Next to Antwerp-Central railway station there’s ZOO Antwerpen, Antwerp‘s zoo. It’s a popular attraction for families. Founded on the 21st of July 1843, the Zoo not only exhibits animals, but also contains 19th century and Belle Epoque buildings.
Together with its sister park Planckendael, Antwerp Zoo houses over 7,000 animals of about 950 species. Over 1.6 million people visit the zoo and Planckendael each year, and the zoo has around 200,000 supporting members.
Since its foundation, the park has been controlled by the Koninklijke Maatschappij voor Dierkunde van Antwerpen, a society originally called Société Royale de Zoologie d’Anvers (Antwerp Royal Society for Zoology). It’s the oldest zoo in Belgium and one of the oldest in the world.
The initial objective was to encourage zoological and botanical sciences. Its first director was zoologist and botanist Jacques Kets (1785 – 1865). He accepted this position on one condition: a museum had to be built to house his nature-historical collections.
This building was inaugurated in 1844 by H.M. King Leopold I. The predicate Royal was added to the name of the society on that occasion.
In its early years, the size of the park grew from less than 1.59 hectares (3.9 acres) to more than 10.5 hectares (26 acres). Notable buildings from that period are the Egyptian Temple (1856) and the Antelope Building (1861) in Oriental style, which now houses the okapis.
Did you know by the way the hieroglyphs are painters’ fantasy?
The zoo has also a cultural function. Originally, concerts were held in the garden of the zoo. The museum building was demolished to build a concert hall. The hall then became the residence of the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, the symphonic orchestra of Flanders. The museum collections were moved to the second floor.
For the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, the venue hosted the boxing and wrestling events.
World War II
At the end of World War II, people accused of collaboration with the German occupant where held prisoner in the animal cages.
After this episode the animal park was turned into a model zoo which conformed to new and modern scientific, educational, cultural and aesthetic standards.
The animal compounds were enlarged and admitted more light. Buildings from this period include the primate building (1958) and the big jubileum complex, established on the occasion of the 125-year anniversary together with the Nocturama (1968), which houses the nocturnal animals.
The jubileum complex houses birds of prey and the sea lions. In 1973 a new compound for reptilians was built, and in 1978 a new building for smaller species of monkeys.
The older primate building was renovated in 1989. To support its educational mission, the zoo started with group tours and special educational programmes called zoo classes in 1969. Around the same time, planetarium exhibits were installed.
On 1 January 1983, the animal park was classified as a monument. Ten years later, its 150th anniversary was celebrated.
In 1997, Vriesland (Freezeland) was opened. It houses subantarctic penguins and in the past also Alaskan sea otters. In spring 1999, the elephant compound was expanded. In 2003, many animals, including hippos, Malayan tapirs, and a number of swamp birds received a new home in Hippotopia.
In recent years, the zoo has transformed. Many animals have moved to Planckendael. The zoo is unfortunately becoming more of a theme park for children and less attractive for adults.
Still, signs are quadrilingual Dutch, French, German and English.
What do you think of the Zoo?
Most facts, figures and history in this blogpost were retrieved on Wikipedia. Photos were taken on a cold and rainy day in March, hence the few animals and people.