The Zoo in Salzburg, affectionately called Salzburger Tiergarten by the Salzburger citizens, looks back on a long history. The origin of Salzburg Zoo goes back to 1424 when a game park was established by the Archbishop of Salzburg. This archiepiscopal wildlife park comprised fish farms and flocks of birds.
In 1612 Markus Sittikus began planning Hellbrunn Palace including its parks. The deer park (‘Hirschgarten’) subsequently laid the foundation for Zoo Hellbrunn (renamed several times and currently called Zoo Salzburg). However, it took seven years to complete the deer park as such and, in 1619, according the preserved archives red deer, fallow deer, Alpine ibex, tortoises, pheasants, cranes, eagles, bears, wolves and lynx were kept, as well as beavers.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the interest in the deer park (Zoo) plummeted significantly and so it happened that the rare animals such as golden pheasant and white deer were transferred to the menagerie in the park of Schönbrunn palace in Vienna, in 1807.
After WWII in 1960, a number of leading Salzburg personalities that were animal lovers founded the association “Friends of the Salzburger Tiergarten Hellbrunn”. This club also made a strong case for a revival of the Zoo in Hellbrunn and in 1961 the gates of Bergweltzoo Salzburg were reopened to visitors. The Zoo focussed on animal species from mountainous regions such as bighorn and mane sheep, mouflon, mountain goat, alpaca, lama, yak, Andean beer, black bear, marmots and vultures. Nonetheless various other species were on display.
The first director and co-founder, Heinrich Windischbauer, developed the small zoological garden into a considerable enterprise with over 150 species. He introduced naturalistic enclosures that merged with the landscape and the rocky backdrop, many of them built against the rock face that borders the zoo grounds. The type of enclosures for which Salzburg Zoo is still known for, as well as for the free-flying griffon vultures. To contribute to the conservation efforts to save from going extinct Windischbauer founded a griffon vulture colony in1966, which still exists today. So, the griffon vultures of Salzburg Zoo fly free since 1966 and breed in the surrounding mountains. Their favourite places are the rock crevices in these mountains. As food is provided in the Zoo for the vultures you might see them end up at their feeding site in the Zoo or on the visitor footpaths when they are hungry, especially in winter. As pure scavengers, they pose no danger to humans.
Despite these successful endeavours the Zoo was again close to closure in 1972. Fortunately, in 1976, the city and state of Salzburg took a partnership and financially invested in the Zoo. As a result, a decent sewage system could be constructed, while many old enclosures were renovated. Moreover several new enclosures were built, among them a new big cats enclosure, a bear exhibit, a wisent house and a new gibbon exhibit, besides a new farm building and a storage shed. Friedrich Lacchini, who was director at the time, also made education a priority.
Until 1990 the grouping of the animal collection was done haphazardly, but when Lacchini handed over the zoo to his successor, Rainer Revers, the principle of the Geo-Zoo was introduced. Hence, with reference to the species’ geographical and habitat origin, three geographical zones were introduced – Eurasia, South America and Africa. At the same time increased attention was paid to the quality of the living space of the Zoo’s animals, including implementation of enrichment programmes. This led to a reduction of the number of species, together with the creation of mixed-species exhibits. As of the 1990s continuous improvement of the indoor as well as the outdoor enclosures took place. For instance, a walk-through tropical house was built (1998); the South America section redesigned with enclosures for alpaca, rhea, mara and maned wolf (2006); the South America House for inter alia small primates (2007); the Lion House with enclosures for African species such as lion, elephant shrew, Diana monkey, and red river hog (2010); a new large exhibit for Alpine ibex, and a new cheetah enclosure (2012); a new modern jaguar pavilion (2013); and a new gibbon pavilion with outdoor enclosure (2015).
Although Salzburg Zoo is a relatively small zoo, it is involved in quite a few national and international conservation efforts, including research programmes. Nationally, the Zoo makes an effort to improve the gene constitution of Alpine ibex in the wild. International recognition has been achieved especially with the Zoo’s contribution to the conservation of white rhinoceroses. Since 1991, white rhinos are on display in Salzburg and the Zoo’s specimens take part in the for these magnificent pachyderms. Although they had some fruitless years breeding the species themselves, they were finally successful using artificial insemination. In April and September 2015 two healthy rhino calves were born. Another highlight is the first successful breeding of wolverines outside Scandinavia in 1999. Other conservation/research contribution comprise research on progressive hindlimb paralysis and stress-caused disease in free-ranging cheetah; flight biology of griffon vulture; population management and long-distance immobilization in chamois; and reintroduction in the wild of Przewalski horse. For the latter the Zoo established and maintains a research station in the Tachintal, Gobi, Mongolia.
As you might expect from an EAZA and WAZA member the Zoo developed various education programmes over the years to inform the visitors about biodiversity, behaviour, biology, conservation and the relevance of safeguarding ecosystems. Respect for animals is core business, and they hope to achieve this by providing children close encounters in the petting zoo, which was established in 2008. Remarkable, however, in Salzburg Zoo is the fact that the animals have the opportunity to retreat into an area off limits to visitors.
In 2003, the original “Friends of the Salzburger Tiergarten Hellbrunn” association was transformed into the Zoo Salzburg . Shareholders are the city and state Salzburg in equal parts. In the same year, the Förderverein Zoo Salzburg was founded to financially support and boost the work of the Zoo.