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Already in the 1920s the City Coun­cil of Duis­burg had plans for a zoo­log­i­cal park with espe­cially indige­nous species. But only years later the first seri­ous steps were taken to estab­lish such a zoo, when the direc­tor of the City’s parks and gar­den depart­ment, Josef Liebig, took the ini­tia­tive to found the ‘Duisburg-​Hamborner Tier­parkverein’ on 11 August 1933. At the time the two adja­cent munic­i­pal­i­ties of Duis­burg and Ham­born were in the process of merg­ing which was com­pleted in 1935. The Zoo­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion with soon 1.500 mem­bers, was self-​sustainable right from the begin­ning. To adver­tise the idea of a city zoo an ani­mal exhi­bi­tion was organ­ised in the build­ing of Duisburg’s Soci­ety in the city cen­tre, which was opened by the Mayor Ernst-​Heinrich Kel­ter in Novem­ber 1933. This suc­cess­ful exhi­bi­tion gen­er­ated the nec­es­sary funds to buy 6 hectares of land at the foot of the Kaiser­berg, north­east of the city.

The first build­ings were erected together with vol­un­teers and forced labour­ers. They used tim­ber which came from the log­ging just next door where the new high­way was con­structed. Later this became a bit of a prob­lem when the Zoo wanted to expand. On 12 May 1934 Duis­burg Zoo opened its gate for the first time. On barely 1 ha vis­i­tors could see inter alia mon­keys, bears, deer, lions, birds of prey, as well as the first aquar­ium. Already dur­ing the first year they were able to develop another 4 ha of the area, and improve the enclo­sures for the mon­keys, lions and bears. The Zoo received 300.000 vis­i­tors in its first year.

In 1935 one by one the wooden build­ings were replaced by brick ones, and the first big attrac­tion was estab­lished – the House of thou­sand fishes. More improve­ments were made and the first suc­cess­ful breed­ing results were wel­comed (e.g. mon­keys, lions, bears, and leop­ards) with the rare black-​necked swan (Cygnus melanoco­ry­phus) as one of the high­lights. For pro­mo­tional pur­poses they had two Asian ele­phants on loan, but with­out the proper facil­i­ties these could not stay. In 1938 the Zoo had grown until 8 ha, and fur­ther expan­sion was lim­ited by the high­way on the east­ern side and the Ehren­fried­hof (ceme­tery) on the other side.

Unfor­tu­nately, this pros­per­ous start was abruptly ended by the sec­ond World War. First the gov­ern­ment ordered all preda­tors, such as the big cats and bears, to be killed and all fish eaters to be released. To feed the ani­mals that were left house­hold waste was col­lected. Though the cir­cum­stances were ter­ri­ble, they man­aged to build a new rac­coon enclo­sure. Then at the end of the war the Zoo was hit by numer­ous fire­bombs and shell bombs, with a dev­as­tat­ing result. In 1945 almost all build­ings and enclo­sures were found destroyed, and just an emu, three flamin­gos, a don­key and some goats and sheep were still alive. They had to start all over again. And they did.

The years after the war were dif­fi­cult, not only because of bud­getary issues, but also due to short­ages in build­ing mate­ri­als. There­fore they had to order thick win­dow panes in other coun­tries, because these could not be pro­duced in Ger­many at the time. To gen­er­ate money and sur­vive these post-​war years the Zoo had cir­cus acts and exhi­bi­tions of indige­nous African tribes. But with sup­port of Duisburg’s City Coun­cil, Duisburg’s pub­lic trans­port com­pany, some wealthy indus­tri­als, and moti­vated cit­i­zens, it was pos­si­ble to make a new start. As impor­tant as the money were the ani­mals that came on loan from Munich Zoo — Hellabrun. In fact, these ani­mals formed the genetic foun­da­tion of many species in Duis­burg Zoo nowadays.

These early years after the war the first geo­graph­i­cal group­ing of enclo­sures devel­oped. Fur­ther­more, at the end of the 1940s the mon­key house, the aviary and the bear enclo­sure and big cats enclo­sure were rebuilt. And in 1951 the for­mer gem of the Zoo, the aquar­ium, was rebuilt. This ‘Haus der Tausend Fis­che’ (House of thou­sand fishes) is the old­est remain­ing build­ing of the mod­ern Zoo which con­nects with the trop­i­cal hall. The largest and most expen­sive asset built in those days was the ele­phant and giraffe house, which opened in 1953. It still exists, but has been mod­ernised and only houses the Asian ele­phants. The retic­u­lated giraffes are still close though, in the adja­cent enclo­sure right after the Zoo entrance.

With a steady growth in pop­u­lar­ity and num­ber of vis­i­tors the Zoo was able to expand again in 1958 with 0.5 ha to the north side of the premises. The sea lion and pen­guin exhibits were estab­lished, and still are located in that part of the Zoo. To build these enclo­sures, rocks were used from the base of the statue of Emperor Wil­helm that stood on top of the Kaiser­berg but was demol­ished dur­ing the war. Fur­ther expan­sion with 5 ha was achieved in 1958 on the other side of the high­way. This required a bridge to be built to con­nect both parts of the Zoo. In co-​operation with the Duis­burg Steel indus­try the orig­i­nal pylon sus­pen­sion bridge of the Ger­man pavil­ion at the World exhibiton in Brus­sels in 1958 was moved and used to make this con­nec­tion. Later, this iconic bridge was replaced with a broader land­scape bridge that less obvi­ously divides the two parts of the Zoo as the high­way and rail­way beneath is hid­den by walls of shrubs and other foliage.

At the 25th anniver­sary of the Zoo the Zoo­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion was con­versed into a joint-​stock com­pany with the sole pur­pose to increase the finan­cial pos­si­bil­i­ties. From then on lots of changes and devel­op­ments took place.Apart from the enclo­sures that needed to be estab­lished in the new part of the Zoo, new ani­mals needed to be acquired. In those days it was still an accepted pro­ce­dure to catch ani­mals in the wild. So, in 1961 the Zoo-​director Thiene­mann went for an expe­di­tion to the Congo and returned with two okapis. In 1962, the Equa­to­rium was built in the new part of the Zoo, which was the world’s largest and most mod­ern pri­mate house at the time. Another high­light of the Zoo’s mod­erni­sa­tion and progress was the estab­lish­ment of a sci­en­tific depart­ment in 1967, and the appoint­ment of an offi­cial Zoo vet­eri­nar­ian in 1978.

Marine mam­mals
Duis­burg Zoo is well-​known for its marine mam­mals exhibits since 1965 when its first and also Germany’s first, dol­phin basin or dol­phi­nar­ium was opened. Dr. Gewalt, direc­tor from 1966 to 1993, made every effort to estab­lish Duis­burg Zoo as a world lead­ing insti­tu­tion for keep­ing and breed­ing of whales and dol­phins. And already in 1968 a sec­ond dol­phi­nar­ium was built, this time indoors, which acts as a breed­ing cen­tre nowa­days and is directly con­nected to the dol­phi­nar­ium that was built in 1995. The orig­i­nal out­door dol­phin basin was from then on used for white or Bel­uga whales. The first one was caught in the wild by Dr. Gewalt dur­ing an expe­di­tion in Canada in 1969. Gewalt organ­ised many expe­di­tion dur­ing the begin­ning of his period as direc­tor. He went to Africa, Canada, Venezuela and Tierra del Fuego, and braught back every­time new and hardly known species. Some­thing that is out of the ques­tion in mod­ern zoo approach, of course. Nev­er­the­less, under the inspir­ing lead­er­ship of Dr. Gewalt Duis­burg Zoo was one of the found­ing fathers of the EAAM, the Euro­pean Asso­ci­a­tion for Aquatic Mam­mals. Like­wise, Gewalt enabled Duis­burg Zoo to engage in ded­i­cated con­ser­va­tional research for dol­phins and whales.

Although growth and progress was recorded dur­ing the 1970-​80s real mod­erni­sa­tion took place since the 1990s. Many bar-​less, Hagen­beck style, enclo­sures were cre­ated with ani­mals liv­ing in their nat­ural habi­tat or one that closely resem­bles it. In 1994 the Zoo opened the koala house, and already in 1995 a first Duis­burg bred koala was on dis­play. Then and now the first Ger­man Zoo to keep koalas. Fol­low­ing state-​of-​the-​art zoo hus­bandry approaches and exhibit design the Zoo cre­ated walk-​through /​land­scape immer­sion exhibits, such as the lemur island and the new Trop­i­cal hall ‘Rio Negro’. In addi­tion, the num­ber of species and spec­i­mens were decreased to pro­vide the remain­ing indi­vid­u­als more space. The Zoo’s focus on Mada­gas­car man­i­fests itself in the fossa (Cryp­to­procta ferox) a flag­ship species for endan­gered ani­mals. Duis­burg Zoo is co-​ordinator of the Euro­pean Endan­gered Species Pro­gramme for this amaz­ing animal.


A few things atyp­i­cal for Duis­burg Zoo or for any other zoo should be men­tioned here. In 1955 a farm­stead with horse sta­bles and a horse rid­ing school for chil­dren was opened. It was very suc­cess­ful and many chil­dren learned to han­dle and take care of the equine species. Until the 1980s, when it was closed, the rid­ing school was one of the most pop­u­lar insti­tu­tions of the Zoo.Another curios­ity were the sled dogs acquired dur­ing the white whale expe­di­tion in Canada. As a result of suc­cess­ful breed­ing Duis­burg Zoo was able to engage in inter­na­tional dog sled­ding com­pe­ti­tions until the end of the 1970s.


Like any mod­ern zoo Duis­burg devel­oped a mas­ter plan to be ready for the future, to pro­vide the best envi­ron­ment for the cap­tive ani­mals, to engage in rel­e­vant con­ser­va­tional research and to edu­cate the pub­lic in the best pos­si­ble way, pro­vid­ing the vis­i­tors a real nature/​wildlife expe­ri­ence. Sev­eral new enclo­sures have been built the last few years (e.g. gorilla, giant otter, spec­ta­cled bear), and oth­ers are envis­aged (orang­utan, coral basin).

(Sources: 70 Jahre Zoo Duis­burg by Biele­feld Uni­ver­sity Zoo Biol­ogy Work­group /​Christina Neuen­hagen ;75 Jahre Zoo am Kaiser­berg by Achim Win­kler, 2009)

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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