The word zoo first appeared in the 1867 music hall hit Walking in the Zoo on Sunday, which includes the observation: "the OK thing to do /On Sunday afternoon is to toddle in the Zoo." An abbreviation of zoological garden, "zoo" sounds cute and childlike. From the start the zoological garden had a special appeal to children. In 1828 the Zoological Society of London opened the zoological garden in Regent's Park, and its very first guidebook, Henry and Emma's Visit to the Zoological Gardens, addressed children as the main guests.

For centuries, various societies have established collections of wild and exotic animals. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Chinese civilizations all had magnificent collections of animals. Aristotle based his zoological studies on menageries in ancient Greece, and in ancient Rome enormous menageries were established to furnish the sanguine spectacles with exotic animals. Medieval princes marked their symbolic power by having various types of animals in their castles and surrounding grounds. The great discoveries of the sixteenth century incited a new interest in exotic animals, and the princes of the Renaissance and the Baroque gathered these animals in well-defined spaces, buildings, or gardens, thus establishing the forerunners of the modern, public zoological garden. But at this time any notion of a special relationship between children and animals seems to have been absent.

The menagerie was a symbol of power, and the king would define himself as the center of the world by having the animals gathered around his feet. The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century menageries of Austria and France were based on radiating plans with a pavilion in the center and paddocks radiating from there. In 1765 the menagerie at Schönbrunn opened to the public as the oldest continuous animal collection. At Versailles the menagerie also was constructed to appeal to the royal gaze. The French Revolution in 1789 changed the royal menagerie to a public institution. The animals were moved from the court to Paris's Jardin des Plantes. At first the revolutionaries wanted this zoological garden to represent bourgeois values such as utility and reason, but the Napoleonic Wars reintroduced the need for power display. On July 27, 1798, French troops entered Paris in a triumphal march with exotic animals among the war booty.

The first director of the Jardin des Plantes organized the facility according to the principles of the picturesque English landscape garden: no fixed center, sinuous paths, nature as a symbol of freedom. The landscape garden became the dominant model for the exhibition of animals in the nineteenth century, and the term zoological garden was coined when the Zoological Society of London in 1828 opened its collections.

After the founding of the London Zoo hardly a year passed without a new zoo being established in the major European and American cities. In Copenhagen the zoological garden opened 1859, at the same time when the ramparts around the medieval city were demolished. The zoological garden was a symbol of modernity–but was also "an ark in the park," where nature could be protected in the midst of the ongoing process of urbanization.

These collections of animals were established for different purposes, and the specific character of a collection may be used as a key to the understanding of the culture within which the animals were collected. The ancient and medieval menageries were sites of worship and power-display, whereas the main purposes of the modern zoological garden are research, education, and entertainment. In the modern era, the process of rationalization has taken away the spell animals once had. In earlier times they entered the imagination as magic beings, messengers with supernatural powers. In the zoological garden any children would understand that they were the masters of the universe.

From their very beginning, zoological gardens, or zoos, have been considered to have a special appeal for children. Jim McElhom.

By the nineteenth century animals had become objecti-fied as meat, fur, or exotic spectacles. However, animals maintained traces of their traditional significance as humanity's partner in nature as PETS, and the brutal expansion of civilization's dominance over nature was accompanied by a growing sentimentalism. Animals became "worthy" of human feelings; the loyalty of dogs became a popular motive in the arts. A market for pets came about, and the growing distaste for cruelty against animals led to legal measures against such behavior.

Zoos also promoted a more tender view of animals. One famous animal attraction was Jumbo the elephant. He was captured in the African jungle in 1861, sold to a Paris zoo and after that to the London Zoo, where he was given the name Jumbo after an African word for elephant. In 1881 the London Zoo decided to sell Jumbo to the American showman P. T. Barnum, and this caused a Jumbo-mania on both sides of the Atlantic. Jumbo's keeper in the London Zoo declared: "He has been engaged in carrying around the children of the human family almost daily for twenty years."

If animals were treated as a kind of human beings, it was only natural that they should live like human beings. In the nineteenth century zoos excelled in exotic architecture for animals: Indian pagodas for the elephants, Moorish temples for the monkeys, Gothic towers for the owls. This environment offered entertaining information on the geographical origin of the animals, and it also witnessed the new fraternity between man and beast. The publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origins of Species in 1859 only enhanced such sentiments.

The call for a return to nature had been answered by early romantic landscape gardeners who invented the sunken, and therefore invisible, fence called the "ha-ha." The "ha-ha" made possible the revolutionary innovations in zoo design patented by the great German zoo director Carl Hagenbeck. In 1907, near Hamburg, he opened a zoo where the bars between man and beast were replaced by concealed moats, and where the animal houses were replaced by theatrical scenery. These "panoramas" with animals roaming "freely" in African or Arctic landscapes paved the way for later efforts to show the animals in their natural surroundings.

The tendency to remove the barriers between nature and culture had a great impact on efforts to make the zoo relate to children. Three strategies were adopted: the farm strategy where children could look at and play with cows, pigs, goats, and the like; the fairy tale strategy where the children could identify with fairy tales about animals behaving like man (or kids); and the pedagogical strategy which attempted to make it possible for children to experience the world from the perspective of different animals.

The farm strategy was introduced by the Philadelphia Zoo, which in 1938 was the first zoo to introduce a petting zoo for children, with small cages built like farm stables, where children could see and sometimes play with ducks, pigs, calves, turtles, mice and even baby lions.

The fairy tale strategy has been used by a number of zoos. In 1958 the San Francisco Zoo opened Storyland with twenty-six animated action and audio sets in two and three dimensions depicting scenes from Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and other fairy tales and nursery rhymes. This was the first "fairy tale" zoo. In Catskill Game Farm Inc., New York, the children's zoo was built as a kindergarten with fairy tale houses where the young animals could live with their mothers.

Pedagogical considerations have been a part of the zoo history since its beginning. The farm strategy may be considered a pedagogical method offering urban children an opportunity to see cows, goats, horses, and other animals. When the Children's Zoo of London Zoo was founded in 1938, the idea was to give urban children a chance to come into close contact with young and domesticated animals. A more explicit pedagogical strategy could be found in San Diego Zoological Garden. Here education was the aim of the children's zoo, and it even had its own school with teachers, several school buses, and other similar features. An extreme version of the efforts to make children understand the world of animals may be found in zoos where children can romp on giant spider webs or crawl through a meerkat tunnel (such as at the San Francisco Zoo), spend a night in an animal house (the Lincoln Park Zoo), or see the world through the eyes of a prairie dog by peering through a fiber-glass prairie dog burrow (the Bronx Zoo).

In the first zoos bars made the difference between children and animals visible, and the zoo experience was primarily one of wonder, fear, and pride of man's dominance over nature. In the modern zoo the bars have been removed or concealed, thus stressing the connections between all living things and emphasizing education and identification. Now most zoos offer schools an extension of their classrooms and define their mission as that of fostering curiosity, empathy, and learning about animals in order to stimulate a sense of responsibility for the natural environment.

See also: Vacations.


Baratay, Éric, and Élisabeth Hardouin-Fugier. 1998. Zoos. Histoire des jardins zoologiques en Occident (XVIe-XXe siècle). Paris: Éditions La Dècouverte.

Kirchshofer, Rosl, ed. 1966. Zoologische Gärten der Welt. Die Welt des Zoo. Frankfurt am Main: Umschau Verlag.