What if… all the spiders escaped from London Zoo?

SAD news this evening that a Barn Owl which flew away from London Zoo after being startled by a loud noise has been found dead in the visitor’s car park. Sad, but stories of escapees from zoos always seem to capture the interest.

Maybe it is fuelled somewhere along the line by the crazy ‘what if’ question we’ve all wondered about at some idle stage in our lives, usually aged six… the ‘what if all the animals got out of the zoo’ thought. If you haven’t ever wondered that, you are the odd one – not me.

A harmless Barn Owl wasn’t going to cause pandemonium in London. But the case reminds me of a story I did a fair few years ago now about the discovery of a yellowing document showing the police asking London Zoo to destroy all of its “huge, ugly and dangerous spiders” [actual quote].

A Scotland Yard inspector feared the IRA, back in 1940, would cause terror by breaking open the spider cases, allowing them to run wild across the capital. Inspector Christopher Rolfe wrote in his letter that Black Widows were “loathsome”, adding that he was worried that the police would “may have possibly the distasteful task of hunting for some of these loathsome insects before they have had a chance to breed.”

The Public Records Office in Kew has a treasure trove of such priceless letters.

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