With 19,400 animals from more than 1,400 species, Berlin’s animal park breaks all records regarding the number of residents.
Every year, more than 3 million people walk the paths of the Berlin Zoo, one of the two parks in the German capital, along with Tierpark Berlin. Difficult for them, however, to complete everything in a single day as there is so much to do: this is the largest zoo in the world – is European – in terms of the number of animals accommodated. No less than 19,400 residents from 1,400 species live within this 33-hectare site in the city’s heart.
The history of Berlin Zoo
Founded in 1844, Berlin Zoo is also the oldest in Germany and among the oldest zoos in Europe. The King of Prussia, Frederick-William III, passionate about exotic animals, largely contributed to its creation. With his wife Louise of Prussia, he laid the first foundations of the park by opening a menagerie in the early 19th century in which peacocks, sheep, bison, deer, and pigs lived. As time goes by, new and more exotic animals join the establishment, such as kangaroos, several species of birds, monkeys, and coatis. The residents of this menagerie will be the first animals of the Berlin Zoo when it opens a few years after the death of Frederick William III. One of his former advisers and director of the zoological museum, Martin Hinrich Lichtenstein, took the reins of the project with the help of the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt and the landscape architect Peter Joseph Lenné. Three years of work are necessary before the inauguration on August 1, 1844.
During the Second World War (1939-1945), the numerous bombardments on the city of Berlin, on the other hand, caused immense damage and destroyed almost all of the infrastructure. Of the 4,000 animals living in the park, only 91 survived. Several years are then necessary to rebuild what was destroyed and arrive at the result we know today.
A zoo and an aquarium in the same enclosure
Over the years, Berlin Zoo has retained its historic buildings, such as the Antelope and Giraffe House or the Elephant Temple, while adding a touch of modernity with, for example, a panda garden with contemporary architecture. One of the most amazing things about this animal park is its presence in the same enclosure as an aquarium. Opened in 1913, it is still Germany’s largest aquarium today.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the reunification of East Germany and West Germany, it was decided to keep the two city parks, each with its characteristics. Today, the two entities work together, even going so far as to appoint a joint CEO. Since 2014, Andreas Knieriem has been in charge of Tierpark and Berlin Zoo. Its mission: is to continue modernizing these spaces while pursuing the species conservation programs in which the parks are involved. “By 2035, approximately 60 million euros will be invested in modern, spacious, and species-appropriate enclosures, which will faithfully reflect the natural habitat of their occupants”, assures the zoo on its website. “The barriers will be extremely discreet, providing visitors with an unforgettable animal experience. On the program, among other things, the creation of a habitat of 12,000 m² of tropical swamps with large panoramic windows to observe the rhinos swimming or even a house of 23,000 m² with lush vegetation accompanied by a bathing area with a natural waterfall for elephants.
Berlin Zoo’s Star Animals
With nearly 20,000 residents, it’s hard to choose. But some have stood out in the eyes of visitors worldwide. Starting with the giant pandas. In the early 1980s, China offered a couple of pandas as a diplomatic gift to Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Since then, the Berlin Zoo has almost always had giant pandas among its animals. A new couple, Meng Meng and Jiao Qing arrived on loan from Beijing in the summer of 2017. It is also in its enclosure that the Giant Panda Global Awards ceremony took place at the beginning of 2018 and crowned Yuan Meng baby panda of the year. For its part, the Berlin Zoo won three trophies: two gold medals in the categories “panda moment of the year” and “favorite panda outside of China,” as well as a bronze medal in the category “most beautiful enclosed.”
Another sadly departed star is the polar bear Knut. The park took in his cub in 2007 when his mother did not want to take care of him. Visitors quickly became attached to her adorable little face and saw her grow before their eyes. It was enough to trigger a resounding success, move the crowds, and even show biz personalities like Tom Cruise. So much so that the Berlin Zoo has made it a registered trademark. Knut died in public view on March 19, 2011. He suffered from an autoimmune disease previously only diagnosed in humans.