History of Paris Zoo

Built under pressure from the public, Paris Zoo rose from its ashes in 2014, after almost a century of history. The story of the Paris Zoological Park, more commonly known as Vincennes Zoo, begins in the 1930s, and would go through various stops and starts before the total reopening of the park in 2014. Between excitement and renovation, here is the incredible story of Paris Zoo’s journey.

The Universal Exposition of 1931

Paris zoo giraffes in 1931
The Universal Exposition of 1931

The colonial exposition organised in Bois de Vincennes in 1931 is the catalyst for what are now the Paris Zoological Park.

The exposition attracted more than 5 million visitors to the zoo created especially for the occasion. The success is so resounding that the expo is extended into 1932.

The enthusiasm aroused among Parisians is reported by the press. The pressure on the city’s Museum of Natural History is so big that it is decided that a zoological garden will be built to continue on the exoticism of the colonial exposition.

The inauguration in 1934

Paris Zoo in 1934
Paris Zoo in 1934

Based on the architectural model of Hamburg Zoo, the Paris Zoological Park slowly starts to take shape under the guidance of Charles Letrosne, one of the greatest architects of his era. From the installation of the big rock to the choice of the animal species, nothing is left to chance.

Finally, on the 2nd of June, 1934, Paris Zoo is inaugurated, under the leadership of the French president, Albert Lebrun. The ceremony is grandiose and the park garners great success right from its opening. In 1934 alone, Paris Zoo already welcomed several million spectators.

The big rock

the big rock
The Big Rock in 1934

The execution of the project of a zoological garden in Paris took three long years.

From the onset of the project, the big rock is the centrepiece of the park’s architecture.

Installed in 1907 in Hamburg Zoo, the big rock is the latest architectural element of renowned zoos of the era.

Practical and aesthetic, it enables the hiding of technical premises as well as the animals’ rest areas. The big rock also plays a part in the ‘’natural’’ aspect of the animals’ living spaces. They are not presented to the public in cages, but in open spaces, adjacent to the rock, and separated from the visitors by ditches.

This technique not only improves the comfort of the visitors wandering around the park, but is also better for the animals.

The animal species of the era

elephant seal Paris Zoo
An elephant seal at Paris Zoo in 1936

The animal species are hand-picked to satisfy the public’s curiosity.

Right from the Colonial Exposition of 1931, it’s the ‘’exotic’’ animals that are most successful. The zoo’s directors thus decided to primarily incorporate these species into the animal garden opened in 1934.

The first species to colonise the park were the big mammals. From elephants to giraffes, and even bears, the large number of animals attracted many visitors. Rare species, some of them little-known, also found their place right from the inauguration of the zoological garden. Okapis, giant pandas and elephant seals absolutely dazzle the public.

Over the decades that followed, the amount of animals found in the zoo never stopped growing. Today, animals from all continents and biotopes are present at Paris Zoo.

Works begin in 1994…

The zoo moves through the decades with growing success. However, in the 1990s, the need for renovation became evident.

 In 1982, Paris Zoo was forced to close the big rock off from the public. The concrete structure had become fragile and the facilities on the inside could no longer be used. Renovation works would be necessary to restore the place.

Finally, in 1994, the structure returns to its former glory. Aware of the importance of the park to the country, the state puts forward an aid of 15 million euro to renovate the iconic location. The inauguration of the renovated big rock took place on the 9th of November 1994.

Then in 2005

The renovations of 1994 are the prelude to works of an even bigger scale. The facilities were showing worrying signs of wear and would need colossal funding to be restored.

From 2002, the Museum of Natural History, on which the zoo depends, is forced to take protective measures due to the dilapidated state of some facilities. Entire sections of the zoological gardens are then closed.

From 2004, various elected representatives sound the alarm and ask the state for funding to undertake the works necessary to the restoration of the Paris Zoological Park. It should be noted that, for once, their opinions were listened to by the heads of the state and that large-scale funding was given over to satisfy their demand. It was now certain: the works would begin.

The closing of the zoo in 2008

The complete rehabilitation of the zoo required complete closure and the evacuation of the animals.

In 2005, Paris Zoo was officially classed as being under construction. The initial phases pass by without any mishaps but cannot allow for the establishment to remain open while works are ongoing.

In 2008, a big party was organised for the closure of Paris Zoo. The crowds flock one last time to see the place that delighted 3 generations. The animals had to find new homes and be transferred.

The reopening of the zoo in 2014

baboons enclosure
Enclosure for baboons

In 2014, Paris Zoo reopened its doors after more than 3 years of non-stop construction.

Completely metamorphosed, Paris Zoo went through a total reconstruction. The iconic big rock still rises high above the park. However, the area of the park has been greatly expanded. Furthermore, special attention was given to the animals’ well-being.

Nowadays, they’re spread out across themed zones that reproduce their natural biotopes. In total, Paris Zoo is home to more than 2,000 animals of 180 different species.