Der Affenkäfig des Tiergartens Schönbrunn im Jahr 1898. Der Zoo in Wien gilt als der älteste der Welt.

Since when do zoos exist?

The Zoological Gardens have a long history of a thousand years. Only a few of the former institutions still exist today.

Already in ancient Egypt, some 3,000 years before our era, the pharaohs held exotic animals in cages in their palaces, mostly as animals for hunting or slaughtering. Other traditions of the first “zoos” come from China. Here, the ancestor of the Zhou dynasty kept mammals, birds, turtles and fish in a park. The gardens known as park of intelligence or park of knowledge existed for a long time, but they no longer exist. In the Orient, rulers gave themselves animals as a gift. This was also a tradition of the rulers of the Middle Ages (Karl the Great sent an elephant as an offer of friendship to the city of Augsburg).

While in ancient times animals were kept, but mostly killed in games, after the decline of the Roman Empire monasteries often kept some animals, which were also given by other monasteries. Gradually, rulers began to have private animal collections, near their farms, like Emperor Frederick II in 1194, who was the predecessor of the zoos. He built one of the first animal gardens in the Middle Ages, and collected many different species, which he exchanged with other rulers. For instance, he sent a polar bear to the Egyptian Sultan and received a giraffe.

In Europe, royal menageries were built in London in the Tower of London in 1235 by King Henry III. In the 16th century, there were the royal residences in Italy.

Even in the Aztec empire, there were animal gardens in the fifteenth century, independently of the European menageries. Thus Meyers’s conversational lexicon describes a garden of the Aztec master Moctezuma II (1465-1520):

“During the conquest of Mexico Spaniards were surprised by the imperial menagerie, a long series of water tanks, bird houses and cages with wild animals. Particularly excellent were the decorative birds from all over the Aztec Empire, as well as a wide range of snakes. 500 turkeys were used daily to feed the birds of prey. 300 workers took care of the water-birds, which were kept in ten ponds, and they were also responsible for the predators.”

Above all Louis XIV, also known as the sun king, had an animal collection, which he moved to his hunting pavilion in 1662, creating a zoo that was the model of predecessors – especially for the menagerie in Schönbrunn. It is still standing in the same place today and is therefore considered the oldest zoo in the world. Franz of Lorraine, Empress Maria Theresia’s husband, commissioned the construction of the park for naturalistic interest. The opening took place on 31 July 1752. However, only special guests were allowed to visit the park. What was initially considered a privilege was soon over. As early as 1779, the Schrönbrunn animal park was opened to the Viennese population and was maintained thanks to their support during the two world wars.

Other menageries often had to close in the course of the eighteenth century, because interest in scientific research and observation grew. But since the animals were unsuitable for this, they were usually not well cared for. In addition there was the pressure of the public to open the parks for the entire population. For this reason, scientifically managed parks, which were used by biologists as a research area, were founded. The Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes in Paris, founded in 1793 after the final disintegration of the Versailles menagerie, is considered to be the first scientifically guided institution and was accessible to everyone. Part of the animal exhibitions of some principalitys also opened up to the general public, but only aiming to display the animals.

At the beginning of the 19th century, numerous zoological foundations followed, which were not attributed to princely menageries, like the Berlin Zoo, the first German zoo. In Frankfurt am Main, the citizens founded “The Zoological Garden in front of the Bockenheimer Tor” in 1858, in which recreation and education were connected from the start. Initially conceived as an experiment, this institution became so popular, that the Frankfurt Zoo was established as a permanent institution, but had to move several times due to its steady growth.

The name “Zoological Garden” was created, also in the 19th century, in the famous London Zoo. In the documentation of the Zoological Society of London the abbreviation “zoo” is often used.

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