In 1938 the Krefeld Zoo was founded as the ‘Krefelder Tierpark’ in the parkland of the Grotenburg Manor (‘Schlösschen’). The original farmland and fields was owned by the farmer’s family Grotenburg, and later by Moritz de Greiff, a silk manufacturer from Krefeld, who turned these lands into a spacious park area. The ‘Krefelder Tierpark’ was the successor of the ‘Crefelder Tiergartens’ that was privately owned and managed from 1877 until 1914 — when the city of Krefeld came into the possession of the parkland — on a site between the Tiergarten Strasse and the Uerdinger Strasse. The ‘Krefelder Tierpark’ was opened to the public on 22 May 1938 mainly as a youth education centre. At the time, the zoo area comprised half of the Grotenburg park and it was home to about 100 predominantly indigenous species in 40 enclosures. Heinrich Janssen, director of the former Natural History museum, became the first director and promoter of the Zoo.
During the Second World War, like many cities in the industrial Ruhr area the city of Krefeld was strategically bombed during air raids by the Allies. The Zoo was not spared, unfortunately. Many animals broke out because fences were damaged. As most of them were indigenous there was little danger for the public and only the wolves had to be shot.
In the 1950s, the Grotenburg Manor in the park was converted into a café and restaurant for the zoo visitors. In 1959, Walter Encke — at 28 years the youngest zoo director in Germany — took over the management of the zoo. Encke remained director until he retired in 1996, and his main concern in the beginning was to take particular care of species of which little was known, and focus on breeding of South American animal species which were threatened with extinction.
During the 1960s and 70s Krefeld Zoo established itself as a reputable Zoo and was recognised according international standards, with the first cheetah ever born in a European zoo in Krefeld as early evidence in 1960. Starting in 1961, outdoor enclosures for baboons, penguins and seals were built, as well as a house for lions. Snow leopard Nuschka that was acquired in 1962 formed the basis for successful breeding of this species to date. Another first successful breeding, together with Frankfurt Zoo, was achieved with maned wolves. Later they successfully bred two aardwolf pups for the first time in a European zoo (1983), and in 1996⁄97 they had a unique breeding success in Europe with Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos, acquired from San Diego Zoo.
In 1971, the “Tierpark” was renamed “Zoo”. Apparently, the main reason for the name change was the introduction of the first elephants, rhinos and orangutans as part of the animal collection.
Another proof of the focus on South American species in those days was the birth of jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi) kittens in 1974, probably for the second time ever in captivity. The breeding of jaguarundi was successfully continued and for a long time unique in Germany. Also in 1974, a small South American house was opened.
From that time onwards the opening of new enclosures and buildings could be witnessed on a regular basis, with in 1975 the groundbreaking Tropical House for great apes. Krefeld Zoo became well-known because of this building that housed gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees and served as an example for many other zoos. In 1989 a tropical hall for birds was opened and led to great breeding successes with bee-eaters and Egyptian plovers. The Rainforest House was opened another 10 years later, a new jaguar outdoor enclosure in 2004, followed by a new outdoor facilities for tigers in 2005. The last decade saw the opening of the Butterfly Jungle (2010), the redesign of the entrance area including the zooshop, the construction of the new Penguin exhibit (2013) and the establishment of the Zoo’s own veterinary facilities (2014). Although the opening of the large gorilla outdoor exhibit of 1200 m2 called Gorilla Garden could probably be regarded as the main attraction they created lately (2012) ?. Which could have something to do with the silverback Kidogo that came to Krefeld Zoo in April 2012, and gained worldwide fame for his love for performing several tricks, including tightrope walking. Kidogo performed his heroic balancing act on a rope a number of times, though certainly not every day. Nonetheless news spread fast when the act was caught on film by a professional photographer.
In 1972 the Friends of the Krefeld Zoo association had been established with as a main goal the promotion of the Zoo, especially by funding new buildings and enclosures or renovations. However, when in July 2005 the Krefeld Zoo was converted into a the Friends of the Krefeld Zoo association obtained the remaining 25.1% of company shares, when the city of Krefeld held 74.9% of the shares.
The Manor, originally the summer house of the family de Greiff, was already turned into the Zoo’s restaurant but was renovated in 2016 and shows a completely modernized and re-equipped interior.
The zoo currently (2019) accommodates about 1000 animals of 209 different species, including 50 species of butterflies, in an area covering 14 hectares.
A lot of zoos that exist for many decades report one or more unfortunate accidents as part of their history. As said, WWII was one of those accidents for Krefeld Zoo, but on New Year’s eve 2019 – 2020 another devastating event took place on the Zoo grounds. A fire completely destroyed the Tropical House (or Great Ape House), killing over 30 animals, including chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas. Fortunately, the neighbouring Gorilla Villa was spared. Allegedly, the fire was caused by releasing illegal sky lanterns.
(Source: Wikipedia; Zoo Krefeld guidebook, 2011; Zoo Krefeld wird 75: Eine Chronologie — RP Online; Westdeutsche Zeitung, 20.05.2008; website Freunde of Krefeld Zoo; Krefeld Stadtarchiv)