Receiving a puppy or a cute Kitten is not an unusual gift to receive today. But did you know that exotic animals like leopards, elephants, and lions were given as simple gifts and taken care of as pets centuries ago?
Historically, zoos started in the early pre-modern era as menageries for the royal ruling class. Menageries served as entertainment for the royal class, where animals that were kept either came as a gift or as a collection for their mere curiosity. These animals collected in menageries, called a ‘Paradise,’ were groomed and taken care of as pets. The earliest and also the oldest known menagerie dated back from early 3500 BC, was found during excavation being done by archeologists at Heirakonpolis, Egypt in 2009. Animals like the hippopotamus, antelope, elephants, wildcats, and baboons were the exotic animals that were found on acres of lands of kings and rulers who collected animals in the first zoological gardens.
Some kings, like the king of the Assyrian Empire, King Ashur-bel-Kala, had created zoological and botanical gardens dating back to the 11th Century BCE. As well as King Wen of Zhou who made a 1,500 acre of land where animals were kept and called it “Garden of Intelligence or ‘Ling-Yu.’ Also, a ‘House of Deer’ was created by a Chinese Empress to cater to the deer she had collected.
In addition to some people collecting animals for royal menageries, some of these animals were also received as gifts. Charles I, also known as Charlemagne, owned an elephant named Abul-Abbas, a gift from Abbasid Caliph, who was the third caliphate to succeed the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. The same goes for the King of England, Henry III, who kept leopards as a wedding gift from King Frederick II.
Although some of these royal animal collectors had treated the animals fairly by giving them their own ‘Paradise,’ Some Roman emperors like Caligula and Nero, have kept their animals for study or brutal entertainment. According to an Irish historian named William Edward Hartpole Lecky, thousands of animals were killed during the Roman’s Ludi Circenses. Ludi Circenses were public games concluded during Ludi Romani or Roman’s religious festival, to entertain the Roman people. These public games include horse racing, theatrical performance, and Venacio. A Roman general named Marcus Fulvius Nobilior first introduced the game Venacio as one of the public games in 186 BC. It was a game that involved gladiators and ferocious animals engaged in a battle. Animals that were included in Venacio were mostly lions, bears, tigers, leopard, and boars. Also, under the kingship of the Emperors Titus and Trajan, the same cruel entertainment was reported.
In the year 1264, animals were placed on the bulwark (also named the Lion Tower), where it was opened to the public in the 16th century during Queen Elizabeth I reign. In 1520, an Emperor of Aztec named Moctezuma had created an extensive collection of birds, reptiles, and mammals in a garden he called the “House of animals.” This extensive zoo collection was tended by about 600 servants, though the zoo was destroyed after the Aztec revolted against the Spanish rule.
In the 19th century, zoos that have been built were more commonly for scientific studies, exhibits, and entertainment for the public in which it doesn’t put the animal’s life in jeopardy.
Due to the heightened passion for zoology and natural history and the growing civilization, educational entertainment became in-demand. Thus, came the establishment of the early modern zoos.
Oldest Zoos in the World
Tiergarten Schönbrunn is a forty-two-acre zoo that caters around 700 species of animals and was established in July 1752 in Vienna, Austria. In 1752, Tiergarten Zoo first started as an Imperial menagerie, which opened to the public in 1779 –the oldest zoo that is still operating to this day.
Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes
Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes was established in 1793 as the result of the French Revolution but opened to the public in 1794 in Paris, France. It has about 1,200 animals inside this fourteen-acre zoo, which is part of a botanical garden called Paris’s Jardin des Plantes, which opened in 1635.
ZSL London Zoo
Opened in 1828, ZSL (Zoological Society of London) London Zoo has been one of the oldest zoos that were initially a Royal Menageries. It has been housing about 19,000 animals of 673 species in its thirty-six-acre land and also the place where the animals of the London tower in 1831 were placed. London Zoo was also the first Scientific Zoo that keeps notable specimens, including the specimens of extinct animals like Quagga and the Thylacine or also known as the Tasmanian Tiger.
Dublin Zoo opened to the public in the year 1930, in Phoenix Park, Dublin. This zoo was designed by Decimus Burton, an English Architect, and Designer. Dublin Zoo has about sixty-nine acres of land, housing over 400 animals divided into its designated areas –Orangutan Forest, Asian Forest, Fringes of the Arctic, Forest Trail, and many more, following their dedication to conserving exotic and endangered animals in the world.
Bristol Zoo is a zoo founded in 1836 in Bristol, UK. It has a land area of twelve acres that houses about 7,155 animals of 419 species. It is one of the world’s oldest local zoos opened by the west of England Zoological Society. Though it is just a small domestic zoo, it breeds a couple of animals, namely a black Rhino, a chimpanzee, and the first squirrel monkey.