The 1950s - The zoo is established in Ostrava-Kuncicky
The history of the Ostrava Zoo is closely linked to the activities of the miners at the Zarubek and Alexander coalmines, which involved building an area called the Miners' Park in Ostrava-Kuncicky. Created in 1948 on six hectares near the Alexander coalmine, the volunteers who took part in this operation included Ostrava residents and even school children.
The resulting natural park served as a recreational spot. It featured an open-air theatre, a dance floor, a shallow pool for children and a sandbox. There were even two tennis courts, as well as volleyball and basketball courts.
Following a suggestion from Mr Bohumil Vitek in 1949, it was decided to establish a zoological garden in the growing park. The first animals to arrive included one male and two female roe-deer, as well as five pheasants. Peafowls soon followed and other birds were added upon completion of an aviary.
On 26 October 1951, Ostrava Zoo’s foundation deed was officially approved.
In 1952, the zoo’s staff numbered 6 people. In 1953, Bohumil Vitek was put in charge of managing the newly founded zoo.
At the time of its establishment, which was during the post-war period, the facility faced serious problems. This included a disastrous shortage of construction materials, which were often sourced from demolished sites. The Zoo’s management approached companies throughout the region, asking them for help in supplying materials or goods. The limitations experienced by the Zoo are indicated by the fact that the Zoo’s office was a 3x5 m room within the stables.
Similar conditions existed as well concerning suitable provisions for animals. Among others, the greatest problems arose in providing animal feed. Records show that the zoo repeatedly lacked sunflower seeds, millet, bird seed and other food. The Zoo in Bratislava assisted several times in helping to supply feed. Quality storage of the feed was also in short supply. Reports refer to just one small refrigerator used to store meat in 1955, even though the quantity of meat consumed per month amounted to 600 kg.
The most valuable animal at the Kuncicky Zoo was a male Asian elephant named Pepik. The Zoo obtained it in 1956 from Prague after it had been brought into the country as an eight-month-old calf. It was donated by the Vietnamese government. This male elephant lived in a temporary wooden facility at Kuncicky and then in a new elephant pavilion in Stromovka (another of the Zoo’s sites) from 1962. It died in 1964 due to a fall into a ditch.
The 1960s - The Zoo moves to Silesian Ostrava
Ever since the establishment of the Kuncicky Zoo, other locations were considered for the construction of a new zoo. Besides the Greater Ostrava forest, i.e. the territory called Stromovka in Silesian Ostrava, other possibilities were discussed – such as the Belsky forest (in the southern part of the town), Radvanice and Vresina. When selecting the site, Stromovka park was a preferred location due to features like rugged terrain, diverse forest vegetation and plenty of surface water. Construction of the new animal park was undertaken in 1956, with animals being moved from Kuncicky in February 1960. Placed in temporary wooden buildings and cages relocated from Kuncicky, the animals were kept in conditions that are difficult to imagine today.
The Zoological Garden was opened to the public on 1 May 1960, even though it should be mentioned that it was basically a large construction site. With the coming winter, animals requiring a warmer environment were relocated in a rapidly completed and heated warehouse on the premises which was away from public view. The Zoo was closed to the public until April of the next year.
As during the previous Kuncicky period, major development of the Zoo and other activities were undertaken at Stromovka park in the form of self-help efforts and the voluntary work of citizens, students and local businesses. Setting up of the new animal park would not have been possible without this help.
By 1963, construction had made very slow progress. This was due to the fact that volunteers had been largely recruited from the community of retired coalminers and laypeople. Pensioners also made up half of the 58 permanent members of staff, as the zoo lacked enough funds to pay younger people.
The initial „visitor route’, as it is known today, was completed over time as was the fundamental infrastructure necessary for Zoo operations. This phase was also when the majority of key exhibits and animal pavilions were set up, namely those for bears, primates, carnivores and the former elephant pavilion. Except for the bear exhibit, they have remained in in similiar form and are still in service today.
In the 1960s, the animal collection was extended with some distinctive species. These included a polar bear, saiga antelopes, American alligators, flamingos and the first great apes - chimpanzees named „Lumba“, „Numba“ and „Peggy“. The highlight of this decade was the transfer of the male African elephant „Petr“ from Prague in 1965. According to media reports at that time, Petr was moved to Ostrava due to the premises in Prague not being satisfactory for keeping a male adult elephant. Ostrava was selected as the sole institution which met the minimum requirements for managing such a mighty and aggressive elephant male, as Petr was, using the „non-contact“ method. His residence at the Zoo, however, was all too brief due to his sudden death in 1968 from a myocardial heart attack.
The end of sixties was marked by the arrival of another group of distinctive animals that have been etched into the records of Ostrava Zoo. Two examples include the female Asian elephant „Sona“, imported in 1967 and kept at Ostrava until 1991, and the seven-year-old female hippo called „Roza“. The only animal remaining at Ostrava from this period is a male hippo named „Honza“, who was given to the Zoo in July of 1968 by Cologne Zoo personnel at the Rozvadov border crossing.
The 1970s - Ostrava enters the premiere league
The seventies witnessed a phase of intense project funding. This included a huge increase in the quality of visitor services, namely upon the opening a new car park and self-service restaurant. A multi-purpose building built away from public view served as a rearing facility, storage facility for animal food storage and winter shelter for birds. Furthermore, the animal kitchen was renovated and a quarantine facility and veterinary surgery center were completed.
In 1975, a hippo house was opened for the public. This allowed for the relocation of animals from sites that were later used for tapirs and capybaras and most recently, as a nocturnal animal exhibit.
This period also saw the completion of the former children’s petting area and the gibbon exhibit being set up on the island near the recent elephant enclosure, which is now used for lemurs.
Two spacious moated outdoor enclosures were built in the lower part of the Zoo and formed the basis for the future African hoofed mammals exhibit. They held llamas, camels, kulans and ponies for several years. The African ungulate exhibit was completed in the 1980s, as was another series of construction projects which were started in the 1970s, e.g. houses for aquatic birds and small carnivores, as well as an education centre.
This period is also marked by efforts to refine and significantly improve the animal collection and its structure, concentrating on high-profile species regardless of a simulataneous decrease in the total stock population. This meant the entry of white rhinos, Pere David’s deer, thamin, the Grevy’s zebra, Diana monkeys, Amur leopards, kulans, Malayan tapirs, Sumatra tigers and other species new to the zoo. Incidentally, single and elderly animals were no longer introduced, or others which were not suitable for breeding. Frequently, potential breeding pairs or groups were acquired. Since many of the new species subsequently achieved breeding success over time, this period could definitely be referred to as Ostrava’s golden age of breeding. This allowed the Zoo to benefit over the subsequent decade and placed Ostrava amongst the top institutions of its kind throughout the country.
1972 was the year of the most extensive efforts in importing animals from the former USSR. It ushered in a pair of polar bears known as Fram and Vega, as well as a trio of elks and Bactrian camels. The female polar bear Vega lived for 34 years. When it died in 2006, Zoo management decided not to continue with this species due to space issues regarding facilities for bears.
In 1974, the Zoo welcomed another extraordinary delivery - white rhinos dubbed Natal a Dinah, who came from South Africa. Dinah died in 2008 but Natal is now kept at the Zoo in Dvur Kralove. Both rhinos were kept in inadequate conditions from the very beginning, and as a consequence they never reproduced. Shipping Natal to the Zoo in Dvur Kralove in 2010 put an end to the species in Ostrava.
The 1980s - A slight downturn
While the first half of the decade witnessed the completion of projects started or put into service in the 1970s, e.g. the aquatic bird house, the education centre and the African fauna exhibit, all development later ceased.
In terms of animal management, despite a drop in the number of new species compared to the previous decade, there were still worthwhile arrivals like Syrian brown bears, binturongs and an orangutan. Indeed, the male orangutan Bimbo became one of the most popular attractions at the Zoo in the 1980s and the early 1990s. This ape stayed in Ostrava from 1981 - 1993, after which it was moved to another zoo based on the recommendation of a coordinator.
The joint records of the Czech and Slovak Zoos registered births from various species which included the Caribbean flamingo, Sri Lanka leopard, Hawaiian goose, bobcat and trumpeter swan.
The 1990s – Period of decline but gradual stabilisation
As in the wider Czech zoo community, Ostrava experienced a period of instability and justified concerns about its prospects in the first half of the 1990s. Development activities almost stopped and changes affected the composition of species as well, with large mammal species being on the wane. For example, the large bovine and elephant stock were terminated.
Thankfully, the situation began to stabilise in the later half of the decade. Funded projects were even carried out, albeit on a small scale. For instance, new raptor bird aviaries (1997), a lynx exhibit and aviaries for parrots and injured wild birdlife were constructed (1998) and the deer finally obtained a hayloft for fresh stores of hay (1999).
Notable new species included the Canadian lynx and the Vietnamese sika. In addition, there was a major expansion in the numbers of parrots and anseriform birds. Admission of the Zoo into the respected European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) in 1996 was evidence of its continuing development and return to stability.
The Millennium – Time of development
The pattern of development that defined the late ’90s – the construction of minor exhibits - continued into the first few years of the new millenium. In 2000, a new lion enclosure and a flamingo overwintering facility were completed.
However, a real turning point was the erection and opening of a new, state-of-the-art elephant pavilion in 2004. This effectively put an end to any further stagnation of the Zoo. At the same time, the Zoo joined the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).
Due to financial assistance and the favour of the Zoo’s founder, the Statutory City of Ostrava, the Zoo was able to complete and open new exhibits for ponies and donkeys, an aviary for griffon vultures, another for birds of Tibet and China, an exhibit for cranes and an exhibit for the red panda.
Botanical footpaths were made ready and accessible, and were followed by new greenhouses erected to serve the Zoo’s Botanical Department. This ushered in a fresh phase for the institution as not only an animal park, but also a botanical garden.
In 2010, a unit containing exhibits for bears and langurs named Chitwan, as well as a new petting yard, were finished and opened.
Even facilities behind the scenes benefitted from much-needed funding. Extensive gas lines were installed, several wastewater treatment plants and sewerage systems were built, and behind-the-scenes breeding facilities were modernised, which included one for fish and reptiles. Alongside the new structures being developed, some outdated and unsatisfactory buildings were demolished. This included the old restaurant, an old greenhouse and tired-looking aviaries for birds along the main visitor route.
Regarding animals, some of the large mammal species were phased out. This included cougars, jaguars, polar bears and rhinos. At the same time, the collection’s diversity was greatly enhanced with species that had never been featured before - reptiles, fish, amphibians and invertebrates. This was in addition to the headlining species like Sclater’s lemur, the Siberian crane, the clouded leopard, etc.
From 2011 on - The future looks bright
Thanks to extensive support from the Statutory City of Ostrava, as well as ongoing projects, the Zoo has entered a decade of major redevelopment that is elevating the park towards the top-end of the country’s zoo community.
In the near future, a restaurant will be unveiled that shall operate all year round. Moreover, the thoroughly modern premises are to be integrated with an auditorium and an outdoor water world. The water world will be built on the site of the former restaurant.
One of the fishing lakes is to be redesigned to feature a walk-through island exhibit with lemurs roaming free amongst visitors.
A new entrance area is under development which will lead to a major improvement in visitor comfort. It will feature ticket offices, a new Zoo shop, toilets and new administration facilities for Zoo managment.
Another project in process is a seal and penguin exhibit, which will replace the existing iron and concrete bear facility located in the central part of the Zoo. The fun of watching the antics of the penguins is sure to render the area more attractive and will help make up for the polar bears that used to live there.
A very special way of presenting animals is the Asian safari park, which is planned to stretch over a meadow behind the camel enclosure. This park will help to show off the animals in ways that were not possible in the past.
The tigers are not going to be left out. A new exhibit awaits them as well. It will cover the as of yet unused area of woodland when walking from the African fauna house. By the way, its ground plan shall exceed the existing tiger enclosures by ten times or so. This complex will also contain a large walk-through aviary for aquatic birds.
A project to convert the existing aquatic bird house into the House of Evolution represents the biggest challenge of all. Chiefly designed for the chimpanzees and some other African primates, the building will also hold a number of smaller animal species.
In addition to these large-scale activities, the Zoo will continue carrying out numerous smaller alterations, such as improving the design of older animal houses or producing exhibits of native fauna as part of the botanical trails.