Commonly known as the “Zoo de Vincennes” owing to its location near to the woods of the same name, the Paris Zoological Park has been the preferred zoo for three generations of children who come to be amazed by the large exotic animals it houses. Founded in 1934 by the National Natural History Museum, this vast Zoo is now an important part of the history of the French Capital. Generations of Parisians have seen the Zoo succeed, grow, gradually fade into obsolescence and then rise from the ashes totally transformed.
Opening and early success of the zoo
In honour of the Colonial Exhibition of 1931, a temporary zoo is opened in order to house and exhibit exotic animals from all over the world for Parisian visitors. The zoo enjoys great success among the French public, and the City of Paris decides to partner with the Museum of Natural History to build a real permanent zoo in the Bois de Vincennes.
The architect appointed to complete the project is largely inspired by a German zoo in Hamburg founded almost 30 years earlier. This architectural style is all the rage throughout Europe and the United States at the time. The artificial “Grand Rocher” that dominates the middle of the park becomes a symbol of the "Zoo de Vincennes". This is actually one of the main decorative elements of the park, but it is primarily used to hide interior spaces and technical rooms with a more natural feature. Another of the zoo's novelties is that traditional cages with bars are eschewed in favour dug out areas that allow for more direct interaction with animals, giving visitors the impression of seeing the animals in their natural environment.
The new zoo quickly becomes a great success and Parisians flock to observe the animals, mainly large mammals such as rhinos, giraffes and elephants. The zoo is also home to a number of species threatened with extinction including Okapi, nocturnal lemurs, elephant seals and even pandas. The park is committed to helping the preservation of these species, but beginning in the early 1980s, the zoo’s administrators begin to notice and worry about serious signs of dilapidation and age.
Major zoo renovations
It is not until 1994 that the great rock at the centre of the park is restored and not until 2002 that the Natural History Museum decides to implement important security measures. Facilities are closed to the public and animals that cannot be housed safely are transferred to other zoos. In 2005 the zoo administrators decide to make important changes to the park and it enters into a long period of work. Dilapidated and too small for its animal inhabitants the Zoo de Vincennes has no choice but to completely close its doors in November 2008. At this point, a two year process of removing all of the animals from the park is undertaken so that enclosures can be completely renovated and remodeled.
The site reopens its doors on April 12, 2014 and is renamed the “Parc Zoologique de Paris”. This comes after almost six years of being closed to the public and over two years of work. Today the park is divided into five “bio-zones” comprising some of the world's most important natural animal habitats: Europe, the Savannah-Sahel, Madagascar, Guyana and Patagonia. The Paris Zoological Park now covers an area of nearly fifteen hectares and still features its famous, imposing 65 metre high artificial rock. The zoo also boasts a superb 4000 square metre greenhouse which mimics the climate of an equatorial environment.
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