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His­tory

The island Korkeasaari, just before the coast of Helsinki, has been a recre­ational park for Helsinki peo­ple long before the zoo was founded, since 1569. It was first used as pas­ture and for fish­ing. In the 19th cen­tury, it was used for stor­ing tim­ber. Dur­ing the Crimean war (18531856), the island was a mil­i­tary area and closed for the pub­lic. Helsinki city gained access to it again and after lengthy nego­ti­a­tions and debate in the press, the island was restored to pub­lic use for Helsinki inhab­i­tants after nearly ten years, in 1864. The visit of Emperor Alexan­der II to Helsinki is also thought to have influ­enced the out­come of the debate. Then the recre­ational use really started: steam­boat traf­fic was estab­lished, and the island of Korkeasaari became a pop­u­lar park to the cit­i­zens of Helsinki. As peo­ple liked to go to the island to pic­nic it was decided to estab­lish a restau­rant. A few years after the com­ple­tion of the restau­rant, an idea spawned regard­ing the plac­ing of a small col­lec­tion of ani­mals in Korkeasaari. Two hawks in cages had already been intro­duced to the park, and they had attracted a lot of atten­tion. Lieu­tenant Fab­ri­tius, the Sec­re­tary to the Board of Direc­tors of Anniskeluy­htiö, the restau­ra­teurs soci­ety, was autho­rised to view the Stock­holm and Copen­hagen zoos among the other duties on his trav­els. Fab­ri­tius became keen on the sub­ject, drew up a com­preh ensive report and pro­posed estab­lish­ing a zoo in Korkeasaari.

The city fathers and man­age­ment of Anniskeluy­htiö were in favour of estab­lish­ing the zoo; after all, it would pro­vide the work­ing class and chil­dren of poor fam­i­lies with an ele­vat­ing pas­time and edu­ca­tion. How­ever, there was a heated debate regard­ing the final loca­tion of the zoo, and after vot­ing it was only by a slight major­ity that it was decided that it should be estab­lished at Korkeasaari instead of the rival loca­tion between Alp­pila and Pasila, which even today bears the name Eläin­tarha (zoo in Finnish).

The Helsinki Zoo was estab­lished in 1889. How­ever, ani­mals had been housed in the park even before that. Many new ani­mals were donated to the zoo. Finally, the zoo had to place an adver­tise­ment in the news­pa­per ask­ing peo­ple to stop offer­ing new ani­mals because they were unable to con­struct ani­mal shel­ters as quickly as the grow­ing col­lec­tion of ani­mals would have required. The ani­mal shel­ters were works of art by the con­tem­po­rary archi­tects. The old stone-​walled Bear Cas­tles and the Polar Bear Cas­tle by the quay, both dat­ing back to the early 1900s, still remind us of the his­tory of keep­ing ani­mals in Korkeasaari.

Both World Wars had severe impact on the exis­tence of the zoo. Its final renais­sance began in the 1950s: The new Bear Cas­tle was com­pleted in time for the Olympic year 1952, and the Mon­key House in 1956. The first Cat Val­ley was com­pleted in 1964.

In sum­mer, the zoo was acces­si­ble by boat and in win­ter by a road over the ice. Steam­boats car­ried pic­nick­ers to the island well before the zoo was estab­lished. Reg­u­lar ferry traf­fic began in 1949, and it con­tin­ued until the early 1980s when the cur­rent boat con­nec­tions were intro­duced. The zoo has only been open to the pub­lic through­out the year since 1974 when the first tem­po­rary bridge from Mustikka­maa was com­pleted. The cur­rent bridge was built in 2004. As the Zoo is sit­u­ated just a stone’s throw from the south­ern tip of Kalasa­tama, the sounds of the wild cats carry over the water to the main­land in spring­time and can some­times be heard. A new bridge and tram con­nec­tion will be built to Korkeasaari as part of the Kru­unuvuorenselkä bridge project. An inter­na­tional open ideas com­pe­ti­tion for the devel­op­ment of Helsinki Zoo, held in 2009, was won by the French archi­tec­ture firm Beckmann-N´Thepe in col­lab­o­ra­tion with land­scape designer TN+ Agency (see the eval­u­a­tion). The zoo will sub­se­quently undergo major changes over the com­ing decade.

The Zoo’s look and activ­i­ties have changed in its 120 years of oper­a­tion. The con­cepts behind ani­mal hus­bandry and good facil­i­ties and activ­i­ties for the ani­mals, and the atti­tudes of the pub­lic towards the ani­mals is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from when the Zoo was estab­lished. Ani­mal facil­ity con­struc­tion through­out Europe is reg­u­lated by rules that aim for the well-​being of the ani­mals. The objec­tive of the Helsinki Zoo is also to ensure that the behav­iour of the ani­mals is as nat­ural as pos­si­ble, which means that the ani­mals are not tamed, and cubs are not bottle-​fed.

Helsinki Zoo has been involved, next to other nature con­ser­va­tion and edu­ca­tion activ­i­ties, in return­ing back to nature cap­tive bred endan­gered species. The Zoo has donated ibexes to the Aus­trian Alps, Euro­pean bison to Rus­sia, lynx to Poland, Euro­pean minks to Esto­nia and snowy owls and golden eagles to suit­able habi­tats in Finland.

(Source: web­site Helsinki zoo; Wikipedia; Helsinki’s Hori­zon 2030 , Helsinki City Plan­ning Depart­ment, 2010)

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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