Marine invertebrates, fishes, and marine mammals often are kept in separate establishments known as aquariums. The word zoo was first used in the late nineteenth century as a popular abbreviation for the zoological gardens in London.
Associated with the first attempts at animal domestication, earliest establishment of zoos is not known. Pigeons were kept in captivity in as early as 4500 BC in what is now Iraq, and 2,000 years later elephants were semi-domesticated in India. Antelopes, including the addax, ibex, oryx, and gazelle, are depicted wearing collars on Egyptian tomb pictures at Saqqara, dating from 2500 BC. In China, the Empress Tanki, who probably lived about 1150 BC, built a great marble “house of deer”; and Wen Wang, who apparently reigned just before 1000 BC, established a zoo of 1,500 acres in extent, which he named the Ling-Yu, or Garden of Intelligence.
Reigning about 1000 BC, the biblical king Solomon was a farmer-zoologist, and he was followed, for at least the next 600 years, by other royal zookeepers, including Semiramis and Ashurbanipal of Assyria and King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylonia.
Collections of captive animals were in existence in Greece by the seventh century BC, and by the fourth century BC it is probable that such collections existed in most, if not all, of the Greek city-states. Aristotle (384-322 BC) was obviously well acquainted with zoos; his most famous pupil, Alexander the Great, sent back to Greece many animals that were caught on his military expeditions.
The earlier Egyptian and Asian zoos were kept mainly as public spectacles and only secondarily for study, but the Greeks of Aristotle’s times were more concerned with study and experiment. The Romans had two types of animal collections: those destined for the arena and those kept as private zoos and aviaries.
Although zoos declined with the end of the Roman empire, but animal collections were maintained by the Emperor Charlemagne in the eighth century AD and by Henry I in the twelfth century. In Europe Philip VI had a menagerie in the Louvre, Paris, in 1333, and many members of the House of Bourbon kept collections of animals at Versailles.
Discovering a magnificent zoo in Mexico in 1519, Hernan Cortes had a massive collection, which included birds of prey, mammals, and reptiles, and was so large that it needed a staff of 300 keepers.
Modern zoo keeping may be said to have started in 1752 with the founding of the Imperial Menagerie at the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. This menagerie, which still flourishes, was opened to the public in 1765. In 1775 a zoo was founded in a Royal Park in Madrid, and 18 years later the zoological collection of the Jardin des Plantes, Paris, was begun. The Zoological Society of London established its collection in Regent’s Park in 1828, two years after the society itself was founded.
By the mid-nineteenth century zoos were being opened all over the world; among those existing today, more than 40, most of which are in Europe, are more than 100 years old. Since the end of World War II there has been a rapid and worldwide proliferation of zoos, many of which have as their aim not the study of animals but public entertainment and commercial gain.