Login Register

The World's Oldest Zoos

Versailles menagerie (Source: Wikipedia)It is impossible to say how many zoos are in the world. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) has about 300 members, but the real number of the world’s zoos is minimum 15-20 times more. It is a little bit easier to find the oldest zoos, so let us see these. The oldest known zoological collection was revealed during excavations in Egypt, but it operated more than 3000 years ago. For simplicity, let us see the zoos which still exist and are open for visitors.

The oldest zoo in the world is Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna, Austria. It was constructed by Adrian van Stekhoven in 1752 at the order of Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, husband of Maria Theresa of Austria, to serve as an imperial menagerie as part of Schönbrunn Palace. Not only is it the oldest zoo, but research shows year after year that this is the best or at least one of the top zoos all over the world as well.

Some interesting facts about Schönbrunn Zoo:
- The last sensation in Vienna was the birth of the naturally conceived giant panda twins, Fu Feng and Fu Ban (now they are 6 months old)
- The new giraffe complex will be opening this year
- There are four different European breeding programmes coordinated by Zoo Vienna
- It has approximately 2-2,5 million visitors every year

The second oldest zoo, the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes, was opened in 1793-94. It should be noted that a zoo opened earlier in 1770 in Madrid, but that is not the Madrid zoo we know today. The new facilities of the Madrid Zoo Aquarium were constructed in 1972 and are located in different parts of the city.
An interesting event from the beginning in 1795 was when the French army occupied the Netherlands and took two elephants from the menagerie in 1798, a male and a female. Today the zoo does not have very large animals such as elephants, but a lot of rare smaller and medium-sized mammals and a variety of birds and reptiles. Naturally, nowadays there are more animals (about 1200) than at the beginning: 200 mammals, 300 birds, 200 tortoises, crocodiles, lizards and snakes, 200 amphibians and 300 insects, crustaceans and spiders.

About the centre of Paris:
Total land area: 5,5 ha (14 acres)
It only had a total of 22 directors during its long history
It had the first giraffe presented in France

The third oldest zoo is ZSL London Zoo in the UK, it opened on 27th April 1828. As well as being the first scientific zoo, ZSL London Zoo also opened the first reptile house (1849), first public aquarium (1853), first insect house (1881) and the first children's zoo (1938). Nowadays the London Zoo is working under the aegis of the Zoological Society of London. The Society also has a more spacious site at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire (about 50 km from London) to which the larger animals, such as elephants and rhinos, have been moved.

Did you know?
- Many movie scenes have been made in London Zoo, the last popular was the python scene from the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
- The zoo is sometimes called Regent's Zoo
- The abbreviation "zoo" was first used by the London Zoological Gardens

London Zoo, Reptile House (photo: Christian)

London Zoo, Penguin exhibit (photo: Christian)






And last on this list, the fourth oldest zoo was opened three years after London Zoo in 1831 and not too far it. This is Dublin Zoo, Ireland. The Royal Zoological Society of Dublin was established at a meeting on 10th May 1830 and the zoo, then called the Zoological Gardens Dublin, was opened on 1st September 1831. The first animals came from London Zoo as a donation.

About the Zoo:
- Dublin Zoo holds the European studbook for Moluccan cockatoos (Cacatua moluccensis) and two other species as well
- The 185 years old Zoo is Ireland’s most popular family attraction, and welcomed over one million visitors last year
- As many other modern zoos, Dublin Zoo financially supports a variety of conservation projects for the protection of great apes, tigers, rhinos, golden lion tamarins, etc.

Interestingly, the four oldest zoos still open nowadays are in Europe. It is strange but true that the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th are European as well: Bristol Zoo (1836), ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo (1838) (only opened for visitors in 1851), Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (1843), Berlin Zoo (1844) and Jardin Zoologique Marseille (1855).

But what about zoos on other continents?

Africa: Port Elizabeth Museum, South Africa (1856)
Asia: Thiruvananthapuram Zoo, India (1857)
North America, USA: Philadelphia Zoo, Pennsylvania (21st March 1859, chartered) (1st July, 1874, opened)

These four zoos were opened earlier:
Central Park Zoo, New York City, New York (1861)
Lincoln Park Zoological Gardens, Chicago, Illinois (1868)
Roger Williams Park Zoo, Providence, Rhode Island (1872)
National Aquarium, Washington, D.C. (1873)

Australia: Royal Melbourne Zoological Gardens (1861) (modelled on London Zoo)
South and Central America: Jardin Zoológico Municipal de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina (1874)

Book review on this subject:
Vernon N. Kisling, Jr. 2001. Zoo and Aquarium History: Ancient Animal Collections to Zoological Gardens

Despite the best efforts there may be errors in this article, in this case we apologize and ask you to let us know.

You have no rights to post comments

Enter the zoo world!