The beginnings of the Second World War
On June 14, 1927, a decision was made to create the Municipal Zoological Garden in Praga, and its opening to the public took place on March 11, 1928. The management of the zoo was entrusted to Wenanty Burdziński, who was the founder of the zoo in Kiev. The first inhabitants of the zoo were animals from the fallen Pągowski zoo and smaller gardens. After the death of Wenante Burdziński, Jan Żabiński became the director of the garden. He was an educated man, and most of all a great animal lover and promoter of nature.
In 1939, during the defense of Warsaw, employees, for safety reasons, had to shoot off predatory animals and Hansel’s elephant, and Kasia the elephant was killed by a bomb explosion.
After the city surrendered, the most valuable specimens were taken to Germany, also the beloved Tuzinka. The removal of the animals was ordered by Lutz Heck, director of the Berlin Zoological Garden. From the 1930s, Heck worked on recreating the aurochs that died out in the 17th century. Moreover, the aurochs were a symbol of Nazi power. That is why Heck took bison to Munich (they were to be used to recreate aurochs) and tarpans, Tuzinka was taken to Królewiec, camels and llamas to Hanover, hippos to Nuremberg, Przewalski’s horses to Vienna, and lynxes and zebras to Schorfheide.
During the German occupation, the Zoological Garden became a place of hiding Jews. In the modernist Żabiński villa – “House under the Crazy Star”, located in the ZOO, they received shelter, among others writer Rachela Auerbach, sculptor Magdalena Gross and boxer Samuel Koenigswein with her family. For their help, Jan Żabiński and his wife Antonina were honored in 1965 with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. Based on this story, the American film Refuge. An exhibition related to these events is located on the ground floor and in the basement of the preserved modernist villa Under the Crazy Star, where the Żabiński family lived.
In 1946, a decision was made to rebuild the zoo. In the same year, the reconstruction and renovation of the buildings as well as the collection of animals began. In July 1948, the zoo reopened. However, it had 150 specimens, which were mainly donated by private persons. After rapid development, decisions were made to move the garden outside of Warsaw, which resulted in many years of underinvestment.
In 1950, Jan Żabiński unexpectedly resigned from managing the garden. In 1951, Jan Landowski, M.Sc., a garden worker from the pre-war period, became the new director of the Warsaw Zoo. The 1950s were a time of intense work. The rooms that survived were renovated and new buildings were built. Director Landowski managed to create structures similar to modern zoos.
On October 2, 1972, Dr. Jan Landowski died, and Zbigniew Woliński became the new director. The situation at the ZOO was getting worse and worse, so the garden started to change for the better. However, the real good changes came in 1981, when Dr. Jan Maciej Rembiszewski was the director. In almost 10 years, 95% of the zoo’s facilities have been renovated, modernized and refurbished. The garden has become an active member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the International Union of Zoos Directors. He also began to participate in the European program to save endangered species. At the end of the 1980s, the director of the Zoo and his friends founded the Panda Foundation for the Development of the Warsaw Zoological Garden. The first sponsors, honorary animal keepers, began to appear. Panda supported new investments and renovations of existing facilities. A very good period began in the history of the Warsaw Zoo, which continues to this day.
In 2009, there was a change in the position of director. Dr. Jan Maciej Rembiszewski, who was the zoo director for 27 years, has retired. His successor is Dr. Andrzej Kruszewicz – a respected ornithologist, a long-time employee of the ZOO, as well as the creator of the Bird Asylum.
Despite financial difficulties, the Warsaw Zoological Garden has been experiencing a real boom for several years. The zoo is gaining more and more breeding success. New investments are created, and from year to year there are more and more popular science and entertainment events, and there are more and more visitors.