up the Hintze Hall stairs and head right.

London location: London Zoo (nearest station: Camden Town)

Museum location: Hintze Hall balconies (Green Zone) 

Chi-Chi the panda specimen eating leaves.

2. Chi-Chi the panda

Guy isn't the only animal to have made the trip from London Zoo to the Museum. Chi-Chi the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) lived in London Zoo from 1958 to 1972. Aged about 15 when she died, she is thought to be the first giant panda to live so long in captivity. She was the inspiration for the World Fund for Nature's (WWF) famous panda logo.

Chi-Chi arrived at the Museum in 1972, where she has continued to fascinate guests. She recently had a makeover, and can now be seen in the Blue Zone's Central Cafe.

London location: London Zoo (nearest station: Camden Town)

Museum location: Central Cafe

Woolly mammoth bones.

3. Aveley elephants

Elephants in the suburbs? Stranger things have happened. In 1964 work in Aveley's clay pits revealed animal bones. An investigation led by the Museum uncovered bones of varying dates including two different types of extinct elephant: a straight-tusked elephant and a woolly mammoth.

The Aveley elephants are currently on display in the From the Beginning gallery.

London location: Aveley - this one is within the M25 so we are counting it (nearest railway station: Rainham)

Museum location: From the Beginning 

Ilford mammoth specimen.

4. Ilford mammoth skull

Ilford Lane is more commonly linked with small local businesses than extinct mammoths, yet both have called it home at some point, and we have the bones to prove it. This mammoth skull was most likely discovered in September 1864 and is the most perfect example of a mammoth skull uncovered in the UK.

Museum scientists think that the skull is from a steppe-mammoth. The specimen was on display in Hintze Hall when the Museum opened in 1881. Today, it can be seen in the Mammals (blue whale model) gallery, and a cast is on display in Redbridge Central Library.

London location: Ilford, of course (nearest station: Ilford)

Museum location: Mammals gallery (blue whale model) 

Crystal Palace dinosaurs in the park today.

5. Crystal Palace dinosaurs

Many Londoners have a soft spot for the somewhat inaccurate dinosaur sculptures that dwell in Crystal Palace Park. When the sculptures were unveiled in 1854, palaeontology was a new science - reconstructions were based on the lizards that scientists were familiar with, such as iguanas. The idea of a biped dinosaur or one with feathers did not occur until later.

The bones and fossils that were the inspiration for some of these models can be seen on display in our Dinosaurs gallery.  

London location: Crystal Palace Park (nearest station: Crystal Palace)

Museum location: Dinosaurs gallery 

Barbary lion skull side profile.

6. Barbary lion skull

This skull is from the extinct Barbary lion (Panthera leo leo). It was found in the old moat at the Tower of London in 1937. Museum scientists have determined that of the two skulls found, one lived between 1280 and 1385 and the other 1420 and 1480. This makes them some of the oldest lions to have lived in London since wild cave lions became extinct in the Ice Age.

Today the skull has pride of place in the Treasures gallery (currently closed).

London location: Tower of London (nearest station: Tower Hill)

Museum location: Treasures gallery (currently closed)

Find out about barbary lions and what we've learned from Museum specimens.

The preserved Thames whale skeleton.

7. Thames whale      

In 2006 a six-metre-long northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus) travelled from its northern Atlantic home to the River Thames before stranding. Despite attempts to rescue it, the whale died, and the Museum preserved its skeleton. Since 1913, the Museum has been part of a project to document the whales found in British waters and find out how they become stranded. This gave them access to the carcass.

The complete whale skeleton is not on display but has been shown three times, most recently in the 2017-18 exhibition Whales: Beneath the Surface.

London location: River Thames (nearest station: Queenstown Road)

Museum location: Currently off display 

Specimen drawer containing fireweed.

8. Fireweed

This fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) may look ordinary, but it is a highly toxic plant with a fascinating history. Fireweed gets its name as it grows quickly after a fire. This made it a common sight among the rubble of bombed buildings after World War II.

This example was collected in Holborn, as part of a 1950 survey of the flora of bombed sites in London. 

London location: Holborn (nearest station: Holborn)

Museum location: In the Museum's Botany collection, accessible by appointment only

Hippo tooth specimen.

9. Hippo tooth

The Tube is not the only thing found underground at Trafalgar Square. Underneath the iconic tourist spot a 125,000-year-old hippopotamus canine was uncovered. So how did a hippo end up at Trafalgar Square? The tooth is part of several discoveries, many made when major excavations took place in the late-nineteenth century. These revealed that 400,000 years before humans appeared, hippos, mammoths, bears, wolves, and elephants called London their home.

London location: Trafalgar Square (nearest station: Charing Cross)

Museum location: Currently off display