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His­tory

The menagerie of the Jardin des Plantes is in its essence a zoo­log­i­cal gar­den set up in a botan­i­cal gar­den. The Jardin des Plantes, then the Jardin du Roi, was estab­lished in the 17th cen­tury as a gar­den for med­i­c­i­nal herbs by two of King Louis XIII’s physi­cians. His suc­ces­sor, King Louis XIV or the Sun King, had estab­lished a menagerie (on request of the mem­bers of the Acad­emy of Sci­ence of France) in the park of the palace of Ver­sailles in 1662. It was the first menagerie in Baroque style, with its promi­nent fea­ture the cir­cu­lar lay­out, in the mid­dle of which stood a beau­ti­ful pavil­ion. In the perime­ter of such a pavil­ion was a walk­ing path sur­rounded by enclo­sures and cages. After Louis XIV died, there was a lack of atten­tion paid to the Ver­sailles menagerie by his suc­ces­sors, Louis XV and XVI, in the 1700s. Like the mon­archs of that time, they were no admir­ers of all the cer­e­mony and eti­quette favoured by their pre­de­ces­sor. Louis XV par­tic­u­larly dis­liked the the­atri­cal­ity and sym­bol­ism of the pub­lic dis­plays. Nev­er­the­less, he main­tained the menagerie and numer­ous ani­mals were held in cap­tiv­ity. Even new arrivals were accom­mo­dated, includ­ing a two-​horned rhi­noc­eros in 1770 and an ele­phant in 1775.

Although under the reign of Louis XVI the menagerie became pop­u­lated with domes­tic species to cre­ate an ide­alised rural set­ting, it still pro­voked the cit­i­zens of Paris. When at the begin­ning of the French Rev­o­lu­tion, in 1789, the aver­sion to roy­alty reached its cli­max, the menagerie became one of the tar­gets of the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies as they thought it was offen­sive to feed­ing ani­mals large amounts of pre­cious food just to look at them. The crowd freed the ani­mals, except for the exotic ones. The ani­mals could not longer be cared for in Ver­sailles. So, when the local Jacobins planned to sub­sti­tute the menagerie’s use­less beasts with a breed­ing ground that would ben­e­fit agri­cul­ture, trans­port and the army, the remain­ing ani­mals were moved to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris in 1792. Bernardin de Saint-​Pierre, stew­ard of the Jardin des Plantes, wished to exhibit the ani­mals as a liv­ing part of what was to become the national natural-​history museum. At first it was unclear whether the ani­mals could be kept or not, because nei­ther ade­quate hous­ing, nor human and finan­cial resources were avail­able to accom­mo­date the ani­mals. Nev­er­the­less on 10 June 1793, the Jardin des Plantes includ­ing the menagerie as zoo­log­i­cal facil­i­ties, was offi­cially appointed the national Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle by the ‘Con­ven­tion nationale’. The estab­lish­ment of the ‘Ménagerie’ was endorsed on 16 May 1794 by the ‘Comité de Salut pub­lic’, which makes it the sec­ond old­est zoo accord­ing mod­ern zoo­log­i­cal tra­di­tion, the old­est being Schön­brunn Zoo in Vienna. The estab­lish­ment intended to serve the entire nation rather than a select few. The involve­ment of the munic­i­pal­ity or local gov­ern­ment in the devel­op­ment of the zoo is a trait that has not been copied in most of the other Euro­pean coun­tries where pri­vate or royal menageries were mod­ernised. In other coun­tries zoo­log­i­cal gar­dens were estab­lished by soci­eties whose cap­i­tal was derived from dona­tions and mem­ber­ship contributions.

Despite the cre­ation of a Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle the lack of funds remained, which led to the neces­sity to keep the ani­mal col­lec­tion in the not-​fit-​for-​purpose sta­bles, old green­house, etcetera. The con­di­tion were worse than those of a fair­ground menagerie. This caused high ani­mal mor­tal­ity, com­bined with the lack of food due to national short­ages. There­fore, it became nec­es­sary to start build­ing the col­lec­tion from scratch.

Thus, an inten­sive period of ani­mal acqui­si­tion began. Besides the usual meth­ods of acqui­si­tion, like pur­chase, gift and sci­en­tific expe­di­tion, the mil­i­tary vic­to­ries of the French army per­mit­ted the seizure of ani­mals in menageries of Hol­land, Switzer­land and Italy. Famous was the 23-​month-​journey to Paris and arrival, 23 March 1798, of an ele­phant pair from the menagerie of ‘Het Loo’, seized by French forces from the Stadtholder of Hol­land, Willem V. Per­haps even more impres­sive was the arrival of a giraffe at the Jardin in 1827, a gift from Muham­mad Ali, the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, to King Charles X of France. This giraffe, the first ever seen in France, after sail­ing from Egypt walked all the way from Mar­seille to Paris. As men­tioned the sta­bles and cages were dilap­i­dated, there­fore it was urgently needed to build new enclo­sures. In a period of about 40 years after the dif­fi­cult times of the Rev­o­lu­tion, sev­eral con­struc­tion projects were com­pleted. These included the mon­key and bird house, the bear pits, the rotunda (La Rotonde) for large her­bi­vores (ele­phant and giraffe), the build­ing for fero­cious ani­mals (the Fau­verie), a new mon­key house and a vivar­ium. Many of them still exist to date, with La Rotonde – com­mis­sioned by Napoleon him­self — being the menagerie’s old­est build­ing, designed to repli­cate the cross of the Napoleonic Legion of Hon­our, now hous­ing giant tor­toises. Dri­ving forces behind this major refur­bish­ment were Geof­froy Saint-​Hilaire, who ran the menagerie of the Jardin des Plantes from 18021841, and Frédéric Cuvier, the zool­o­gist who became war­den of the menagerie in 1803.

In those days, sci­ence was the main focus of the menagerie, as it was in Lon­don Zoo (opened in 1828). And it was Lord Zuck­er­man, Pres­i­dent of the Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Lon­don, who said that the sci­en­tific phase of the ancient zoo tra­di­tion began with estab­lish­ment of the Jardin des Plantes and the Lon­don Zoo. Although enter­tain­ment was not a pri­or­ity, the menagerie attracted lots of vis­i­tors and the mere pres­ence of the ani­mal col­lec­tion was pre­sumed to broaden the knowl­edge of the public.

As it was argued that there’s lit­tle dif­fer­ence between stuffed ani­mals and those impris­oned in cramped pens, the inten­tions were to develop enclo­sures that would allow ani­mals to express their nat­ural behav­iour. Unfor­tu­nately, this was only par­tial realised for the her­bi­vores. The excel­lent cave-​riddled rock for the felids for instance, designed by Moli­nos, was judged to be too expen­sive, unfor­tu­nately. In the end, the fero­cious ani­mals were inhab­ited in a rec­tan­gu­lar build­ing of neo-​Classical style, with about 20 cages in a row. This was sup­ported by sci­en­tists, who thought the archi­tec­tural form under­pinned the sta­tus of what they were: a col­lec­tion, like in natural-​history cab­i­nets. The ani­mals were on dis­play, lit­er­ally, on shelves, rather than in habi­tats as in zoos, nowa­days. The cages were bare and small in size, and with­held the ani­mals of any link what­so­ever to their nat­ural environment.

The Jardin’s menagerie design was a break with the Baroque tra­di­tion. The menagerie was no longer a sep­a­rate entity sur­rounded by a gar­den, but it was dis­trib­uted over the whole area. By doing so, mul­ti­ple view­points were cre­ated, not only for the pub­lic but for the ani­mals too. This was the first time that a kind of nat­u­ral­is­tic envi­ron­ment was cre­ated for ani­mals kept in cap­tiv­ity. The idea was that the gar­den rep­re­sented nat­ural land­scapes, which made it irreg­u­lar based on the frag­mented nat­u­ral­is­tic design. A col­lage of forms based on human con­cepts of how a vari­ety of small hills, val­leys, lakes, streams, woods and mead­ows should look like in a con­fined sit­u­a­tion of a garden.

This style was spread through­out Europe in the sec­ond half of the eigh­teenth cen­tury, thanks in part to the con­tem­po­rary pres­tige of France in Europe. But, while other Euro­pean menageries prof­ited from the spread of knew knowl­edge, via for instance pho­tog­ra­phy and increased pos­si­bil­i­ties to visit other facil­i­ties via rail­ways, and adopted inno­va­tions, the Jardin des Plantes did not mod­ernise and soon became old-​fashioned. As a mat­ter of fact, the Lon­don Zoo had a far more sig­nif­i­cant effect on the devel­op­ment of mod­ern zoo tra­di­tion. Despite this, two traits of the Jardin des Plantes remained influ­en­tial through­out Europe, its land­scaped set­ting and its ded­i­ca­tion to the good of the nation, in both its goals and its acces­si­bil­ity to a wider public.

The his­tory of the menagerie of the Jardin des Plantes is a good exam­ple of what hap­pened next in the his­toric evo­lu­tion of zoo­log­i­cal gar­dens. In 1861, another sci­en­tific objec­tive of zoo­log­i­cal gar­dens was intro­duced: adap­ta­tion to a new cli­mate and domes­ti­ca­tion of exotic species with the aim of iden­ti­fy­ing new resources to the soci­ety at large. So, domes­ti­cate the wild ani­mals, and cre­ate more robust ani­mals by cross-​breeding them with domes­tic ani­mals, for com­mer­cial pur­pose (e.g. trans­port, meat and wool). An alter­na­tive sup­ply of food would have been wel­comed in this period of food short­ages. It turned out that the Jardin des Plantes was not suit­able for this goal. There­fore, a new spe­cialised cen­tre was set up by the Société d’Acclimatation just out­side Paris: Jardin d’Acclimatation in a part of the Bois de Boulogne. Cross-​breeding lead­ing to steril­ity of ani­mals, the need of wildlife preser­va­tion that emerged in the first part of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, and the bet­ter yield of indige­nous live­stock, finally marked the fail­ure of this sci­en­tific ambition.

A major set­back was expe­ri­enced due to the Franco-​Prussian war (187071). The famine that spread in the city forced the staff to slaugh­ter the edi­ble ani­mals, and the Jardin was bom­barded while a tem­po­rary hos­pi­tal had been set up there. To rebuild the ani­mal col­lec­tion in the after­math of the war the French received ani­mal con­sign­ments from sev­eral befriended nations, even from Australia-​Melbourne.

The Jardin des Plantes’ menagerie has changed lit­tle over the years, and many of the old build­ings still exists, though cru­cial ren­o­va­tions have taken place, of course. At the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tury a hiber­na­tion enclo­sure (1905), a small mon­key house (1928), a vivar­ium (1929), another mon­key house (1934) and a rep­tile house (1932) have been built. A half cen­tury passed after this improve­ment with­out any fur­ther inno­va­tions except the restora­tion of the bear pit and some tech­ni­cal cor­rec­tions. A new enclo­sure for diur­nal birds of prey was built in 1983. A vari­ety of ren­o­va­tions were car­ried out in the 1980s. At the begin­ning of the 21st cen­tury the pheas­ants enclo­sure from 1881 was ren­o­vated. How­ever, as all of the struc­tures are listed build­ings, it is almost impos­si­ble to cre­ate new struc­tures here.


(Sources: Le zoo du prince by B.C. Slig­gers and A.A. Wertheim (ed.), 1994; The Zoo story by Cather­ine de Courcy, 1995; Zarafa by Michael Allin, 1998; Zoo and Aquar­ium his­tory by Ver­non N. Kisling Jr. (ed.), 2001; Zoo, A his­tory of zoo­log­i­cal gar­dens in the west by Eric Baratay and Elis­a­beth Hardouin-​Fugier, 2002.)

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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