Sophie spreads Christmas cheer at London Zoo

The Countess of Wessex visited the new Monkey Valley and met youngsters in palliative care

With Christmas approaching, The Countess of Wessex carried out the first Christmas-themed engagement of the year with a visit to London Zoo yesterday.

Sophie toured the Zoo’s new exhibits and joined children in the festive celebrations, continuing to raise awareness about conservation efforts, which is a cause supported by many members of the Royal Family.

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The Countess of Wessex visited ZSL’s London Zoo. (Royal Family).

Sophie heard about the range of work done by ZSL (the Zoological Society of London), the zoo’s international conservation charity. ZSL runs the Regent’s Park centre, and has a wildlife park in Whipsnade.

The Countess explored the recently-restored Grade II listed Snowdon Aviary, which is now home to a troop of 10 Eastern black and white colobus monkeys, as part of the Zoo’s new Monkey Valley exhibit. The aviary was designed by the late Earl of Snowdon, Princess Margaret’s ex-husband.

Sophie joined in with helping to make some Christmas crafts for the animals. (Royal Family)

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The royal visitor also joined children who receive support from the Kaleidoscope Palliative Care and Community Children’s Nursing teams as they got stuck in creating festive-themed activities for the Zoo’s ring-tailed lemurs, including filling brightly wrapped boxes with sweet potato snacks for the stripy-tailed primates to forage for amongst the trees of their enclosure.

Sophie and the children spent time weaving tasty edible Christmas wreaths from leaves sourced by the zoo’s horticulture team.

Palliative care and supporting ill youngsters are causes the Countess has promoted for many years.

The visiting children were there as part of ZSL’s Community Access Scheme, which brings more people closer to wildlife by providing discounted or free access to the zoo for people with additional needs or disabilities, low-income households, and people over 60 at risk of isolation.

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Rainforest Life, London’s only living rainforest, is home to tree anteaters, two-toed sloths and red titi monkeys. Here, Sophie was joined by children from St Mary’s Bryanston Square Church of England Primary School. The children were visiting as part of ZSL’s Education Access Scheme, which enables schools in the local Camden and Westminster boroughs to take regular educational trips to London Zoo.

The mother-of-two also met ZSL zookeepers who care for more than 14,000 animals at the conservation zoo, as well as ZSL’s Counter Trafficking Officer Grant Miller, and Fabrice Inkonkoy, a Forestry Technical Expert from ZSL’s Sustainable Business and Finance Team.

ZSL Director General Matthew Gould said: ‘We were honoured to welcome Her Royal Highness to ZSL London Zoo today, to join in some of our festive, educational activities, learn more about ZSL’s vital science and conservation work, and visit Monkey Valley – which itself has an important link to the Royal Family.

‘The restored Snowdon Aviary structure, which remains a remarkable feat of architecture, was first designed in the 1960s by the late Earl of Snowdon, Anthony Armstrong-Jones – then husband to Princess Margaret. Queen Elizabeth II visited the exhibit in 1967, accompanied by her sister.’

Gould added: ‘We were particularly pleased Her Royal Highness was able to meet some of the thousands of children who are part of ZSL’s Community Access Scheme. The scheme lets children who would not otherwise be able to visit the zoo have the chance to do so, and be inspired by our animals and the work we do to protect wildlife around the world. The Royal Family has been a vital part of ZSL’s 200-year history and has helped us to inspire millions to protect wildlife around the world.’

The visit was especially special to The Countess of Wessex as ZSL was one of her late mother-in-law’s patronages. Elizabeth II visited London Zoo last in 2016, when she and Prince Philip opened a new lion enclosure.

The late Queen was patron ZSL from her coronation in 1953 until her death in September. She followed in the footsteps of every British Monarchs since 1829, who were also patrons of the ZSL; George IV granted ZSL its first Royal Charter that year. It is not known if King Charles III will become continue the tradition, but with his own passion for conservation, it seems likely he might.

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