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)