Oldest Zoos in the World

11 Oldest Zoos in the World

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Zoos are some of the most visited attractions around the world and have been delighting people for several centuries. Many of the oldest zoos grew out of royal menageries and various royals enjoyed keeping exotic pets. Eventually these private menageries were opened to the public and turned into proper zoos.

The zoos on this list have undergone many renovations to keep up with modern standards for holding animals in captivity. However, many of the original buildings have become protected historical sites and are used for other purposes as they are no longer suitable for animal habitation.

11. Central Park Zoo

Year Established: 1864
Location:  Central Park, New York City, New York, USA
Land Area:  6.5 acres (2.6 ha)
Number of Animals:  Unspecified
Number of Species:  more than 150

Central Park Zoophoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Tim Rodenberg

Although the Philadelphia Zoo lays claim to being the oldest zoo in America – because its charter and zoological society were set up in 1859 – the Central Park Zoo already had animals about a decade before the Philadelphia Zoo actually opened in 1874. The Central Park Zoo began as an accidental menagerie when a bear cub was left at the park in 1859. The bear attracted lot of visitors and more exotic animals turned up at Central Park. Eventually a formal zoo charter was granted from New York’s assembly in 1864 and the Central Park Zoo grew from there.

Did You Know?

Many of the first animals donated to the Central Park Zoo came from famous Americans, including President Abraham Lincoln, Samuel Morse, August Belmont, General William Sherman, and General George Custer.


10. Royal Melbourne Zoological Gardens

Year Established: October 6, 1862
Location:  Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Land Area:  55 acres (22 ha)
Number of Animals:  about 5,120
Number of Species:  about 320

Melbourne Zoophoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Chris Phutully

The Royal Melbourne Zoological Gardens, usually just called Melbourne Zoo, is the oldest zoo in Australia and was opened in 1862. It was modeled after the London Zoo and built in Melbourne’s largest inner-city park, Royal Park.

Initially, the Melbourne Zoo was used for the acclimatisation of domestic animals recovering from their long trip to Australia, but in 1870, under the direction of Albert Alexander Cochrane Le Souef, the Melbourne Zoo acquired more exotic animals. The gardens and picnic areas were also developed at this time.

Did You Know?

On January 15, 2010, the first female elephant calf in Australia, Mali, was born at the Royal Melbourne Zoological Gardens. Mali is also the first elephant calf in the country to be born via artificial insemination.


9. Thiruvananthapuram Zoo

Year Established: 1857
Location:  Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India
Land Area:  55 acres (22 ha)
Number of Animals:  Unspecified
Number of Species:  about 82

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Thiruvananthapuram Zoo or Trivandrum Zoo is the oldest zoo in India and all of Asia. The zoo was opened in 1857 but traces its roots further back to between 1830 and 1847 when Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma established a menagerie containing royal tigers, panthers, cheetahs, deer, boar, and other wild animals. Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma’s brother, Utham Thirunal, turned the menagerie into a proper zoo with help from British Resident William Cullen and opened it next to the Napier Museum.

Did You Know?

Although Thiruvananthapuram Zoo is quite large at 55 acres (22 hectares), there are only about 82 different species housed in the zoo.


8. Berlin Zoological Garden

Year Established: 1844
Location:  Berlin, Germany
Land Area:  86.5 acres (35 ha)
Number of Animals:  about 20,219
Number of Species:  about 1,373

Berlin Zoological Gardenphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

 

The Berlin Zoological Garden is not only Germany’s oldest zoo, it is the country’s most famous. The zoo is massive and spans 86.5 acres (35 hectares) and houses over 20,219 animals. Due to its size and number of animals, the Berlin Zoo is the most -visited zoo in Europe and one of the most popular worldwide.

The Berlin Zoo was opened in 1844 and the first animals were donated by Frederick William IV, King of Prussia, from the menagerie and pheasantry of the Tiergarten (Berlin’s famous inner-city park). The zoo’s aquarium was added in 1913.

Did You Know?

Adding to the Berlin Zoological Garden’s fame is its notable residents such as Knut the baby polar bear, who has spawned numerous toys, media specials, DVDs, and books; Bao Bao one of the first two giant pandas in Germany, who lived between 1978 – 2012; and Fatou, born in 1957 and currently the oldest living gorilla in captivity.


7. Antwerp Zoo

Year Established: July 21, 1843
Location:  Antwerp, Belgium
Land Area:  26 acres (10.5 ha)
Number of Animals:  more than 7,000 (along with sister park Planckendael)
Number of Species:  more than 950 (along with sister park Planckendael)

photo source: Flickr via hape662

The Antwerp Zoo was founded by the Société Royale de Zoologie d’Anvers (The Antwerp Royal Society for Zoology) in 1843 for botanical and zoological research. Unlike some of the other zoos on this list, the Antwerp Zoo is still run by the city’s zoological society, now called De Koninklijke Maatschappij voor Dierkunde van Antwerpen.

In the past, the Antwerp Zoo was also used hold concerts as well as the boxing and wrestling events during the 1920 Summer Olympics. After World War II, the Antwerp Zoo underwent extensive renovations to become a model zoo which conformed to new and modern scientific, educational, cultural and aesthetic standards.

Did You Know?

The Antwerp Zoo is home to the studbooks of several endangered species, including the okapi, he Przewalski horse, the Congo peafowl, the bonobo, the golden-headed lion tamarin, the European otter, and the Knysna seahorse.


6. Natura Artis Magistra (Artis Amsterdam Royal Zoo)

Year Established: 1838
Location:  Amsterdam, Netherlands
Land Area:  25 acres (10 ha)
Number of Animals:  about 5,600
Number of Species:  about 900

photo source: Flickr via Kitty Terwolbeck

Natura Artis Magistra (ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo) or just ARTIS is the oldest zoo in the Netherlands and is home to over 900 different species of animals. ARTIS was founded by Gerard Westerman; J.W.H. Werlemann; and J.J. Wijsmuller (also known as the three Ws) with the objective of “promoting the knowledge of natural history.”

Initially, ARTIS’s collection of animals consisted of a few parrots, monkeys and a wildcat from Suriname, but a year later the zoo acquired C. van Aken’s entire “travelling menagerie.” Soon, the zoo had many exotic animals including an elephant, lions, a panther, a tiger, a puma, hyenas, polar bears, brown bears, and many others.

Did You Know?

Natura Artis Magistra is not only home to a number of animals from around the world, but it also contains the Amsterdam’s oldest monumental tree, the Heimans Oak dating from 1750.


5. Bristol Zoo

Year Established: 1836
Location:  Bristol, UK
Land Area:  12 acres (4.9 ha)
Number of Animals:  about 7,155
Number of Species:  about 419

photo source: Geograph UK via Eirian Evans

Bristol Zoo is the world’s oldest provincial zoo and was first open in 1836 by the Bristol, Clifton and West of England Zoological Society. Compared to a lot of the other zoos on this list, Bristol Zoo is quite small but home to over 7,000 animals. Many of the original buildings are still standing at Bristol Zoo, but they have been repurposed as many are no longer suitable to house animals by modern standards.

Did You Know?

For a small provincial zoo, Bristol Zoo achieved many breeding firsts, including the first black rhino born in Britain in 1958, the first squirrel monkey born in captivity in 1953, and the first chimpanzee born in Europe in 1934.


4. Dublin Zoo

Year Established: September 1, 1831
Location:  Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland
Land Area:  69 acres (28 ha)
Number of Animals:  over 400
Number of Species:  Unspecified

Dublin Zoophoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The Dublin Zoo is a large zoo located in Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland that is dedicated to the conservation of numerous exotic and endangered animals from around the world. The zoo was established in 1830 and designed by famous English architect Decimus Burton. The first animals brought to Dublin Zoo were donated by the London Zoo. Like the London Zoo, the Dublin Zoo has been used to study animals since it was established. The Dublin Zoo maintains this tradition today and is part of a worldwide program to breed endangered species.

Did You Know?

Some of the most endangered species housed at the Dublin Zoo are Rodrigues Fruit Bats, Golden Lion Tamirans, and Moluccan Cockatoos.


3. ZSL London Zoo

Year Established: April 27, 1828
Location:  Regent’s Park, London, England
Land Area:  36 acres (15 ha)
Number of Animals:  19,289
Number of Species:  673

photo source: Flickr via Loz Pycock

The ZSL (Zoological Society of London) London Zoo or just the London Zoo opened on April 27, 1828, two years after the ZSL was established. While the London Zoo is not the oldest zoo overall, it is the oldest scientific zoo as the two older zoos in the world started out as royal menageries.

For the first few decades, the London Zoo was only open to fellows of the ZSL to study the exotic animals. To help aid funding, the London Zoo was open to the public in 1847.

Did You Know?

Over the years, the ZSL London Zoo has been home to many notable specimens, including the only living quagga (now extinct) ever to be photographed, and the also now extinct thylacine or “Tasmanian tiger.”


2. Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes

Year Established: December 11, 1794
Location:  Paris, France
Land Area:  14 acres (5.5 ha)
Number of Animals:  about 1,200
Number of Species:  about 180

Menargerie du Jardin des Plantesphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Guilhem Vellut

Opened a couple of decades after Tiergarten Schönbrunn, the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes is the world’s second oldest zoo and the first opened in France. The zoo is a part of Paris’s Jardin des Plantes (botanical garden) that opened way back in 1635.

The Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes was established as a result of the French Revolution. Exotic animals that were privately owned were seized and were supposed to be donated to the Royal Menagerie in Versailles or stuffed. However, the scientists let the animals live and transferred them to the Jardins des Plantes. After the Royal Menagerie was shut down, those animals were also brought to the Jardins des Plantes.

Did You Know?

All of the buildings at the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes are historically protected buildings, which makes expansion/and or renovations impossible. This is why the zoo no longer has larger animals like elephants or giraffes.


1. Tiergarten Schönbrunn

Year Established: July 31, 1752
Location:  Vienna, Austria
Land Area:  42 acres (17 ha)
Number of Animals:  Unspecified
Number of Species:  More than 700

Tiergarten Schonbrunnphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Manfred Werner

 

Tiergarten Schönbrunn has been in continuous operation since it opened on July 31, 1752,  making it the oldest zoo in the world. The zoo was built on the orders of the then Holy Roman Emperor, Francis I, husband of Maria Theresia, to serve as an imperial menagerie. Technically, the zoo is even older as a small collection of animals had been kept at the site since 1540. Tiergarten Schönbrunn was not open to the public until 1779 and initially had free admission.

Although Tiergarten Schönbrunn has almost shut down a few times, the zoo somehow managed to survive both World Wars and a financial crisis in the 1980s. The zoo has been privatized since 1992 to help sustain its financial situation.

Did You Know?

On 14 July 1906, Tiergarten Schönbrunn saw the birth of the first elephant in captivity.


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