Vienna Celebrates its 250 Year Old Schoenbrunn Zoo with a Special Exhibition
A special exhibition of Vienna’s 250 year old Schoenbrunn zoo opened last spring in the Natural History Museum and will continue until the end of October. Established in 1752 by the Holy Roman Emperor Franz Stephan von Lorraine (1708-1765), husband of Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa, the Schoenbrunn Zoo is the oldest zoo in the world today. But it wasn’t the first in Vienna. Emperor Maximilian II (1527-1576) is credited with establishing the first zoological gardens in Vienna.
But while the Schoenbrunn Zoo is old and Maximilian II’s menageries even older, it was a Viennese mayor who in 1452 organized a small collection of exotic animals alongside the city walls to entertain the boy king of Hungary and Bohemia Ladislaus Postumus (1440-1457) that is documented as being the first menagerie. Vienna’s second menagerie was set up in 1542 by the Habsburg prince who became Ferdinand I (1503-1564). It was housed in one of the bastions of the Hofburg. Ferdinand kept lions, tigers, leopards, and bears as well as monkeys and an ostrich. He also kept numerous parrots known as “Indian Ravens” in those days.
Even before he became emperor, Maximilian was a collector. When he arrived in Vienna from Spain to assume the throne in 1552, his grand ceremonial procession through the famous Swiss Gate into the Imperial Palace grounds was greatly enhanced by the presence of his elephant who had also traveled from Spain. Being the first elephant to be seen in German-speaking countries, its route can still be traced today by the number of inns and hotels bearing the name “zum Elefanten” along the way.
To house his elephant, Maximilian had facilities built at his Kaiserebersdorf palace, (now converted as a juvenile detention center in the 11th District). Alas, Maximilian’s elephant died within the year. Bones from its front right leg were made into a stool for Vienna’s mayor Sebastian Huetsocker who had his coat of arms and an inscription engraved on it. Details of the elephant’s story are also inscribed on it. The stool came into the possession of the Kremsmünster monastery in Lower Austria in 1678.
Maximilian installed a second larger menagerie on the grounds of his Renaissance styled Neugebaeude Palace that was built between 1564-1576 (also in the 11th District). Here Maximilian’s menagerie was divided between “Rapacious” and “Peaceful” animals. In his rapacious animal collection, Maximilian kept lions, cheetahs, and tigers. His peaceful animals included stags, hares, and many exotic birds. In 1569, Maximilian bought the Katterburg hunting lodge on the site which now houses Schoenbrunn Palace and the Schoenbrunn Zoo. Here Maximilian established a deer reserve as well as fish ponds and an area for pheasants and other birds. Following Maximilian’s death, the menagerie at his Ebersdorf Palace was transferred to his Neugebaeude Palace.
Prince Eugen of Savoy (1663-1736) was also a grand collector of animals and birds. He used some of his great wealth to install a semi-circular menagerie on one side of his Belvedere summer palace. It was considered one of the most beautiful menageries in Europe and one of the major attractions in Vienna during the early 18th century. Prince Eugen and his guests could view his animals and birds from the grand windows of his upper palace residence. His collection of rarities included an “Indian” wolf, an axis deer, and a striped hyena. Following the death of Prinz Eugen, Emperor Charles VI, father of Maria Theresia, bought his menagerie and transferred the animals and birds to the Neugebaeude Palace.
One of Prince Eugen’s most enthusiastic visitors to his menagerie was the young Duke Franz Stephan of Lorraine (1708-1765). Franz Stephan also visited the menagerie of Versailles and ports in Holland where he saw exotic animals unloaded. A painting of Franz Stephan, aged ten, is on display at the exhibition at the Natural History Museum. He is shown at Versailles holding a butterfly and a cage of white doves.
In 1752, now an emperor, Franz Stephan Lorraine (1708-1765) realized a dream when his own menagerie in the Schoenbrunn gardens was finished. He chose architect Jean-Nicolas Jadot, also from Lorraine, to design the complex. Jadot designed a central octagonal pavillion and radiating away from the pavillion were star-shaped paths lined with twelve animal enclosures for the menagerie’s residents. Franz Stephan and his wife, Maria Theresia, often enjoyed their breakfasts in the pavillion. Franz Stephan chose exotic bird species, gazelles, and ostriches for his menagerie, but because of the smell, monkeys and carnivores continued to stay at the Neugebauede Palace facilities.
Maria Thersia opened the zoo to the public in 1779. Her son and successor Emperor Joseph II took great interest in the menagerie and, though a cautious spender, did much to increase the number of bird species in the collection as did his successor Francis II/I. It was during the reign of Francis II/I that the first giraffe arrived in Vienna. Giraffe fever gripped the Viennese reflected in giraffe-styled clothing, hair styles, hats, and jewelry, special music composed and giraffe styled instruments made and even giraffe themed stage productions performed. The giraffe died a year later, probably due to back injuries it sustained during transport. It had been strapped to the back of a camel in the Sudan and carried thusly to the sea. Arriving in Fiume on the Adriatic, it was then put in a specially designed horse-drawn wagon and, under military escort, taken across the alps and finally to Vienna.
During Napoleon’s two relatively brief stays in Austria, (1805 and 1809) he placed the zoo under his personal protection and added the first giant kangaroo, two Lapland ponies, and two beavers to the zoo’s collection. The collection continued to grow during the reign of Franz Josef with gifts from kings, sultans, emperors, princes and princesses from the courts of Europe and beyond as well as donations from private citizens and explorers and the fruits of military expeditions and explorations. By its 150th anniversary in 1902, the Schoenbrunn Zoo’s collection contained 1,842 animals and 496 bird species to a large extent due to the efforts of an enlightened zoo director Alois Kraus who had been appointed to the post by Emperor Franz Josef in 1879 and served until 1918.
At the beginning of World War I there were 2,303 animals in the collection. By war’s end, only 1,128 animals were left, primarly due to lack of food. Economic problems continued to plague the Zoo into the 1920s and plans to close the zoo were made. However, the Viennese loved their zoo, and showed their enthusiasm with financial support and gifts. Animals were replaced and facilities improved and modernized. But once again, war intervened. On 19 February 1945, Schoenbrunn was bombed by the US Air Force. Of the 300 bombs dropped, 200 hit animal enclosures. Only 1,500 animals of the 3,500 in the zoo survived. This time, it was the Red Army who came to the zoo’s rescue by providing Soviet army rations for three months until the zoo could reorganize food supplies.
Though remaining popular with the Viennese immediately after the war, with an estimated one million visitors annually, the zoo’s financial difficulties continued. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that the zoo was once again on firm financial footing. This was accomplished by making it a private company with its own budget and in 1992 the appointment of Dr. Helmut Pechlaner as the new director. Fundraising campaigns, corporate and private gifts as well as government funds have all contributed to making this zoo a star in zoological gardens worldwide today. Today, Schoenbrunn Zoo attracts over 1.7 million visitors a year and is now a major center for the breeding and conservation of endangered species. Its future continues.
Article Author: Billie Ann Lopez
Billie Ann Lopez was an American freelance writer, born and raised in Kansas. For many years she called Vienna, the city she loved, home. Billie Ann’s articles tell you about the legends, places in Austria not often on the tourist maps and subjects close to her heart. Informative, descriptive and interesting she acquainted you with her Austria.
Billie Ann Lopez passed away September 13th, 2003. She enriched our lives through her friendship, caring and writings. Billie Ann, you are greatly missed. Silvia McDonald
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