During the annexation of the Alsace and Moselle region by Germany, Strasbourg had two zoological parks, both run by businessmen. One of them was the private park created in 1889 by restaurant owner M. Bilharz. These zoological parks ceased to exist in 1890.
A few years later, the city built the present zoo in the magnificent Park of the Orangery (Parc de l’Orangerie) which dates back to Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. He had a small park created for his wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais, and a pavilion designed by Le Nôtre, creator of the gardens of Versailles. In this beautiful setting she could wait for her husband to return while he was ‘settling a dispute’ with the Germans. Remarkably, years later, it were the Germans who had the Park substantially enlarged to a vast 2600 hectares.
The newly created zoological park at the end of the 19th century* immediately gave rise to criticism, because the enclosures were poorly designed, with no flowing water and aviaries that lacked protection against bad weather. The First World War had a devastating effect on the Zoo, and the years following did not allow the municipality to reinstall and properly maintain the Zoo. The City Council was facing several other problems in these post-war years.
Maintenance of the zoo became increasingly expensive and the Council commenced a study in 1920 if the zoo buildings could be exploited in a more rational and less expensive manner. No satisfactory solution was found, and even demolition of the Zoo turned out to be too expensive. So, it was decided the Zoo would be continued. But during this long period of uncertainty the Zoo buildings had further deteriorated due to lack of maintenance. And according to a local newspaper only one goat and a hen and her 14 chicks were left at the grounds in 1928.
In 1929 the Strasbourg Society of Friends of the Zoo was founded as an alliance between the two existing Societies for both the zoo and the aquarium. The alliance envisaged a larger Zoo in grand style, including a vivarium, but this more or less remained a dream and never materialised.
From 1929 to 1946 the City Council covered the maintenance costs of the Zoo, so the Society of Friends of the Zoo was only concerned with the acquisition of animals and improvement of the zoo. Since 1949, the city pays an annual grant to the Friends of the Zoo.
From 1935, the Friends of the Zoo published a monthly newsletter that bore the evocative name ‘Le Futur Zoo de Strasbourg’ (The Future Zoo of Strasbourg). In the May issue of the first year of publication a pair of lions was mentioned as being part of the animal collection.
The Second World War was another setback for the Zoo, and in March 1940, a few months after the evacuation of the Strasbourg population, the animals were transferred from the Orangery to the Zoo of Vincennes in Paris.
After WWII, from year to year, the zoo experienced its ups and downs, especially regarding the financial situation. In spite of this constant insecure financial situation the small Strasbourg Zoo not only succeeded in satisfying the common visitors, but also people more dedicated to nature conservation. Strasbourg Zoo, for example, became the first breeding centre of white stork in the Alsace and in the 1960s the stork sanctuary was built.
But it was not until 1988 when Mr. Georges Gillot, deputy Mayor of Strasbourg, became president that another expansion occurred. The monkey enclosure was built, paid for by the city of Strasbourg. The Tonkean macaques were donated by the primate centre whose director became president of the Association of Friends of the ‘Zoo de l’Orangerie de Strasbourg’ in 1996.
All this time the zoo was — and still is — managed by a team of volunteers, who thanks to the support of the City of Strasbourg, the Strasbourg people who want to keep their zoo and various sponsors, made this ‘little zoo’ to what it is nowadays.
* The current Association of Friends of the ‘Zoo de l’Orangerie de Strasbourg’ discovered there were no decent archives available to reconstruct an accurate history of the Zoo and its Society of Friends.
(Source: website Zoo de l’Orangerie de Strasbourg; Wikipedia)