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Cologne zoo was designed in 1860 after the zoos in Antwerp and Ams­ter­dam, at that time way out­side the city walls. Already in the first years the zoo housed 455 dif­fer­ent ani­mal species. Gifts from Ger­man ambas­sadors and sup­port­ers from all over the world. There was for instance a bear pit (which housed polar bears, black bears and Kam­schatka brown bears), a house for giraffes and anti­lope and a pri­mate house, all built in stone already. The giraffe/​antilope house still exists. In 1863 the arrival of the first orang utan cre­ated excite­ment, unfor­tu­nately the ani­mal died 6 months later. Some years fol­lowed at which Zoo man­age­ment was put to the test. In 1872 an infec­tious dis­ease, glan­ders, was intro­duced, which is a seri­ous zoonotic bac­te­r­ial dis­ease with a high case fatal­ity rate (95%) that pri­mar­ily affects horses, mules and don­keys. Unfor­tu­nately, glan­ders can occur in other mam­malian species, par­tic­u­larly mem­bers of the cat fam­ily, but even in humans. Thus, the Zoo lost three lions, a tiger, the ele­phant and the pony, a public’s favourite, to this dis­ease. In 1876 and 1882 the zoo was flooded by the Rhine river, cre­at­ing a lot of dam­age to build­ings and animals.

Despite these set­backs the Zoo flour­ished, as doc­u­mented by an increas­ing num­bers of vis­i­tors and con­struc­tion of many new enclo­sures. The two most famous and still exist­ing (rebuilt after the wars!) enclo­sures are the sea lion basin (1887) and the new Bird House (1899) which was designed after a Russ­ian cathedral.

Dur­ing this period Cologne Zoo also intro­duced ethno­graphic exhi­bi­tions of dif­fer­ent exotic tribal peo­ple. These kind of exhi­bi­tions were first intro­duced by Carl Hagen­beck, who trav­elled over Europe with such exhi­bi­tions. In Cologne seven of such events, with peo­ple from dif­fer­ent tribes on dis­play, were organ­ised; the last one in 1932, and none of them very profitable.

After a steady growth until 1913 they just man­aged to fin­ish and open the mon­key island before WWI. Dur­ing this war the City Coun­cil pre­vented the zoo from finan­cial dis­as­ter. Unfor­tu­nately WWII made them close the zoo in 1944. And after the war the tally was: 22 ani­mals but 133 bomb craters. The large preda­tor enclo­sure, which housed lions, jaquars, pumas and a Java tiger (which was nursed by a dog), didn’t sur­vive the war. In fact, the ele­phant house was the only build­ing that hadn’t col­lapsed. But as Cather­ine de Courcy ele­gantly put it in her book The Zoo Story: “The destruc­tion of the build­ings in Ger­man zoos dur­ing the sec­ond world war was a mixed bless­ing: while some inter­est­ing build­ings were lost, the way was cleared for enclo­sures which reflected a mid-​20th cen­tury atti­tude towards animal’s con­di­tions in captivity.”

The zoo opened again in 1947, and even in their first year after the war broke a record as the vis­i­tors count read: 267.188. The City Coun­cil decided in 1954 to donate 8 ha of land (includ­ing the for­mer velo­drome) north of the Zoo, and a mas­ter plan for fur­ther devel­op­ment of the Zoo was writ­ten in 1957. This huge 8 ha expan­sion cre­ated the oppor­tu­nity to build a lot of new enclo­sures, like the aquar­ium, the Africa savan­nah, and the big cats and deer enclo­sures. The aquar­ium (includ­ing a ter­rar­ium) was re-​opened in 1971, four­teen years after the mas­ter plan was pre­sented and three years of con­struc­tion, although just about every­thing went wrong close to the deadline.

Already at the end of the 1970s improve­ment were nec­es­sary due to the rav­ages of time. Dete­ri­o­ra­tion was notice­able at the ele­phant house, the rock face of the baboon enclo­sure, the fenc­ing of the big cats enclo­sures, and the bed­ding of the hoofed ani­mals quar­ters. Fur­ther­more, the cages in which the apes were kept, had led to behav­iour anom­alies. And to increase the “suf­fer­ing” of the Zoo, the City Coun­cil responded neg­a­tively to a request for addi­tional fund­ing to alle­vi­ate the bad con­di­tions in the Zoo. Even clo­sure of the Zoo was con­sid­ered dur­ing this period. But things changed rapidly after appoint­ment of Gun­ther Nogge as direc­tor. He took the lead in the estab­lish­ment of a “Friends of the Zoo” soci­ety to gen­er­ate essen­tial fund­ing. And under his super­vi­sion the Zoo was mod­ernised accord­ing up-​to-​date stan­dards with nat­ural habi­tats for the dif­fer­ent species. Nogge also played a rel­e­vant role in the devel­op­ment of the Euro­pean Zoos’ atti­tude and con­tri­bu­tion to nature con­ser­va­tion, as in 1985 the first 19 Euro­pean Endan­gered species Pro­grammes (EEP) were estab­lished at a meet­ing in Cologne zoo. Nowa­days the Zoo is active in nature con­ser­va­tion pro­grammes in nearly all continents.

The present zoo is sit­u­ated in a his­tor­i­cal park with large biotopes. In 1985 the primeval for­est house for human-​like pri­mates was estab­lished, in 1994 the leop­ard biotope, in 2000 the rain­for­est house and in 2004 the ele­phant park, with its 2 ha about 10% of the Zoo’s total sur­face. The final high­light was the open­ing of the Hip­podome in 2010, their 150th anniver­sary. But more is to come? Land­scape immer­sion is the new trend in zoo enclo­sure devel­op­ment, with ani­mals hav­ing even more nat­u­ral­is­tic habi­tat at their dis­posal and vis­i­tors hav­ing the oppor­tu­nity to explore these habi­tats in search for the ani­mals. A new chal­lenge for Cologne Zoo.

(Sources: web­site Cologne Zoo; Der Köl­ner Zoo by Pagel-​Reckewitz-​Spiess-​Schlosser, 2010)

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

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


about zoos and their mis­sion regard­ing breed­ing endan­gered species, nature con­ser­va­tion, bio­di­ver­sity and edu­ca­tion, which of course relates to the evo­lu­tion of species.
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