In operation since 1752, Tiergarten Schönbrunn (a.k.a. Schönbrunn Zoo,
a.k.a. Vienna Zoo), is arguably the oldest still-operating zoo in the world. Created
as an estate feature for Empress Maria Theresia and Franz Stephan von
Lothringen primarily for the enjoyment of their family, it gradually evolved
into a more public animal display. Today, it remains a tourist draw on the
grounds of Austria's Schloss Schönbrunn (Schönbrunn Castle/Palace), on the
outskirts of Vienna.
An Imperial Menagerie
Shortly after Franz Stephan von Lothringen became Emperor Franz I in 1745, he
and his wife Maria Theresia commissioned the design of a "menagerie"
for their summer home, Schloss Schönbrunn. Menageries, predecessors of modern
zoological gardens, were fashionable among royalty of the day, and the
menagerie of the Emperor and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations
was modeled after the menagerie at Versailles, France.
The original menagerie facility included a dozen animal houses, gardens, a
pond, and two farmyards. It took approximately one year to complete. Animals
were brought to the zoo in 1752. While the collection was primarily for the
enjoyment of the Emperor's family, school children were also frequent visitors.
Evolution Of The Zoo
The zoo's architectural centerpiece, an octagonal pavilion, was completed in
1759. It served as a breakfast room for the Imperial family and nearly 200
years later, in 1949, returned to its foodservice roots as a café, which it
remains to this day.
Emperor Franz I passed away in 1765. The first elephant came to the zoo in
1770; the first wolves and bears in 1781. In 1778, two years prior to Empress
Maria Theresia's death, the menagerie was made available to the public.
Increasingly exotic animals arrived, heightening the zoos popularity. By 1800,
the animals on display included polar bears, big cats, hyenas, and kangaroos.
The zoo's first giraffe, a gift from the Viceroy of Egypt in 1828, caused a
tremendous stir not only in terms of increased zoo attendance, but spawned a
veritable cultural revolution. Giraffe-inspired music, fashion, architecture,
even pastries, became the height of chic.
As zoological stewardship advanced in the late 19th century, so did
Tiergarten Schönbrunn. Animal enclosures and habitats were modified and
improved for animals and visitors alike. A tropical bird exhibit was installed.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the zoo housed nearly 3,500 animals
representing more than 700 species, including elephants, rhinos, hippos,
tapirs, giraffes, anteaters, seals, and numerous big cat and bear species. The
first elephant born in captivity was born at this zoo in 1906. The zoo remained
the property of the ruling family.
The zoo suffered great losses during World Wars I and II, but rebounded
after 1945. An aquarium was added in 1959. The number of outdoor,
natural-habitat-simulating facilities continued to increase. A Children's Zoo
was opened in 1969.
The Zoo Today
Today's Tiergarten Schönbrunn is a modern zoological garden complete with
exotic habitat enclosures such as a simulated Amazon rainforest, a desert
habitat, and an Arctic "polarium." Star attractions include the giant
pandas and extensive koala exhibit. Keeping up its tradition of noteworthy
breeding successes, Tiergarden Schönbrunn was the site of Europe's first
non-artificially-inseminated panda birth.
The collection includes 92 species of mammals, 99 species of birds
(including hands-down the most engaging penguin display I've ever seen), 54
species of reptiles and amphibians (including everybody's favorite, the
Galapagos tortoise), and 124 species of fish. A sightseeing train -- a bargain
at just 5 Euros for adults (just over $7) and 3 for children (just over $4) -- provides an overview of the
zoo as well as the surrounding estate of Schönbrunn Palace. The train operates
mid-March through October, but the zoo is open year-round. In fact, while many
of Vienna's points of interest are closed on Sunday -- indeed, more so than in
other major European capitals -- the palace and the zoo are both open on
The zoo has active species protection programs for four rare animals:
Turkish sea turtles, Mongolian horses, the bald ibis, and the Kulan donkey.
Their long-term sea turtle project, in affiliation with the University of
Vienna, studies and protects sea turtles on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey.
The program focuses on monitoring turtle size and population, protecting
nesting habitat, and educating the public on protection of the species. The zoo
also supports re-introduction of the rare Przewalski horse to its native
Mongolia, as well as protecting and managing the Kulan, a donkey species of
Turkmenia. The bald ibis protection project is conducted on several fronts,
including the upper Austrian Grünau region and northwestern Morocco.
Tiergarden Schönbrunn is located on the grounds of Schloss Schönbrunn, which
is easily accessible by Vienna's excellent public transportation system. Take
the U4 line of the Underground, the #10 or #58 tram, or bus 10A; exit at
Sally O'Neal lives in the Pacific Northwestern United States and enjoys all types of animals. She writes weekly for sportsmansguide.com.