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Singh and Topsy, 1947-54

Singh and Topsy, 1947-54

The lives of two lions resident in the Zoo from its opening were chronicled in successive annual reports. The words used to describe Singh over the years are particularly striking.


- Four lions - two cubs from Dublin Zoo and a pair of adult lions from London Zoo - arrived at the Calderpark Zoo, Glasgow, last night. The male London lion was born in captivity, but the female was jungle bred. They were brought by the head keeper of London Zoo. It was a comparatively easy job unpacking the London lions, but the Irish ones seemed to prefer their carrying cage and took a lot of persuasion to go into their new home. The Zoo will be open to the public for the first time on the afternoon of July 9. [ Glasgow Herald, June 27, 1947 .]


Then came the most exciting event of the year - the birth of lion cubs. The parents of the four cubs are Singh and Topsy , the pair of adult lions sent to us on indefinite loan by the Zoological Society of London.

We considered the advisability of leaving the lion with the lioness when the family arrived but finally decided, a few days before the cubs were born, to separate them. Singh , the lion, is a particularly savage animal, and it was thought better to take no risks.


The most important and interesting births this year were the four lion cubs born to Singh and Topsy , our two very handsome lions. The cubs were born in September. This gave us a very serious housing problem, and the three cubs born from the same parents in November 1947 had to be removed to a cage which was barely suitable for young growing lions. We were fortunate in being able to sell these young lions to other zoos.

We were faced with a very thorny problem with the arrival of the cubs in September, as there was no shelter for the lion, Singh . He is a particularly aggressive lion and it seemed dangerous to allow him to remain with the cubs. However, there was nothing we could do except to take a chance and leave the lion family together. Singh behaved admirably with his family and now we have a feature of which any zoo would be proud - the complete lion family. Two of the cubs died shortly after they were born. The remaining two are doing very well, and there is reason to feel confident that the lion family will live peacefully.


We had our usual lion cubs from Singh and Topsy but, this time, we were not fortunate enough in rearing them.


We have retained a most attractive lion cub from the ones bred in the park. His name is Dalta , a son of Singh and Topsy . Singh , our veteran lion, is getting old. So is Topsy . But in Dalta we can look for the splendid strain being preserved. Members will regard this grand old pair of lions with affection. They were our main exhibits when we opened the zoo.


We had a number of births, notably lion cubs. We have managed to rear four, two from our grand old pair, Singh and Topsy , and two from our young pair of lions, Rory and Shelagh [the Dublin cubs].


On Christmas Day we suffered a very sad loss by the death of the old lioness, Topsy . The cause of death was clostridial peritonitis. On the previous day, Topsy had given birth to four cubs. Two died immediately after birth and, despite the services of a foster mother, the remaining cubs died about two days after.

Topsy was 16 years of age and was born in the wild state in Africa. With two other cubs she was saved from certain death when found by a game warden. Her mother had been illegally shot. Topsy arrived at Calderpark in June 1947 several weeks before we opened. The handsome lion, Singh , came with her. They were our two main exhibits when we opened and through the years they have become great favourites with thousands of people. Singh and Topsy were presented to us by London Zoo.


The death of Singh can be put down entirely to old age. He was thought to be over 20 years old when he died. We shall always remember this grand old lion with affection. He was our most impressive exhibit when we opened in 1947 and, in the years we had him, Singh has endeared himself to many thousands of people by his parental affection for his cubs. In his prime he was a magnificent specimen, by temperament as well as in appearance.

Collage of Singh

Singh May be Gone, but He Lives On

Singh, the splendid lion donated by London Zoo at the time of the opening of Glasgow Zoo in July 1947, has been dead for nearly fifty years. We were therefore not expecting the letter about Singh we received in December 2000, nor were we expecting that a photograph of Glasgow Zoo's first lion would have had lasting conseqences more than 400 miles away in the South of England.

The writer of the letter asked for information about Singh and his cubs. A photograph of Singh had, apparently, appeared in a London newspaper in 1954. 'He made history by caring for his own cubs. I am a retired teacher, interested in Natural History, and taught young boys at Fan Court School near Chertsey, now merged with Claremont at Esher, Surrey. We used the photo in the school magazine, still existing there, to express the concept of "Lion and Cub", when a new pupil was looked after by an older boy during his first fortnight. Recently, the picture was enlarged as the centrepiece of an exhibition about the merged Claremont Fan Court. Again, it aroused interest, and the enclosed Christmas card made from it.'

If anyone knows of similar instances where images of animals have taken on symbolic significance, we would be interested to hear from you.