A brief history

Evidence from cave wall drawings suggests that wild mammals were kept in the company of humans as early as the Stone Age. In fact, this was probably the beginning of animal domestication. By 2500 B.C. Egyptian kings were keeping antelopes for amusement and to impress foreign visitors. Only ruling classes could afford to keep and care for exotic mammals. Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt could be credited with organizing the first mixed collection of exotic mammals. In approximately 1500 B.C., she sent collectors to Somaliland. They imported greyhounds, monkeys, leopards, cattle, and the first giraffe into captivity. In 1000 B.C., Emperor Wu Wang of China assembled the first zoological park. This was a sophisticated 15,000 acre (6,070 ha) Ling-Yu or "Garden of Intelligence." It included tigers, rhinos, and rare giant pandas. Between 1000 and 400 B.C., many small zoos were created in north Africa, India, and China and domestication of mammals had become an art. These collections were mostly symbols of power and wealth, definitely not for public enjoyment. By 400 B.C. the ancient Greeks established a zoological garden in most if not all Greek cities. They used their collections for serious scientific study. Only students and scholars were allowed to visit these collections. It was at this time that Aristotle wrote The History of Animals. In this encyclopedia, he described hundreds of species of exotic vertebrates from these collections.

The Romans were perhaps the first to open exotic mammal collections to the public at large. From about 100 B.C. to A.D. 600 the Romans used these collections for scholarly study but they also used many of these animals for entertainment. Much of the entertainment consisted of cruel and bloody spectacles in public arenas, with large carnivores attacking or being attacked by men as well as other mammals. Often these were slow, agonizing and gruesome battles to the death. With the fall of the Roman Empire zoos went into a decline. Most exotic mammal collections consisted of small private menageries and traveling exhibitions.

By A.D. 1400 global exploration sparked public interest in zoos once again, with strange creatures from the New World. During this time, Hernando Cortes visited the zoo of Mon-tezuma, chief of the Aztecs. It was a huge collection and employed over 300 zookeepers. Over the next few hundred years many European zoos opened and the collections grew larger. Most of these collections consisted of individual specimens of as many species of mammals as possible. The animals were from many different countries and represented many continents. They were often called postage stamp collections. They were open to the public and attracted many visitors. Although they have been renovated and have updated their policies, some of these zoos are still open today. The oldest is the Schonbrunn Zoo in Vienna, Austria. It was built in 1752 by Emperor Franz Josef for his wife. It opened to the public in 1765. Others that still exist are the Madrid Zoo in Spain, which opened in 1775 and the Jardin des Plantes collection in Paris which opened in 1793. For comparison, the oldest zoos in the United States are the Philadelphia Zoo, which opened in 1874; the Central Park Zoo in New York, which opened in 1862; the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, which opened in 1868; and the Cincinnati Zoo, which opened in 1875.

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