History of Zoo Basel

The Zoo Basel is located in Basel, Switzerland. Established in 1874, it is Switzerland's oldest and largest zoo (by number of animals) and a major tourist attraction with nearly 1.7 million visitors per year.[1]

Zoo Basel
Zoo Basel logo
Date openedJuly 3, 1874
LocationBasel, Switzerland
Coordinates47°32′50″N 7°34′44″E / 47.547336°N 7.578764°E / 47.547336; 7.578764Coordinates: 47°32′50″N 7°34′44″E / 47.547336°N 7.578764°E / 47.547336; 7.578764
Land area32.12 acres (13.00 ha)
No. of animals6,894 (2008 / about 5,000 in the aquarium)
No. of species645 (2008)
Annual visitors1,698,152 (2008)
Major exhibitsAfrica, Antelope House, Aquarium, Australis, Bird House, Elephant House, Etoscha, Gamgoas, Kinderzoo, Monkey House, and Rhino Exhibit in the Sautergarden

In 1870, the Ornithologiegesellschaft and the city of Basel started a project to establish a zoo where visitors could see Swiss and European animals. For this, the city provided land in the Birsig valley, which was, back then, outside the city walls South of Basel.

Zoo Basel directors[2]
1874-1875 "Herr" Müller
1875-1876 Inspektor Seydel
1876–1914 Gottfried Hagmann
1914–1944 Adolf Wendnagel
1944–1953 Heini Hediger
1953–1979 Ernst Lang
1979–1995 Dieter Rüedi
1995–2001 Peter Studer
since 2001 Oliver Pagan


This time period was marked by the openening of Zoo Basel in 1874 and by the zoos struggle for survival during the first years.[2] It also started the attachment of Basel's population to "its" zoo, which is evidenced by the local popularity of the Indian elephant Miss Kumbuk and several donations of animals and funds.

Year Event Details
1874 Opening day On July 3, 1874, Zoo Basel opened its doors
1884 Expansion The zoo expanded towards Binningen and had as its new center the festival grounds, where diverse exhibits took place
1886 First elephant The first Indian elephant, Miss Kumbuk, was brought to Basel by Paul and Fritz Sarasin
1890 First lions The first arrived in Basel
1891 Lion birth On March 19, 1891 the first lion cub was born
1891 Elephant House A new house was opened for the popular Indian elephant Miss Kumbuk and for some zebras
1900 First apes The female orangutan Kitty came to Basel


The zoo grew in size, popularity, and in number of animals. During the two world wars the zoo suffered, but was not hit by any bombs. It quickly recovered after World War II and took advantage of the opportunity to import foreign animals again.

Period overview[3]
Year Event Details
1901 Large donation Mr. Johannes Beck, a local gold smith, donated SFr. 750'000 to Zoo Basel. In his honor, the zoo celebrates every year the Johaness Beck Day. On June 24, entrance to the zoo is free of charge
1904 Carnivor House The first carnivor house opened, which included lions and a reptile exhibit
1910 Antelope House A new antelope house opened, which is, as of April 2010, the oldest building at Zoo Basel
1914 Death of Miss Kumbuk With great sorrow Basels population parted from "their" elephant
1919 New elephant After a long search, the African elephant Jenny was acquired from Circus Krone to replace Miss Kumbuk
1927 Sealion Exhibit Urs Eggenschwyler designed the new sea lion rock which opened in 1927
1935 New restaurant With a great financial effort the old tavern was replaced with a modern restaurant
1937 Worst day in history Many animals died because of an outbreak of the foot-and-mouth disease
1947 New giraffes Just after the second world war new giraffes were imported
1949 Okapi The first okapi arrived in Basel, however, it died only two months after arriving


1986: second rhino outdoor exhibit

This time period was marked by the transformation of animal collecting cages to in- and outdoor exhibits. Zoo Basel called it "creating an animal park".

Period overview[3][4]
Year Event Details
1956 Lion House A new lion house was built that stood until the development of the Gamgoas project
1961 Main entrance The main entrance was moved toward the Birsig creek
1966 Elephant birth The first African elephant, Ota, was born in Basel
1969 Monkey House The current monkey house opened
1972 Vivarium The aquarium, or vivarium, opened.
1992 Elephant birth The male African elephant Pambo was born. He later was transferred to the Vienna zoo
1992/3 Africa Exhibit For the first time three different animal species shared one exhibit. The outdoor exhibit and three new houses opened
1997 Lori House A new home for the rainbow lorikeets in the Sauter Garden
1998 Pelicans The pelican lake and their new house was constructed. The exhibit also includes a new bridge over a small waterfall
1999 Snow leopard The snow leopards moved into a new exhibit in the Sauter Garden


Rhino exhibit opened in 2008

2008 / 2010: Rhino house and outdoor exhibitEdit

In 2008, the renovated and expanded Indian rhinoceros house opened and two years later the new rhino outdoor exhibit opened, which also included muntjacs, and Oriental small-clawed otters.

2011 / 2012: Monkey house and exhibitEdit

Starting in April/May 2010 the monkey house and the surrounding area will undergo extensive construction. This includes the tearing down of the small monkey house (home of the ring-tailed lemurs), the macaques rock, the children's play ground, the old bear exhibits, and several paths.

On June 30, 2011 the enlarged monkey house opened. While visitors have the same amount of space available, the apes' space more than double from 340 square metres (3,700 sq ft) to 700 square metres (7,500 sq ft).[5]

The old outer walls were torn down and the living quarters were extended in depth and height. Eventually, there will be additional compartments with no public access, a service tunnel, worker quarters, and restrooms added.

In summer 2012 five large outdoor "cages", the remodeled monkey house roof, a new ape playground, and several new paths will open. The outdoor cages will have a double net layer; one for safety reasons and the other, outer layer, for plants to grow on. The cages' heights will be 16 metres (52 ft) for the orangutans and 11 metres (36 ft) for the other apes. The apes' outdoor area will grow from today's 70 square metres (750 sq ft) to over 2,000 square metres (22,000 sq ft). The children's playground is planned to go along with the jungle theme - similar to the one in the Etosha exhibit. The paths on the monkey roof, around the new cages, by the main entrance, and the former bear exhibits will be adjusted and/or newly constructed.

Period overview[4]
Year Event Details
2001 Etosha house Etosha house and outdoor exhibits
2003 Gamgoas house Gamgoas house with lion and African wild dog outdoor exhibits
2004 Lori exhibit With a generous donation from the Winterthur Insurance, the Lori house received an outdoor exhibit
2006 Australis Opening of the Australis house and outdoor exhibits
2006 Rhino House The renovated and expanded Indian rhinoceros house opened
2008 Rhino Exhibit The new rhino outdoor exhibit opened and included also muntjacs, and Oriental small-clawed otters
2010 Monkey Rock The macaques (monkeys) moved into a new exhibit in the Sauter Garden

Former animalsEdit

A short list of previous animals kept at Zoo Basel can be found towards the bottom of List of animals at Zoo Basel.


External linksEdit