Curious Kids: Where was the world’s first zoo? | Kiowa County Press

Interior view of Polito’s Royal Menagerie, Exeter Change, Strand, Westminster, London, 1812. Heritage Images/Hulton Archives via Getty Images

Michael J. Renner, Drake University

curious children is a series for children of all ages. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to [email protected]


Who created the first zoo? – Veronica, 11, Accokeek, Maryland


The truth is, historians don’t know who built the first zoo, or when it was built. But we can be sure that it happened a very long time ago.

The human fascination with animals goes back as far as humans. In the oldest cave paintings discovered, some of which are up to 40,000 yearsthere are more images of animals than people.

At some point, humans started capturing and holding animals so they could watch them up close whenever they wanted.

Zoos for a lucky few

The earliest known collections of exotic animals were held by royalty – and not open to the public.

Photo of an archaeological dig site showing a cowering skeleton of a baboon.
Remains of a baboon discovered in the ancient Egyptian cemetery of Hierakonpolis. (c)Renee Friedman, courtesy of Hierakonpolis Expedition

Archaeological excavations in the ancient Egyptian city of Nekhen have found buildings from around 3500 BC. AD containing the remains of captive hippos, baboons and elephants – animals not originating in Egypt. But life was not easy for these animals. They probably had short lives, and their remains show signs of severe injuries.

The tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Sahourê, who died around 2500 BC. AD, includes realistic images of Syrian bears wearing collars and leashes. It is believed that they had been brought back from a commercial expedition. No one knows how long bears have lived.

Public zoos open to all

The first public animal exhibition may have been created by Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt around 1480 BC. AD Researchers believe the zoo began with animals brought from a expedition that the queen sent to a distant land known as Punt, which may have been today’s Eritrea. It is not known why she built the zoo, but it may have been for show his wealth and his right to rule. Keeping dangerous and exotic animals in captivity has sometimes been a way for rulers to demonstrate their power.

The first zoos are found all over the world. In China, Emperor Wen-Wang said to have built a “Garden of Intelligence” around 1060 BC. This included deer, birds and many fish.

In England, King Henry I founded a menagerie around 1110 as part of the Royal Estate of Woodstock, Oxfordshire. His collection included tigers, camels, lions and porcupines. This collection finally moved to the Tower of London in 1235, around the time King Henry III received three lions by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. The tower’s animal collection has remained in this location for 600 years.

An illustration of two tigers attacking a lion inside a caged room.
Two tigers attack a lion in the Menagerie in the Tower of London on December 3, 1830. The lion was so badly injured that he died a few days later. Heritage Images/Hulton Archives via Getty Images

If you visit the Tower today, you will be able to see some of the cages: They are bare stone with metal bars. It is hard to imagine that the animals lived there well. The King of France sent an elephant in 1255. Although it had its own special lodging, he died after only a few years. The collection once included a polar bear who was allowed to swim in the River Thames on a long chain. At one time the cost of admission for public visitors was either a small fee or a stray dog ​​or cat to feed the lions.

In the Americas, Montezuma II had a zoo in Tenochtitlan, now known as Mexico City, in the late 1500s. It included many birds, carnivorous mammals and snakes. This zoo was so big that 300 people were employed to look after the animals. The emperor personally showed the zoo to the first European visitors. The Spanish soldiers, led by Hernan Cortes, wrote how much they admired the zoo even though they kept destroying it during the conquest of Tenochititlan in 1591.

A crowd of people wearing early 20th century clothing in front of a two-story monkey enclosure with many tree branches inside.
The Monkey House at Schonbrunn Zoo in Vienna. Hand-colored lantern slide, circa 1900. Imagnol/Hulton Archives

Schonbrunn Zoo, which was built in Vienna in 1752, is the oldest operating zoo in the world – still open in the same location. The zoo is famous for pioneering many design innovations, such as keeping animals in naturalistic decorations and assembly of several species in an enclosure.

Zoos have come a long way, especially in the way they take care of the animals. In fact, many zoos today are also conservation organizations, focused on protecting endangered animals.


Hello, curious little ones! Do you have a question you would like an expert to answer? Have an adult send your question to [email protected] Please let us know your name, age and the city where you live.

And since curiosity has no age – adults, let us know your questions too. We cannot answer all questions, but we will do our best.

The conversation

Michael J. RennerProfessor of Biology, Psychology and Environmental and Sustainability Science, Director of Zoo and Conservation Science, Drake University

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

About Florence M. Sorensen

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