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'Rota' the Lion

© the copyright holder. Photo credit: Zoological Society of London

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The first known record of ‘Rota’ the lion is when he was kept as a pet in the back garden of a house in Pinner, Middlesex in 1938. His owner was George Thomson, managing director of a firm called Rotaprint, who is said to have won the lion in a bet in 1938. He named the lion ‘Rota’ and adopted him as the firm's mascot. Locally ‘Rota’ became quite famous and many people came to see him, however not all the neighbours were comfortable with having a lion in their midst. It was the beginning of the Second World War and many residents were worried about the danger ‘Rota’ would pose if his cage was hit by a bomb and he escaped. Their fears were ignored and no action was taken to move ‘Rota’ until the effects of food rationing made it impossible to procure enough meat locally to keep Rota healthy. On 29 May 1940 ‘Rota’ arrived at London Zoo 'on deposit' but later he was donated to the Zoo permanently. In a symbolic act of patriotic loyalty to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the Zoo 'presented' ‘Rota’ to him in 1943, while still keeping him in the Zoo for safety. Churchill occasionally visited ‘Rota’ in the Zoo until the animal died in 1955. ‘Rota’ acquired considerable fame, being mentioned in many newspaper columns, was the subject of a number of cartoons and featured in four films.

Zoological Society of London





oil on canvas


H 76 x W 63.5 cm

Accession number


Work type


Inscription description

Rota - 1955 - Wilson


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Zoological Society of London

The Library, Regent's Park, London, Greater London NW1 4RY England

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