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Zoo Frankfurt

Aktualisiert Januar 2005


Zoo Frankfurt

Hinweis: Dies ist die akzeptierte Endversion von Anfang 2000 des Artikel in der im Juli 2001 erschienen “Encyclopedia of the World’s Zoos”, Fitzroy Dearborn Verlag, Chicago. Die tatsächlich erschienene Version enthält Änderungen der Redaktion

Aktuelle Informationen über den Zoo Frankfurt

Note: The following portrait is the essay submitted for the “Encyclopedia of the world´s zoos”, published in mid 2001. Please note that this is the pre-edit  version, not the one that was finally printed.

Frankfurt Zoo (Zoologischer Garten Frankfurt/Main)

Situated on just 13 hectares, Frankfurt's typical city zoo shows a variety of very rare and special species, and some unique buildings. Limited space led to specializing in choice collections that are presented by means of sophisticated techniques. At the Exotarium, climatic landscapes and endangered reptiles can be seen. The Grzimek House is famous for its nocturnal displays, and the zoo's multiple-generation propagation of apes is world-renowned. For ape and bird displays, historic innovations were made. Three directors, Max Schmidt, Kurt Priemel, and Bernhard Grzimek, each serving more than a quarter of a century, shaped the zoo lastingly. Dr. Grzimek was the most popular zoo director Germany ever had due to his film and TV performance, but also because of his engagement for conservation. Breeding okapi, maned wolf, bonobo, hook-lipped rhinoceros, and Amur leopard is legendary. International Studbooks are kept for lowland gorilla, maned wolf, bush dog, and soccoro pigeon. Frankfurt zoo today presents some 4500 animals from 560 species and is attended by 800.000 visitors annually. Strongly limited in its possibilities of development in terms of space and funding, it still is one of the most important zoos in Europe.

Frankfurt zoo is amongst the oldest in the world , having its origins not in a menagerie, but was founded by citizens of the then fast growing city of Frankfurt. An important intercessor was philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. By that time, not much was known about wild animal husbandry in Germany, as Berlin zoo was still quite small.

On 8 August 1858, Germany's second zoo was opened by the zoo company, presenting 600 animals. The first director was "unsociable" and stayed only a few month, but then Dr. Max Schmidt, who had visited most zoos of those days, was found the right man to serve for more than 25 years.

Only few larger buildings like the antelope house were built in a garden setting during the first years. Designated to be a place of recreation and nature studies for the rich, entrance fees were high at most days of the week to keep out the lower classes. When in 1860 a permit was given to keep large predators, bears were donated by later chancellor Von Bismarck. Small salt and fresh water aquaria were constructed, first elephant Betsy arrived to stay for 30 years, and scimitar oryx were bred. In 1862 the thriving gardens already notified 1200 animals of 360 species (although sub-species and races were also called "species").

First scientific director Dr. David Weinland founded a journal called Der Zoologische Garten as early as 1859 to provide a platform to discuss questions on animal husbandry and to exchange practical knowledge. It was the most important journal on zoo biology until it was renamed 1906 and became more and more entertaining. In 1913 the zoos withdrew from the journal, however, it was re-founded in 1929 and is nowadays published in Berlin, again being organ of the German zoos.

Situated in a noble suburb, the grounds were leasehold land, and soon a new location had to be found. A former slaughter cattle pasture and Napoleon's parade ground was selected, where the new zoo was built in the style of a landscape garden, and inaugurated on 29 March 1874. Many old buildings were relocated, including the bear castle. The first new house to open was the carnivore house. In 1877 one of the first public inland marine aquariums was built, towered by a huge water reservoir built as a castle ruin.

Re-founded Frankfurt Zoological Society moved into the Gesellschaftshaus (society's building) that would become a center of cultural life at the turn of the century and was copied by most zoos in central Europe. Völkerschauen, performances of foreign peoples and their culture, attracted lots of visitors as well as many other performances like balloon ascents, circus artists, and concerts. Nevertheless, progress was made in animal husbandry, and remarkable species like orang-utan, giant anteater, giant salamander, and anoa could be displayed and even bred like black lemurs. All dead animals were dissectioned, many given to the Senckenberg institute.

The very successful era of Dr. Schmidt's directorate ended in 1885 when he took over Berlin zoo. He had introduced the director's morning circuit and was most responsible for Germany's flourishing zoo biology to become leading in those days. Several directors stayed only for a few years, like Dr. Wilhelm Haake who had discovered egg-laying of echidnas, and well-known butterfly specialist Dr. Adalbert Seitz. In 1899, for the new small mammal house horizontally and vertically variable cages were invented, known as Frankfurt Cage System. Bandicoots, quolls, and possums arrived with an import of Australian fauna, and an insect house was established. An extensive reptile collection had been displayed in the monkey house until the aquarium was enlarged by a reptile hall in 1904. Four years later, crocodiles were exhibited in huge landscaped terraria for the first time. At the beginning of the century, animal stock numbered to some 3000 including two species of kiwi as well as orang-utan, tamandua, saiga, babirusa, and Indian rhinoceros.

In 1908, Dr. Kurt Priemel entered upon directorate to lead the zoo through the very difficult time of W.W.I. and world depression. Financial problems forced the zoo to become municipal and it could barely be maintained. Subsequently, dissolution of the Society took place. But this was also a time when very precious and even today rarely seen animals could be displayed, like scaly anteater, aye-aye, and fossa, as recorded in the scientific animal inventory that has been used since 1910.

In 1910 Priemel became aware of the threatened status of European bisons or wisents, and set up a file. In 1923, when following Priemel's encouragement the International Society for the Conservation of the European Bison was founded, just 56 pure-bred wisents were held in zoos. Of those only 22 were breeding, while the last wild animals had been poached during wartime. For the first time in zoo history it was realized that zoos can preserve species by cooperation. Owing to joint efforts, the species today numbers some 3000 individuals.

During W.W.I not only animals died due to lack of supply, but also bombing caused some damage. To educate the suffering city inhabitants, a model small animal husbandry was set up, and information on the use of wild plants was given. In 1922 an exhibition about pest animals was added. From 1924, the zoo received a fresh impetus. A cinema showed films on natural history.

In 1928 the completely renovated aquarium was inaugurated and said to be one of the world's most modern public aquaria. The zoo presented Komodo dragon, pygmy hippopotamus, giant armadillo, manatee, aardvark, gerenuk, as well as a Chinese alligator (thought to be the last of its kind), tree kangaroos, 16 species of marmosets, and king penguins. Nevertheless, true sensation was a gorilla in 1929. Thus, an ape house could be opened soon to show orang-utan as well. Here Frankfurt's first birth of an ape, a chimpanzee, took place in 1939. Nazi politics started to affect the zoo that had to be called Tiergarten to avoid foreign words. Dr. Georg Steinbacher's directorate brought new seal exhibits, but then the war's shadows reached the zoo, too. The Wehrmacht confiscated the Gesellschaftshaus for flak installation, while most keepers were called up, and food situation became a severe problem.

All was destroyed in a single night on 18 March 1944. All buildings, except for the bear castle, were bombed to the basement, as was most of Frankfurt. High-explosive bombs smashed the seal pools, the aquarium, and the Gesellschaftshaus where all archives got lost. In the burning carnivore house the cats had to be shot, just as Elephant Ipani who had been run through by an incendiary bomb. The evacuated wisents were killed in Heidelberg. Most surviving animals starved afterwards or died of cold. Only 20 larger exotic animals survived.

Post-war history of Frankfurt zoo is inseparably linked to Dr. Bernhard Grzimek . Under his directorate Frankfurt zoo not only was rebuilt and enlarged, but also became a synonym for modern animal husbandry internationally. Veterinarian Grzimek was driven to Frankfurt by war disorders where he found the almost abandoned zoo. In view of the destruction decision that had already been made to close it (other zoos never were reopened like Düsseldorf's), he persuaded the city council to let him run the zoo without public funding. During the next months, Grzimek not only started rebuilding with most primitive means but carried out all imaginable kinds of advertisements. The first posters to be seen in Frankfurt again were from the zoo, and several kinds of shows and a rollercoaster attracted visitors while most buildings were still ruins. A wooden circus building was the only public event hall in post-war Frankfurt. Soon the zoo had become the biggest leisure center in Western Germany.

Rebuilding started slowly; at first only small houses could be afforded. Despite that, Grzimek annexed two adjacent destroyed blocks of buildings by fencing and closing a major road to enlarge the zoo by 5 ha. He not only forced reconstruction but modernization. In the giraffe house , the first large building dating from 1953, the animals were presented on an elevated level. Friendly light halls, plants, small mammal terraria, and large information boards set a new standard in zoo building interior design. Here the following years also Frankfurt's famous breeding groups of gerenuks and okapis were kept. Grzimek introduced detailed, multi-language exhibit labeling, a total feeding ban for visitors, and Germany's first children's zoo. Long, uniform rows of cages were avoided while most enclosures were surrounded by moats.

The aquarium was re-opened in 1957, substantially enlarged to be called Exotarium following old ideas of its curator Gustav Lederer who had been serving since 1913. A hall of climatic landscapes was added, featuring a tropical riverbank with birds, reptiles, and fish. In a polar landscape, where cooling units produced artificial ice and bacteria filters cleaned the air, seals and penguins could be seen through underwater windows. At the aquarium section, 14 large tanks were arranged in geographical order to show for example South Sea reefs, a Black Forest river, and Amazon's dark water streams. In the reptile hall, where visitors were walking between vegetation, glass roofs could be moved to allow direct sunlight to reach the animals, and in the crocodile area a tropical thunderstorm was presented daily. A tame Komodo dragon that followed its keeper around became very popular. As the Exotarium was big enough to spend a whole day in, evening openings were introduced to enable visits without paying for the zoo.

On the new lots the bird house was built in 1961. Its Bird Halls presented birds for the first time in large glassed miniature habitats. In diving exhibits darters and kingfishers could be seen hunting under water, and in the free-flight hall visitors still walk amongst tropical birds in dense vegetation. This house was extremely successful, especially in terms of breeding, and is still recommended both practical and modern. Two years later, the same principle was used outdoors to construct the Bird Thicket, ten aviaries surrounded by dense bushes and designed in various habitat settings, which visitors can enter through wire netted doors and curtains of cords.

The monkey house opened in 1962, while the ape house was completely modernized in 1966. Again, plants and light made friendly atmospheres, while glass windows and floor heating improved health of the animals considerably. The gorilla's outdoor enclosure was surrounded by a water moat at first, but after accidents bullet-proof glass, 3.5 m high, was used outdoors as a world premiere for an ape enclosure. Frankfurt's ape propagation is renowned worldwide. For the first time, all four species were bred here, and until today some 100 births could be recorded, many in multiple generation. This makes Frankfurt's ape husbandry the most successful in the world. Most of the young are reared by their mothers, thus the specially built nursery house is not needed any longer.

Basic research on modern zoo animal exhibition techniques was done and published. In the early 1960s, 33 old "piece-of-cake" enclosures were fused to seven multi-species exhibits. Experimentally, a South America enclosure housed 15 animals including guanaco, capybara, and rhea, a breeding group of eland shared space with giraffes, and duikers lived with zebras. Simultaneously, new techniques in exhibit equipment were tested, like an artificial termite mound for zebras to scratch themselves at, outdoor heating beams for meerkats, and flexible monkey flaps that allowed the animals to go indoors or outdoors as they wanted.

Grzimek visited zoos all around the world and brought back many new ideas, which he incorporated in the zoo. In the 1950s, he initiated Animal Freedom, an open range zoo, where large herds of few species in spacious paddocks would have been watched from a rail vehicle. The project was not realized, but strongly influenced the idea of "safari parks" some years later. Europe's first zoo education department was established, training students and teachers. Many large displays were set up, and in 1962 radio broadcasted guidance was offered. New media were installed throughout the zoo, like speaking devices, slide shows, and films. All new buildings were fitted with windows to food preparation and husbandry areas, and to the complicated machinery and equipment of the aquaria. Laboratories and guest rooms for scientists were established, and many research projects, especially in the field of ethology, were carried out at the zoo.

Grzimek not exclusively concentrated on the zoo. Radio and TV made him the best known zoologist of Germany. His TV series called A place for animals was broadcasted from 1956 till end of the 1980s. International fame came with documentary movies about African wildlife, in which he particularly propagated conservation efforts. He substantially initiated consolidation of Serengeti National Park in today's Tanzania. Frankfurt Zoological Society, re-founded in 1958, changed from a merely zoo-supporting society to one of the most important organizations of today to serve for international conservation. Grzimek also served as government's commissioner for nature conservation, and was editor of Grzimek's Tierleben, still a standard compendium in zoology.

Some three million visitors were attracted to Frankfurt zoo annually in the mid 1970s. By that time, it had become one of the most important zoos in the world, contributing to many breeding successes and featuring animals like clouded leopard, Galapagos marine iguana, kagu, and Congo peacock. When Grzimek left the zoo after 29 years, he handed over a completely modernized zoo to his successor.

Dr. Richard Faust had to face the city's financial problems. The last big structure was the Grzimekhaus in 1978, a three-level building located to a great extend underground. It was the first specially constructed house of this dimensions, and is still one of the largest, most modern, and most complicated constructions of its kind. Some 50 artificial habitats accommodate some of the rarest animals. Half of the house is a nocturnal section, where the light regime has been reversed to present nocturnal animals during their activity phase. There are night monkeys, aardvarks, slender loris, rusty-spotted cats, diving Australian water rats, a bat cave, and several multi-species exhibits representing African and Australian habitats. Brown kiwis have bred here in 1987 for the first time in Europe, and in the daylight section fossas, bush dogs, rock hyraxes, and echidnas can be seen, just to mention a few.

When one of the last two died, Faust decided to give up elephant husbandry despite protests of the public who thought a "real zoo" has to keep elephants. He argued that there was just not enough space to provide adequate conditions at least for a breeding group. The zoo enforced the breeding of the hook-lipped rhinoceros (first breeding in Europe), and gave hope to an elephant complex in a future zoo dependency.

Since 1969 this supplement zoo had been planed, and a small section had already been built. But then, for political reasons, it was decided to move it to the northern border of the city. For more than 15 years detailed plans exist for a huge landscape zoo, geographically segmented, though all efforts failed due to lack of funding. In the 1980s all planning concentrated on this second zoo it, and hindered all decisions for development inside the old zoo. In favor of larger groups, the number of species was reduced to 588 with 4740 individuals.

Being merely a full-hearted conservationist , Faust concentrated on breeding of endangered species, for example Amur leopard. Much attention was paid to species and nature conservation at the zoo. Many animals were given to reintroduction projects, like mhorr gazelles, golden lion tamarines, and a hook-lipped rhinoceros. Faust's main interest was to support international conservation efforts, thus in 1993 he retired from the zoo directorate to serve exclusively as president of the "Frankfurt Zoological Society".

When Dr. Christian Schmidt came from Zürich zoo to enter upon directorate, new attention was given to the old zoo. Attendance had declined to less then 700.000 visitors annually due to lack of new attractions. Compared to a map more than a century old , still most of the original garden layout and the buildings can be spotted. Rebuilt and modernized, for example raptor aviaries, aquarium tower and elephant house still exist, and make Frankfurt an important place to visit for all those interested in the history of zoos. It was only the last few years that some major building took place at the zoo. Just recently, the carnivore house originated in 1874 was demolished to give way for spacious new predator exhibits. Considered much too small, the bear enclosures still wait to be changed, while the pinniped pools were rebuilt with underwater windows. The gorilla's outside enclosure was planted with grass and trees, and according to the master plan a completely new way of housing apes and monkeys is underway. Colorful tiled walls of the monkey cages with its stainless steel structures from the 1960s, at that time most modern, do not longer satisfy both visitor and husbandry requirements.

From its early days, breeding and conservation of rare species has been one of the major tasks of Frankfurt zoo, resulting in a long list of species that were bred for the first time in captivity, such as maned wolf, bonobo, black duiker, gerenuk, rusty-spotted cat, white-headed wood-hoopoe, yellow-headed and red-headed rockfowl, and crocodile bird. For the first time in Europe, for example proboscis monkey, red uakari, douc langur, bush dog, bongo, and kiwi were bred, and okapi and lowland gorilla first in Germany. The Exotarium is still one of the world's renowned institutions for breeding reptiles. As one of the first, Baja blue rock lizard and the highly endangered Malayan water monitor have been propagated as well as Klemmer's day gecko, discovered and first bred in 1992.

Restricted by space and money, Frankfurt Zoo had to pass the status of a pioneer zoo on to parks with better possibilities of development. While the zoo is still one of the world's smallest in terms of size, it keeps high quality standards in animal husbandry by specializing in small fauna kept in natural breeding groups, and intensively contributing to both research and conservation.

According to the masterplan published in 1999, the zoo will be redeveloped in three stages. The first stage will bring new monkey and ape houses as well as a new entrance. Then, the supplementary zoo, called ”Ökozoo”, will be erected. Most of the big animals like rhinozerosses, giraffes and antelopes will move there, to allow to build new enclosures in the old, then so-called ”Metrozoo” for mainly South American, Asian and Australian animals.

Dirk Petzold


Zoologischer Garten Frankfurt/Main
Alfred-Brehm-Platz 16
60316 Frankfurt/Main
Telephone +49-69-212-33727
Fax +49-69-212-37855

Frankfurt Zoological Society
Alfred-Brehm-Platz 16
60316 Frankfurt/Main
Telephone +49-69-439349
Fax +49-69-439348


  • Dr. David F. Weinland (scientific director, 1858-1863)
  • F. Leven (administrative director, 1858-1859)
  • Dr. Max Schmidt (administrative director 1859-1863, director 1864-1885)
  • Dr. Ludwig Wunderlich (scientific director, 1885-1888)
  • Victor Goering (administrative director, 1885-1913)
  • Dr. Wilhelm Haacke (scientific director, 1888-1893)
  • Dr. Adalbert Seitz (scientific director, 1893-1908)
  • Dr. Kurt Priemel (scientific director, 1908-1913, director 1913-1938)
  • Dr. Georg Steinbacher (1938-1945)
  • Dr. Bernhard Grzimek (1945-1974)
  • Dr. Richard Faust (1974-1993)
  • Dr. Christoph Scherpner (acting director, 1993-1994)
  • Dr. Christian R. Schmidt (1994-)

Journals and Member Magazines / Newsletters

    Report of the Frankfurt Zoological Gardens (1858-)
    Der Zoologische Garten / Zoologischer Beobachter (1859-1913)
    Mitteilungen aus dem Frankfurter Zoo / Frankfurter Zooblätter / Frankfurter Zoo-Zeitung (1924-1941)
    Zoo Journal (1994-)

Further Reading

Backhaus, Dieter and Hans Frädrich, "Experiences keeping various species of ungulates together at Frankfurt zoo," International Zoo Yearbook 5, 1965

Grzimek, Bernhard, "The Exotarium at the Frankfurt Zoo, Germany," International Zoo Yearbook 1, 1960

Kirchshofer, Rosl, "Frankfurt Zoo's education programme," Int. Zoo Yearbook 8, 1968

Scherpner, Christian, "'Walk-through' Bird aviaries at Frankfurt zoo," Int. Zoo Yearbook 5, 1965

Scherpner, Christian, "The Grzimek House for Small Mammals at Frankfurt Zoo," International Zoo Yearbook 22, 1982

Scherpner, Christian, Von Bürgern für Bürger -- 125 Jahre Zoologischer Garten Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurt: Zoo Frankfurt, 1993

 Encyclopedia of the World’s Zoos
Hunderte ausführlicher, bebilderter Zoo-Portraits, Arten- und Artengruppen-Darstellungen und allgemeine Artikel wechseln einander ab. Die seitenlange Liste der Autoren wimmelt nur so von großen Namen.
Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers Chicago 2001, 1600 S.,
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