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His­tory

The Zoo­log­i­cal and Botan­i­cal Gar­den
Budapest Zoo is one of the older zoos in Europe which opened on August 9th, 1866 and was the first Hun­gar­ian zoo, estab­lished thanks to the efforts of the Hun­gar­ian sci­en­tific elite. One of them became the first direc­tor, János Xan­tus, a trav­eler and nat­u­ral­ist. He was one of the four most impor­tant men of the sci­en­tists, the oth­ers were Jozsef Szabo (Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor), Jozsef Geren­day (direc­tor of the Uni­ver­sity Botan­i­cal Gar­den) and Agos­ton Kubinyi (direc­tor of the Hun­gar­ian National Museum), with­out whom the zoo never would have been devel­oped. The small zoo of 16 hectare, sit­u­ated in the Botan­i­cal Gar­den, was dur­ing the first few decades mainly home to crea­tures of the Carpathian Basin. The zoo kicked off as a pri­vate, not for profit com­pany, with help from the Hun­gar­ian Acad­emy of Sci­ence. The zoo com­pany was trans­formed into the Soci­ety for the Accli­ma­ti­sa­tion of Plants and Ani­mals in 1872, which was an accu­rate name as it really was a zoo­log­i­cal and botan­i­cal garden.

Next to the domes­tic plants and ani­mals there were a few real spe­cial­ties, such as a giraffe. The Hab­s­burg realm showed when Franz Joseph offered 35 ani­mals to the Budapest Zoo from Schön­brunn. As a mat­ter of fact, Budapest Zoo received its first giraffe from the Schön­brunn Menagerie in 1868, a gift from Empress Eliz­a­beth. This giraffe was bear­ing with young when she arrived in Budapest and her calf was the third ever born in cap­tiv­ity. Yet the real favourite (much beloved by Fer­enc Deák him­self, the famous min­is­ter of Jus­tice in those days) was a brown bear by the name of Kristóf (Christo­pher). The first African ele­phant arrived in 1875, and an Indian ele­phant came in 1883, while the Zoo received one of its rarest species in 1894, the Suma­tran rhi­noc­eros. The Zoo became well known for its breed­ing of native wild ani­mals, such as the great Euro­pean bus­tard, and native domes­tic ani­mals, such as the three orig­i­nal Hun­gar­ian dog breeds (the puli, puni and vizsla), the great horned Hun­gar­ian cat­tle and sev­eral breeds of Hun­gar­ian sheep and goats. From the long list of species that have been bred in the Zoo, the most impor­tant have been hip­popota­muses, giraffes and Indian ele­phants. The ded­i­ca­tion to ele­phants is more or less reflected in the main entrance gate with its sculp­tures of these pachyderms.

How­ever, the ini­tial inter­est quickly waned and the zoo turned to show­man, comics, and a lot­tery as a rem­edy. These solu­tions were not too effec­tive, and the mount­ing prob­lems even­tu­ally forced Xan­tus to resign. The next few years were plagued with numer­ous director-​replacements, as none of the suc­ces­sors were able to solve the lack of funds, and inter­nal bat­tles. Fur­ther­more, the Zoo suf­fered from con­ta­gious ani­mal dis­eases, and a con­stant annoy­ance were the intru­sions of the foxes from the City Park. But in 1873 Károly Serák a yeo­man from Bor­sod became the new director.

This was the begin­ning of the 30-​year “Serák Era”, which is still con­sid­ered the golden age of the Zoo. With lots of expe­ri­ence in reor­ga­ni­za­tion, Serák wanted to solve the finan­cial trou­bles so he hired tons of comics and show­men, includ­ing ethno­graph­i­cal dis­plays (exotic humans shown to the pub­lic — an idea orig­i­nat­ing from Carl Hagen­beck), and he never shied away from arti­fi­cially tidy­ing up the annual fis­cal reports. Yet in the end he still had some­thing to show for: by 1875 the city was will­ing to sup­port the zoo and the park was soon expanded with a Lions’ den (Oros­zlánok Háza) designed by Ala­jos Hausz­mann and the Bird­house (Madárház) by Andor Sem­sey. The fast growth and increas­ing rev­enues con­vinced the lead­er­ship to pre­pare an extrav­a­gant com­mem­o­ra­tion for the country’s mil­len­nium cel­e­bra­tion. Start­ing in 1890, they began to acquire many new, fas­ci­nat­ing crea­tures like the Nile hippo and the Suma­tran rhi­nos. But vis­i­tors were also treated with chimps, orang­utans, sea lions, anteaters, the white-​tailed gnu, both ele­phant species, and just about every bear one could imagine.

Fol­low­ing the unprece­dented suc­cess of 1896, the zoo nev­er­the­less suf­fered another draw­back, while try­ing to stay an inde­pen­dent soci­ety. After their lease expired, the city decided to raise the rent, which the insti­tu­tion could not afford. The last major ani­mal acqui­si­tion was in 1898, and in 1907 the zoo entered bank­ruptcy while its par­ent com­pany the Zoo and Botan­i­cal Group (Állat-​és Növényk­ert Tár­saság) was dis­man­tled. The city even­tu­ally pur­chased the zoo in 1907. Famous archi­tects were com­mis­sioned with the rebuild­ing and ren­o­va­tion of the estab­lish­ments. Some of the valu­able art-​nouveau build­ings designed by Károly Kós still can be seen. In 1912 the zoo re-​opened and many new species arrived.

Though in the fol­low­ing years the insti­tu­tion had pro­fes­sional direc­tors, who put great impact on edu­ca­tion too, lit­tle progress was made. The city coun­cil had very lit­tle finan­cial resources, which was not a sur­prise as Hun­gary just became inde­pen­dent and autonomous after a long period under the influ­ence of Aus­tria in the Hab­s­burg Empire. Nev­er­the­less, even in these dif­fi­cult times some new build­ings were erected, such as the ear­li­est pub­lic ter­rar­ium and a botan­i­cal green­house. Unfor­tu­nately, dur­ing World War II the Zoo build­ings were heav­ily dam­aged and only a few ani­mals sur­vived. After the freez­ing win­ter months of 1944 when the Zoo and city of Budapest became a besieged town and bat­tle­field between the Ger­mans and the Rus­sians, 15 ani­mals sur­vived at Budapest zoo. Amaz­ingly, whilst the local peo­ple eat any­thing they could to sur­vive, four or five of these sur­viv­ing ani­mals were Hip­popotami (or Hip­popota­muses). These plant eaters sur­vived in the warm waters of the ther­mal springs there, along­side a hand­ful of ‘singing birds’.

In 1949 the zoo opened for the 3rd time under dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances. In the 1950’s and 1960’s it slowly regained its sta­tus and was re-​populated again. Dur­ing this period there was more empha­sis on edu­ca­tional and sci­en­tific work. Man­age­ment organ­ised spe­cial courses for keep­ers and the sci­en­tific staff to estab­lish a higher stan­dard. It was in those days that the Budapest Zoo staff wrote The Fun­da­men­tals of Zoo­log­i­cal Gar­den Work, one of the first zoo train­ing man­u­als. In 1966 the 100th anniver­sary was cel­e­brated with ren­o­va­tions and sci­en­tific con­fer­ences. In the last decades there was ongo­ing devel­op­ment and in the 1990s the zoo under­went major recon­struc­tion and an expan­sion of children’s enter­tain­ment ser­vices, the much needed asset, like any­where else in the world, to keep a pos­i­tive cash flow. So the zoo was raised to a Euro­pean stan­dard again.

Although con­sid­er­able improve­ment had been achieved the Zoo still needed more room to dis­play its col­lec­tion in a proper man­ner. Expand­ing the grounds was almost impos­si­ble because of the rail­way tracks and the roads sur­round­ing the Zoo. But on one side part of the grounds were once handed over to a fair­ground, and pos­ses­sion of this part was recov­ered. This resulted in the open­ing of Hol­nem­volt Park (‘Once Upon a Time Park’) as an addi­tion to Budapest Zoo on 29 April 2014. This new fam­ily leisure park has var­i­ous exotic and local mam­mal and bird species on dis­play, such as meerkat, wild boar, fal­low deer, ostrich, emu and flamingo, but domes­tic ani­mals as well. In fact the pet­ting zoo has been moved to this new site. Fur­ther­more the area also fea­tures enter­tain­ment rides, of which some have been taken over by the Zoo from the orig­i­nal fairground.


The Archi­tec­ture

Most of the Budapest Zoo and Botan­i­cal Garden’s build­ings are con­sid­ered to be his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ments and the recent recon­struc­tion has restored them to their orig­i­nal state and beauty to face the 21st cen­tury, while pre­serv­ing the old atmos­phere. Antal Szkalnitzky and Hen­rik Koch Jr orig­i­nally designed the zoo in the Roman­tic style. Between 1909 and 1912, many of the old build­ings were torn down to make way for the new facil­i­ties designed by the famous archi­tects Károly Kós and Deszõ Zrumeczky. This was the advent of the Main Gate dec­o­rated with ele­phants, the Ele­phant House (Ele­fán­tház) of which its beau­ti­ful Moor­ish archi­tec­ture can be seen here, the Small and Big Cliff (Kis-​, Nagyszikla), the Palm House (Pálmaház), the Mon­key House (Majomház), the Pheas­ant Pre­serve (Fácános), the Deer House (Szarvasház), the Rodent House (Rágc­sálóház), the Bird House (Madárház), and the Bambi-​house (Bambi-​ház). The Aquar­ium uses the lat­est tech­nol­ogy to dis­play about 150 species.


(Source: web­site Budapest Zoo; worldwarzoogardener1939’s blog; Wikipedia; “Zoo and Aquar­ium His­tory” by Ver­non N. Kisling, jr.)

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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