Prague Zoo to celebrate 85 years

The first animal at the zoo was a she-wolf named Lotta

The Prague Zoo opened in 1931, and is going to celebrate 85 years on Sept. 28 with a special program. Baby giraffes will be christened, and there will be musical and theatrical performances. A new exhibition on the history of the zoo will also open. The day will include competitions for kids and adults, and people will have a chance to take a trip to prehistoric times.

The zoo was ranked the fourth-best in the world by users of the travel site TripAdvisor in July 2015, beaten only by zoos in San Diego, California; Puerto de la Cruz, Spain; and Singapore.

The Prague Zoo currently covers 58 hectares with 50 hectares used for exhibits. It has over 4,700 animals from 681 species, including 144 species listed as threatened. The zoo has 12 pavilions and over 150 exhibits. It has been particularly active in the preservation of the Przewalski's horses, which are slowly being returned to the wild.

A number of babies have been born at the zoo this year, including an elephant named Max, who has been a popular attraction. He was born in April and is getting bigger every day by about a kilogram. He is also quite curious and is becoming more independent. He is just beginning to try solid food.

A surprise with year was the birth of a baby gorilla in April, as zoo officials did not know the mother was expecting. Officials actually considered the 25-year-old mother Shinda to be infertile due to hormonal problems. The mother is protective of the baby and has been caring for it properly.

Another recent arrival is a baby aardvark, which is currently just a few weeks old and has already been presented to the public. The baby is thought to be female but zoo veterinarians still have to conduct a DNA test. The baby sleeps most of the day. Her mother, Kvido, is showing a lot of interest in raising the baby, which is her fourth. The first two died and the mother needed a lot of help with the third one.

Newer still are Eld's deer twins that were born Sept. 4. The birth of twins in this species is a rare event. The mother was born 13 years ago in the Prague Zoo and has given birth to nine babies including the twins, which are boys. Eld's deer are native to Southeast Asia and are endangered.

The zoo also welcomed its millionth visitor in record time this year, on Aug. 16. The previous record was Aug. 24 in 2014. The zoo attributed the early date this year to good weather and to interest in the new baby elephant.

In March, the zoo opened a new educational exhibit where visitors can make paper from treated elephant dung. Also in March, some 18 ibises escaped from the zoo when snow damaged their aviary. With the help of the public, all of the birds were recaptured.

The history of Prague Zoo goes back to 1881. On the occasion of the wedding of Crown Prince Rudolf and Princess Stephanie of Belgium, Count Sweerts-Sporck published an open letter in newspapers calling for a zoological garden in Prague, according to the zoo's website. The movement, however, did not bear fruit overnight.

In 1922, farming tycoon Alois Svoboda donated land in Troja for a zoo. The next year the Ministry of Education began preparatory work, and by 1926 some eight hectares were fenced off. In 1930, Circus Rebernigg donated a lioness named Šárka for the still-unopened zoo.

The zoo opened Sept. 28, 1931, with a she-wolf named Lotta as the first resident. Przewalski's horses were also among the first ocupants. Tigers came in 1932, followed by baby elephant, a hippopotamus and a rhinoceros in 1933. The lion Šárka and her mate Ctirad took residence in 1934.

An early accomplishment was the breeding the first captive-born Andean Condor in the world in 1938.

The 1950s saw an era of expansion, and the zoo won recognition as one of the world’s leading zoological gardens.

The zoo has had another era of expansion after the Velvet Revolution. Flooding in 2002 affected about half of the zoo, however, and led to several animal deaths although most animals were evacuated. The lower part of the zoo has been rebuilt since then with new pavilions and exhibits.

Prague Zoo (ENG)

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