Johan Burgers founded burgers' Zoo in 1913. He started out keeping pheasants in his backyard. Today, that hobby has grown into 45 hectares of professional zoo with the designation "Royal". On this page, we will take you through our zoo's history.
In 1913, Burgers' Zoo was founded by Johan Burgers in 's-Heerenberg, near the German border. He started out keeping pheasants in his backyard but soon added other animals. The collection quickly outgrew the backyard, and in 1913, Burgers decided to purchase a dedicated plot and display his collection to the public, under the name Fazanterie Buitenlust.
Johan Burgers was eager to expand and modernise his park, and in 1923, he decided to move to Arnhem and open a zoo there. Arnhem had more room for expansion and was more readily accessible. Everything in 's-Heerenberg was taken down. Anything reusable was gradually moved to Arnhem by horse and carriage on five to six-hour trips through snow and rain: from the latticework of the bird and animal enclosures down to the rocks, 1000 conifers and even the manure! The construction was a large project. On 23 July 1924, the park reopened under a new name: Burgers' Dierenpark. The zoo was further expanded with enclosures for new animals, including camels and bears.
In 1932, Johan Burgers opened a second zoo in Tilburg—nearly identical to the zoo in Arnhem. He gave it to his eldest daughter, Johanna, as a wedding present. After the war, the park had to be largely rebuilt, which was a costly affair. The decision was made to sell it to the company Van Dijk. Tilburg Dierenpark remained a zoo until it was shut down in 1973.
Johan Burgers found inspiration for a revolutionary way of housing wild animals through his good connections with Carl Hagenbeck, the director of the Hamburg Zoo. The idea was to allow the animals to live as naturally as possible. The enclosures were designed to replicate the animals' natural habitats as much as possible—no bars or cages were used to keep the animals in the enclosure, but rather moats, open terraces, valleys and the distinctive artificial rocks. For years, the enclosures were the face of Burgers' Zoo, and they formed the basis for the idea of eco-displays.
Johan Burgers died in 1943, and the zoo was handed down to his daughter and son-in-law, Lucie and Reinier van Hooff. From mid-September 1944, the zoo endured eight months of war. During the Battle of Arnhem as the final phase of Operation Market Garden, the Allies tried to conquer the bridges around Arnhem to penetrate the Ruhr and the heart of the Third Reich. Things did not go as planned, however, and the British and Polish troops were pushed back by fierce German resistance. "A Bridge Too Far" not only became a well-known and later successfully filmed book, but also a historical concept.
From 17 to 25 September 1944, Burgers' Zoo found itself in the line of fire during the Battle of Arnhem. Dozens of shells landed in the park, animal enclosures were destroyed, and animals were stolen or killed. Feeding the animals became a life-threatening job. Only a few employees stayed to help. The shelling and bombing left numerous cow and horse carcasses along the Rhine. The zookeepers braved the turmoil of battle to cut up the carcasses and transport them by horse and cart to feed the carnivores.
Reinier van Hooff pulled out all the stops to convince the Germans not to take all the animals to the Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg as spoils of war, and the family was allowed to stay in the zoo to take care of the animals when the Germans evacuated the entire city. Arnhem was finally liberated in 1945. Many animals and even two employees were killed in the fighting, and this period is the darkest page in the history of today's Royal Burgers' Zoo. The zoo was heavily damaged in the war and had to be largely rebuilt.
After the devastation of the war, there was a lot of rubble to sift through, both literally and figuratively. Most of the zoo had been seriously damaged, and everything was in short supply just after the war. This entire period was dedicated to recovery. Rebuilding the zoo required a lot of hard work from that generation. Burgers' Dierenpark and Reinier and Lucie van Hooff were no exception. It was only after Antoon van Hooff took over, in the early sixties, that the economy started to pick up again and new opportunities for future developments emerged.
The foundation of the Dutch Association of Zoos in 1966 was the starting signal for intensive, systemic collaboration between zoos. By sharing knowledge, zoos learn a lot about their animals. The successful collaboration was extended to the European level with the establishment of the EAZA in 1992. In these international partnerships, zoos work closely together to conserve animal species; some species only exist today thanks to the zoos. Special breeding programmes which include all animals of the same species in zoos ensure healthy zoo populations.
In the early 1960s, Antoon van Hooff, the third generation in the family business, took the reins. Under his management, Burgers' Zoo increasingly became an international trendsetter in the zoo sector. Habitats and the creation of life-like imitations were key. In 1968, the zoo opened the first European safari park. The zoo's name changed to Burgers' Zoo and Safaripark. Visitors could drive their cars through the habitats of African animals. When the separate entrance to the safari park was removed in 1987, the name was changed to its current name: Burgers' Zoo.
Several important changes were made in the 1970s. One of these was the spectacular opening of the first chimpanzee colony in a zoo—which later became world-famous—by Antoon van Hooff and his brother Jan van Hooff in 1971. It was the first time that several adult chimpanzees were kept together in the same enclosure. The enclosure was not a tiled affair with sturdy fencing, as was customary, but rather a large, wooded outdoor enclosure, separated from the public only by a wide moat. Experts predicted disaster, but their scepticism soon turned to wonder. For many Dutch and international researchers, it was a reason to analyse the social behaviour of these animals at Burgers' Zoo. The most famous of these has become an expert of international reputation in monkey and human behaviour: Frans de Waal. One of the things he discovered in the zoo is that chimpanzees form coalitions.
The opening of Burgers' Bush on 1 June 1988—1.5 hectares of covered tropical rainforest—ushered in a revolution in the zoo industry. Never before had a completely covered tropical rainforest been designed on such a large scale, a place for dozens of animal species to live in great freedom amidst hundreds of tropical plant species. These eco-displays, or landscape ecosystems, visitors experience not only the animals but also the climate and environment in which they live. The concept was so innovative that other zoos and specialists, as well as visitors, had to get used to the concept. The Bush quickly proved a huge success, and the eco-display concept served as an inspiration to zoos all over the world.
Today, the eco-displays are inextricably linked to Burgers' Zoo. After the Bush (tropical rainforest) and the Safari (East African savannah), the Desert was opened in 1994, taking visitors on a journey to the rocky deserts of the Mojave and the Sonora. The Ocean followed in 2000, literally transporting visitors into the depths of the Indo-Pacific Ocean. In the Rimba, built in 2008, visitors discover the animal-rich Malaysian tropical forest, and in the Mangrove (2017), they experience the importance of the endangered mangrove forest.
Since 1989, Burgers' Zoo has been managing a nature reserve in Belize (Central America) together with the Swiss Papiliorama Butterfly Park. The reserve initially covered an area of 88 km2. Through successful management and cooperation with the Belizean government, it has grown to nearly 400 km2 today! Not only has the protected area grown, but the necessary annual budget has grown with it. Rangers guard the area round the clock, vulnerable species are released back into the wild, and educational programmes have been developed to tell Belizean children about the project. We are also active in nature conservation in other ways: Burgers' Zoo is a co-founder of Future for Nature, which awards a prize to three young, successful conservationists every year. With the Lucie Burgers Foundation, we stimulate and facilitate comparative behavioural research on animals.
Burgers' Ocean was opened in 2000. The eco-display closely replicates the Indo-Pacific. The tropical coral reef aquarium holds over 8 million litres of water and is by far the most species-rich eco-display in terms of animals. The Ocean is designed to offer visitors a natural diving experience. The adventure starts at a beach, after which visitors literally descend along a reef gorge to the corals, and then past a huge panorama window where they find themselves face to face with various species of sharks in the open water. There are several reasons why the Ocean is unique. Breeding corals—which places high demands on things like light levels and water quality—is extremely difficult. The Ocean is so successful in breeding various corals, sharks, rays and tropical bonefish species that Burgers' Ocean has become the official supplier for European public aquariums.
In October 2007, the renewed savannah landscape, new giraffe stables and the Safari Meeting Centre were officially opened. With the conference centre, Burgers' Zoo can also professionally serve the business market. The Safari Meeting Centre is a modern conference centre comprised of the Foyer, the Auditorium, the Safari Restaurant and five adjacent meeting venues. The conference centre is designed entirely in an African style. The Foyer is home to the Longneck Bar with giraffe print, which also serves as a lightwell for the giraffe stables. On one side, visitors look out over the savannah plain with rhinos, zebras and giraffes, while the other side offers a view of the tropical rainforest of the Bush.
Burgers' Zoo's newest ecosystem opened in 2017. The Mangrove is based on a nature reserve in Belize, which Burgers' Zoo has been protecting for over three decades and which is more than seven times the size of De Hoge Veluwe National Park. Large sections of mangrove forest are disappearing worldwide, even though mangroves are essential to nature. With the new eco-display, Burgers' Zoo hopes to raise awareness. Only a few plant species can survive the extremely salty climate. At low tide, the mudflats come alive! Fiddler crabs come out of hiding everywhere to collect food or impress females and rivals with their impressive claws. Visitors find themselves face to face with the Caribbean manatees on the other side of a 12-metre-long, 1.8-metre-tall panoramic window—an impressive experience.