Zoos have been in existence for centuries. As far back as the period between 2000 and 1000 B.C. there were examples of zoo-like structures in Ancient Egypt and China as well as in Greece 500 B.C. while in antique Rome the so-called “serragli” (menageries) were popular. These were travelling “zoos” (the forerunners of the present day circus) where battles between ferocious animals and gladiators or between different species could be seen. It cannot be said that the scope of these early collections of exotic beasts was educational or scientific; on the contrary they were often simply an ostentation of power or worse still a reservoir of live material to be massacred in blood-thirsty shows.
The new epoch of zoology in Europe took place in the renaissance when many monarchs and nobles decorated their courts and property with botanical and zoological gardens which were mainly for private use but were occasionally open to the public.
The first modern zoo, Schonbrunn in Austria, was opened in Vienna in 1752 and is still an example to visitors of the exquisite architecture of the period. The second oldest surviving zoo in the world was built in the same century: Madrid Zoo in Spain, while the great Botanical Gardens of Paris became a working zoo.
The real explosion of new zoological structures, however, took place in the 1850s in Europe and at the end of the 19th century in America. One of the most significant examples from this period is London Zoo, which boasts one of the vastest collections of animals on the planet. This institution was and continues to be sponsored by the glorious Zoological Society of London – a group of eminent scientists.
Up to this point zoos were exclusively structures in the traditional sense of the world. They consisted of parks with long rows of cramped, cold cages and enclosures. In 1907, however, a new revolutionary “barless zoo” was built in Stellingen, Hamburg, by the famous dealer of exotic animals Carl Hagenbeck. Hagenbeck overturned the concept of “captivity”, using artificial rocks, reinforced concrete and life-like perspectives to make the environments where the animals were “detained” into natural little habitats with streams, plants and camouflaged shelters. This trail -blazing idea was copied all over the world with the concept of the “environmental zoo” as opposed to the “cage zoo” taking over. The animals, although still exposed to climates different from those of their natural environments, were visibly healthier and more active compared to those housed in suffocating closed rooms.
The final transition from zoo to safari park which has taken place in recent years represents the last step towards the zoo of the future. Animals are practically free to roam, often with other compatable species from similar geographical areas. Safari parks could be jokingly defined as an exciting way to introduce the visitors to the animals and not vice-versa.
It should be noted that the Zoo Safari of Fasano was the first safari park in Italy, opened in the summer of 1973 and adhering to the concepts applied to pre-existing structures in France and Great Britain.