Where is the Oldest Zoo in the World?

Yellow pavilion at the Vienna Zoo.
Yellow pavilion at the Vienna Zoo.

Although only 300 zoos are members of the World Association of Zoos and Aquarium, there are 15-20 times more zoos in the world. A zoo can be described as an enclosure where animals are housed and displayed to the public. The enclosure often attempts to replicate the animal’s natural habitat or behavior patterns. The term “zoo” comes from the word “zoology” and was first used in 1828 during the opening of the London Zoological Garden. The oldest known zoological collections were discovered during an excavation in Egypt. However, the oldest known zoo which still exists today is the Tiergarten Schonbrunn in Vienna, Austria.

The Vienna Zoo

Simply known as the Vienna Zoo, Tiergarten Schonbrunn is the oldest zoo in the world. It has been open to the public since 1779. The zoo is situated on the grounds of the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna which was the summer residence of Franz Stephan I of Lorrain. The Vienna Zoo was built in 1752 by Adrian Van Stekhoven following the orders of Franz as his imperial menagerie and also as part of the Schonbrunn Palace.

The Growth Of The Vienna Zoo

When the menagerie was built in 1752, there were several others across Europe, especially in royal courts. These zoos were filled with animals brought back from foreign missions that had been financed by the ruling families. At the orders of the Holy Roman Emperor, the Vienna Zoo was built and filled with a collection of exotic animals. At the center of the zoo was an octagonal pavilion surrounded by 13 animal enclosures. Although most menageries closed down after the death of their founders, the Vienna Zoo survived. After the death of Franz, his son, Joseph II, added a variety of animals, including carnivores which his father avoided. He also opened the park to visitors and came up with the motto “A place of recreation dedicated to all the people by their esteemer” that can still be observed over the park today. The park was opened to the public in 1779. The first giraffe was brought into the zoo in 1828 and by the onset of the World War I the park had a total of 712 species. The zoo was almost closed in the 1980s following a financial crisis but the closure was prevented by the privatization in 1992.

The Zoo Today

Although the zoo suffered bombing raids in February 1945, where many buildings were destroyed and many animals were killed, it has since been restored. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1996. Over the last two decades, the zoo has been modernized and scientific research scaled up. It is one of the few zoos in the world that houses giant pandas. Other attractions in the zoo include rainforest house which is a simulation of the Amazon rainforest, a polarium for Arctic animals, and an aquarium which allows visitors to walk through a simulation of the Amazon flood. A Vienna Zoo commemorative silver coin was minted in 2002 to celebrate the zoo’s 250th anniversary.


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