Leningrad Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in Russia. Having preserved the original outline of the late 19th century, the Zoo is currently a part of the city architecture and its historical heritage.
The Zoo was founded at the centre of St. Petersburg on August 1 (old calendar, August 14 – new calendar) in 1865. Originally, it was a private menagerie. It was open and funded by a Dutch Prussian citizen Julius Gebhardt and his wife Sophia. Later on, it changed many owners for more than 50 years remaining private.
The Zoo became state-run in 1917 when, after the revolution, the new government passed a “Decree on the Nationalization of Private Places of Entertainment”. After the nationalization of the Zoo, within the period of 1918-1941, an Academic board was formed which consisted of all the leading scientists of the time. During those years, a scientific library was created. The Zoo also became an institution to carry out scientific research and send people on scientific expeditions. At this period a Young Zoologists Club (YZC) was founded which has existed in the Zoo up until today.
Together with the city, the Zoo survived the most horrific page in its history: the Great Patriotic War and the Siege. Many staff members were off at the front and a great deal of them were evacuated to Kazan. Still, many animals and keepers remained in the city. The Zoo workers kept taking care of the animals and demonstrating them to the visitors.
There has been only one closure of the Zoo in the horrible winter of 1941-1942, but as early as in the spring of 1942, it was opened again. About twenty people saving the animals during the war accomplished a real feat. Many of them were living right here in the Zoo to be closer to their animals. Sixteen Zoo workers were later awarded a medal “For the Defence of Leningrad”. In remembrance of their feat, it was decided not to change the name of the Zoo, but to keep the old one: Leningradsky Zoopark.
To the right of the central entrance to the Zoo, there is a plaque to commemorate those horrific years. There is also a museum “The Zoo during the Siege of Leningrad” here in the Bear House which survived the Great Patriotic War and is the oldest building at the Zoo today. In this museum you can learn about the domestic life of the zoo workers during the war years and get a detailed account of our colleagues’ feat during the Siege.
During the early post-war years, the Zoo was recovering rapidly. By 1951 its collection consisted of more than 150 species. The Zoo had acquired the animals who later became the founders of animal dynasties. Thus on August 9,1956, there came a couple of giraffes: Malchik and Juliette, who have given birth to 12 offsprings (a world record). Their youngest granddaughter Sonya is still living at the Zoo.
In those years, a good tradition of thematic educational events for the visitors was established at the Zoo. Beginning from 1948, the staff organised the Days of Birds with their education quizzes and competitions for the best nesting box. From 1951 on, New Year celebrations were added. Today we arrange thematic days twice a month on average. They are typically dedicated to different memorable dates and animals from our collection.
On these days, we have free tours around the Zoo, games, quizzes, and feeding shows.
Today Leningradsky Zoopark remains a unique museum of wildlife in St. Petersburg as well as a conservation and educational institution. It continues its unceasing development trying to be up-to-date, enhancing animal welfare with the aim for best European standards, and improving the quality of its service. For more information, please see our Development page.
Unfortunately, pre-revolution and even pre-war archives have not survived to these days as in 1940 they were burnt down by someone’s order from a higher authority. Up to this moment the Zoo has collected some historical archives, a good photographic gallery, a big collection of slides, but they all began accumulating only about 40 years ago. However, the city archive has preserved quite a number of materials. A lot of interesting details can be learned from newspaper and magazine publications in the library of the Academy of Science and the Public Library. And in the library of the Zoo, there survived a very unique volume: “The History of Leningrad Zoological Garden”.
The Zoo welcomes everyone who has photos, printed materials, just memories about the pre- and post-war Zoo to help reconstruct its history.
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