The practice of keeping animals in captivity dates back thousands of years. The Egyptians, Babylonians, Chinese and Romans had public and private menageries long before the birth of Christ, and Emperor Ramses II not only kept a pet lion but famously took it with him into battle. The naming of these collections had to wait until the nineteenth century.
The word zoo is a shortened form of zoology, the study of animals (from the Greek zoo and logos). It was first commonly used to refer to the London Zoological Garden, which was opened for scientific study in 1828 and to the public in 1847. The two short decades between these openings saw a considerable upgrade in the facilities. An 1839 letter by Thomas Macaulay noted “I found great changes. The wild beasts were all gone. The Zoological Gardens have driven paved courts and dark narrow cages quite out of fashion. I was glad for the sake of the tigers and leopards.”
With this first reference in English, Macaulay sparked a debate about the treatment of animals in captivity which continues to this day. And almost as soon as it took the name, London Zoo itself began a wider contribution to the language. Famous residents included Jumbo the elephant, which gave us the name for the jumbo jet, and Winnipeg, the Canadian bear which inspired the Winnie the Pooh stories.
The Schönbrunn in Vienna, established in 1752, is the world’s oldest zoo and one of more than 1,000 major collections of animals in the world today. The largest is the 107 acre San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, home to 950 species and a total of more than 4,000 animals. Perhaps the most impressive statistic is its number of visitors; over half a million every year. And as social media took off, San Diego Zoo was at the forefront. The first ever YouTube video was filmed at this site in 2005.
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