This article considers the implications of the early development of London Zoo. It gives insight into the differences between the ideal image of the zoo, the real situation under which the zoo was managed, and popular perceptions of the zoo. The discussion explores three areas: the heterogeneous audience of the zoo, the aestheticization of the zoo and its animal displays, and the pedagogy of observing nonhuman animals in the zoo. The zoo's ideals confronted various difficulties, while the pedagogy of zoo visits, which developed within a frame of natural theology, was subject to various applications. The article argues that these differences were not evidence of the zoo's failure to consolidate its ideological backbone in Victorian society. It concludes that such divergence characterized the zoo's unique capacity both to evoke and to receive competing ideals, anxieties and criticism.