Though earlier attempts have been recorded, the first serious thoughts about establishing a zoo in Bratislava date to 1948, before Czechoslovakia became two countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia. At first, it was considered to build a Zoo in a part of the Bratislava Forest Park called Železná studnička, but experts regarded this location as unsuitable. Therefore a new alternative was suggested and accepted. And so Bratislava’s Zoo was built in Mlynská dolina – a neighbourhood of the Karlova Ves borough. This site was regarded the best place to establish a zoo as a separate breeding and educational institution and to honour the importance of Bratislava as the capital of Slovakia. Better than the original idea to build a zoo corner within the area of the Park kultúry a oddychu (Park of Culture and Relaxation) on the Danube riverfront.
The realisation of the zoological garden began not before 1959 with a small nine hectare area for relatively undemanding animals that was opened to the public on 9 May 1960. As time progressed, the species population and diversity grew with the acreage of the area (currently the zoo spreads over 96 hectares of which 35 ha has been made available for exhibits). Bratislava Zoo soon gained fame among other Czechoslovak zoos despite many provisional solutions. The Zoo managed – as the first Czechoslovak zoo as well as the first European zoo – to successfully keep species such as the Asian black bear, leopard, jaguar, scimitar-horned oryx and barasingha (Rucervus duvaucelii) but especially the striped hyena. During this first decade of the Zoo’s existence, they achieved to breed macaques, baboons, porcupines, coypus (Myocastor coypus), leopards, pumas and dingos. Moreover, as one of the first zoos in Europe, Bratislava Zoo successfully bred Eurasian lynx.
Already in the early days the Zoo developed educational activities with an advisory service. The Zoo’s experts gave advice to zoological, husbandry and conservationists’ clubs as well as breeders of small animals and amateur clubs for falconry for instance. In the 1970s, the zoo underwent a rapid expansion and modernisation. Precious species of rare and exotic animals such as giraffe, several species of antelope and deer, carnivore and primate along with a collection of parrots found a place at the Zoo grounds. The Zoo thus reached the most significant breeding successes at zoos in the former Czechoslovakia, involving first hand-rearing of Persian leopard and striped hyena.
However, from 1981 to 1985 the exhibits area was decreased by two thirds due to the construction of a municipal sewerage and a motorway junction. It disturbed everyday life in the Zoo, because no replacement was offered which necessitated animal relocation within the Zoo. One of the consequences was that a modern aviary with the largest collection of exotic birds in Czechoslovakia had to be demolished and the birds were sent to other zoos. The diminution was quite obvious for several years and the enclosures of wild Bactrian camel and kulan (Equus hemionus kulan) were visible from the main road all that time. Those animals were moved into the forest areas of the Zoo in 2003. The situation for the Zoo was extremely difficult as they had to give up breeding and preservation of many species and those which remained were often kept in inadequate conditions. The quality of the zoo declined more or less abruptly in the 1990s.
Nonetheless, Bratislava Zoo continued to contribute to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Captive breeding of this species has led to an extraordinary international accomplishment of successful reintroduction of small populations in protected areas, as part of a broader initiative to save the , under the umbrella of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). In 1999 the Zoo augmented a scimitar-horned oryx population in a protected area in Tunesia with a male specimen.of the scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah) that has been declared extinct in the wild by the
A decision in 1995 led to a further reduction in size when in 2003 the construction of the D2 motorway access road to the Sitina Tunnel forced a relocation of the entrance gate. Subsequently, the zoo was closed to the public from December 2003, until the building of a new entrance, parking lot and noise barrier wall was finished.
During the virtual standstill in these two decades no new species arrived, while many carnivores and primates lived in poor conditions. Some species such as bears still lived in small concrete enclosures built in the 1960s. Although this period had clearly a strong influence on the Zoo’s daily business a few signs of resilience could be noticed at the beginning of the 21st century. As mentioned earlier, in 2002 – 2003 the new enclosure for Turkmenian kulans, Bactrian camels and Shetland pony was constructed in the forested part of the zoo, while other development plans of the Zoo were accepted by the Bratislava municipal government in 2004.
Henceforth, Zoo management began to search for their unique style and commenced building modern enclosures such as the rhinoceros enclosure, the Pavilion for big cats (leopards, jaguars, tigers and lions) that opened in 2006 and the Primate House for great apes (orangutan and chimpanzee) that was officially opened in spring 2010. The main attraction, however, both for Bratislava citizens as well as tourists became the DinoPark with its unique exposition of Mesozoic reptiles that opened its gates in 2004. At an area of nearly 3 ha the DinoPark features life-sized sculptures of dinosaurs that are animated during the summer season. It also features a 3D cinema, educational trails and a palaeontological playground with fake fossils for children. The yearly turnstile numbers jumped from 160,000 to approximately 300,000, instantaneously.
Besides taking part inand , exercising their commitment to conservation the Zoo has joined captive breeding programmes that support species reintroduction, which was an important step for a small Central European zoo. The Zoo has participated in the reintroduction of European bison to the National Park in Eastern Slovakia, and contributed to the scimitar-horned oryx population in the National Park Sidi Toui in Tunisia, with two female and one male specimens – an exceptional achievement considering the obstacles they encountered.
Despite all setbacks and financial problems, Bratislava Zoo is changing for the better, though slowly.
(Source: website Bratislava Zoo; International studbook scimitar-horned oryx, 2016; CMS Sahelo-Saharan Megafauna; Wikipedia)