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Few zoos in the world can boast a story with as much history as the Viennese Tiergarten, located in the spectacular gardens of the Imperial Palace of Schönbrunn. While today this is a modern institution that is at the forefront of breeding species in captivity, a fact evidenced by the birth of a baby panda in their facilities in 2007, the Tiergarten was created in the 18th century during the reign of Franz Joseph I and Maria Theresa.
The emperor commissioned Jean Nicholas Jadot de Ville-Issey to design a menagerie in the palace grounds and the architect devised a complex consisting of several pens, a pond and twelve enclosures of identical size to house the animals, which became the Tiergarten in 1752. Subsequently, the octagonal pavilion located in the centre of the zoo was added. This historical building, completed in 1759, today houses the park's restaurant.
While during the first years of its existence, and almost to the end of the reign of Maria Theresa in 1780, the menagerie was destined almost exclusively to the entertainment of the members of the imperial court, students were soon invited so they could expand their knowledge about animals.
The real change took place, however, in 1778, when the palace gardens were opened to the public and visitors were allowed to approach to contemplate the wildlife assembled there. Over the years the number and variety of animals were increased. Elephants, bears, wolves and other species were gradually added, allowing the institution to gain notoriety.
In the early 19th century the general public enthusiastically welcomed the decision to incorporate exotic animals to the collection, with the result that the Viennese were soon able to observe, for example, kangaroos, giraffes, polar bears, hyenas and Indian elephants. The enormous success of the proposal allowed the facility to be opened on a daily basis. Previously the Tiergarten only opened on Sundays.
Under the direction of Alois Kraus, who headed the zoo from 1879 to 1918, major changes were introduced that helped modernize the facilities and improve it both in terms of animal welfare and the visitor experience.
As a result, the spaces destined for the zoo's inhabitants became more extensive in an effort to emulate their natural habitats. At the time of the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the complex housed a total of 3500 animals of 700 different species.
Although the two world wars proved to be a very hard time in which the animal populations were decimated and facilities became obsolete, the Tiergarten survived thanks to the concerted efforts of its leaders, led by biologist Otto Antonius.
Antonius both introduced a new program to modernize the infrastructures and, aware as he was of the need to conserve the environment, encouraged the captive breeding programs which the centre still carries out today.
The second half of the 20th century saw continued reforms of the facilities, which had been severely damaged during World War II. As a result, for example, the new terrariums and aquariums were added.
While in 1991 the bells were ringing for the closure of the zoo, as its detractors criticized the enclosures dedicated to the animals, considering them outdated and improper, the Tiergarten responded to the criticisms by once again reinventing itself, mainly through privatization.
Today, visitors can enjoy a modern zoo with a dazzling display of wildlife and elegant structures such as the octagonal pavilion with frescoed ceilings, which remains the nerve centre of the park but now operates as a charming cafe.
However, for visitors who wish to contemplate animals in their habitat, we recommend the Lainzer Tiergarten, located in the 13th district of Vienna, in Hermesstrasse. This is a beautiful and very unique place - a nature reserve in the middle of the city of Vienna. Today's the park consists of 24 square kilometres of meadow and forest where reindeer, deer, wild boar and other species roam free and where visitors are free to approach the animals. Admission is free and the reserve is open to everyone. The reserve was created in 1561 when Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria wished to create a private hunting ground for himself and his family. It is now one of the most beautiful places in the city, an urban lung and the perfect place for walking for both the young and the not so young. The number 60 bus drops you off right at the gates.
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