On March 31, 1913 Johan Burgers opens his private animal collection to the public for the first time, then called Faisanterie Buitenlust. The forerunner of the current Burgers' Zoo is not yet located in Arnhem at that time, but is created as a result of a hobby that had gotten out of hand in the little town of 's-Heerenberg in Gelderland, close to the German town, Emmerich.
The animal collection of Johan Burgers has become so huge and special that people from far and wide travel to 's-Heerenberg to see the animals. Burgers has been inspired by his good friend Carl Hagenbeck, the owner and founder of Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg, Germany. Already from the start the forerunner of Burgers' Zoo is known for its daring approach, the naturally shaped animal accommodations and the very first predator accommodations without bars in the Netherlands.
In 1923 Johan Burgers moves to Arnhem, which, as a major city, has a far more centralized location and which can be reached much easier by the visitors. Burgers settles in the wooded area just north of Arnhem next to the Dutch Open Air Museum. In 1924 the brand new Burgers' Nature Zoo opens its gates.
In 1939 Johan Burgers turns the park over to his daughter and son-in-law: Reinier van Hooff and Lucie Burgers. Not long after that World War II breaks out and Burgers' Nature Zoo is headed for hard times. But the real misery had yet to begin. The zoo is hit hard by bombs and grenades during the Battle of Arnhem in 1944. Many animals and even some animal caretakers loose their life and the park is all but destroyed.
In 1945 a book is published with stories about the events during the war. For example, there were major problems getting food and fuel and the board of directors had to perform all sorts of tricks to keep the animals out of the hands of the Germans. They wanted to seize the animals to either eat them or transport them to German Zoos.
After the war the entire park had to be built all over again. In those years Reinier van Hooff and Lucie Burgers, together with their employees, worked very hard on rebuilding the zoo: a lot of debris had to be removed, animal accommodations had to be totally renewed and the entire infrastructure had to be thoroughly repaired. In the 1960's Antoon van Hooff takes over control from his father Reinier van Hooff and his mother Lucie Burgers.
In 1968 the first lion park on the European continent is opened: a huge success! In 1969 the lion park is expanded with African ungulates. Antoon van Hooff names their habitat 'Safaripark' after the word 'Safari', which in Swahili means 'going on a large adventurous trip'. In the beginning visitors could only go on Safari by car. However, in 1975 the safari trains came, in which 255 people could take the 45-minute safari tour at the same time.
In 1971 the chimpanzee island is opened. Until then zoos never had more than a few of these primates together out of fear that they would start fighting. However, Antoon van Hooff and his brother Jan want the animals to be kept exactly as they would live in the wild: in large groups with several adult males and females.
Under the supervision of Professor Jan van Hooff, 15 chimpanzees are introduced to each other slowly and gradually a harmonious colony is formed. Here they could develop their natural behaviour. Scientists from all over the world still come to Arnhem to study the chimpanzee colony. Frans de Waal has based his bestseller "Chimpanseepolitiek" (Chimpanzee politics) on the group of chimpanzees in Arnhem, in which he makes a striking comparison between the chimpanzee society and politics in The Hague. Nothing human appears to be unusual to these intelligent primates! In 1982 a trial hall is opened as a forerunner of Burgers' Bush. Here temperature regulation and soil research are experimented with in an open system with animals and plants. After the opening of Burgers' Bush this trial hall is converted into Burgers' Mangrove, the tropical salt water mangrove, which has been open to the public since 1992.
In 1986 the fist bit of sand is taken for the construction of Burgers' Bush: an unequalled, daring nature project that is to have an enormous impact on developments in the world of zoos. On the 1st of June 1988 Mr. Pieter van Vollenhoven officially opens Burgers' Bush with a few beats on an African drum. Initially Burgers' Bush was received rather sceptically by 'experts', but soon after it turned out to be a worldwide success! Never before had an ecosystem, in this case a tropical rain forest, been copied in a zoo that accurately and exactly. It shows a real food chain and complex biological relations between animals and plants. The visitor, like a true explorer, goes on an adventure to discover the animals, which live in this tropical rain forest and which are enjoying as much freedom as possible. Also the public does the project justice: one year after opening the number of visitors doubled from 600,000 to 1.2 million guests per year!
In 1994 Prince Bernhardt opens Burgers' Desert with the release of two turkey vultures. After the Bush this is the second major eco-display Burgers' Zoo has built. Burgers' Desert displays the rock desert of the north of Mexico and the south-west of the United States. Burgers' Bush and Burgers' Desert are connected to each other by an underground tunnel in the shape of a deserted mine. Both children and adults get to discover the secrets of the earth: minerals, fossils, caverns with stalagmites and stalactites, and to top it off also bats and countless other nocturnal animals.
In 2000 Burgers' Ocean, an imitation of a South-East Asian coral sea, is opened. Here the visitor dives into the deep waters surrounding a coral reef, without getting wet of course. Coral fish, sharks, rays and murene fish inhabit this colourful world. Also countless lower forms of life, like sea-urchins, starfish, shrimp, lobsters and for instance sea cucumbers can be viewed here. However, the pride of the aquarium is the large living coral reef, which is further expanded with our own cultivation each year!
In 2004 the address of Burgers' Zoo is officially renamed Antoon van Hooffplein by Mrs. Pauline Krikke, Mayor of Arnhem, at the Antoon van Hooffplein. This honour befalls Antoon van Hooff because of his great value to the zoo and the city of Arnhem. In 2004 Antoon van Hooff dies at the age of 66. His son Alex van Hooff and his wife, Bertine van Hooff, are the fourth generation in this family concern. Together with his mother, Greet van Hooff, they form the current Board of Directors of Burgers' Zoo.
Burgers' Zoo continues to renew, improve and renovate. In 2005 the first congress facilities are put into use. Here hundreds of people can have meetings at the same time, while one story lower the zebras and antelopes get their new shelter. In 2007 two additional congress halls in African style are added as well as a luxurious Safari Restaurant. Also the giraffes get a modern, spacious stable. The Safari Meeting Centre is a fact! A modern congress centre in a very special zoo. This combination of a unique location and a stylish business centre can surely count on a lot of interest from businesses.
In May of 2008 Burgers' Rimba is opened by Princess Margriet on the occasion of the 95th anniversary of Burgers' Zoo. Various types of animals from the South-East Asian rain forest get a place here in an outdoor area with a tropical look. Tigers, bears, primates, deer, cattle, snakes and lizards will amaze the visitor on his adventurous stroll through the park. In 2013 Burgers' Zoo will have been in existence for 100 years.