The Netherlands has more than 30 zoos or animal parks. Most of these belong to the Dutch Animal Park Association (NVD), and the larger ones are also part of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). Varying greatly in size, shape and popularity, these institutions can be found all around the Netherlands, both in remote nature areas and in the centres of big Dutch cities.
History of the zoos in the Netherlands
Zoos have existed in the Netherlands since 1838. They were initially showpieces for the elite, but were soon welcoming less rich citizens as well. The status and fame that went with showcasing exotic species by far outweighed the welfare of the animals. Many of the older zoos were originally founded by people with no previous expertise in animal care, and grew from curious private collections to generally accessible attractions.
Dutch zoos today
Today, zoos no longer solely serve the purpose of entertainment. The parks educate visitors on the many animal species that roam our world, and form a platform for pursuing animal rights, preservation and welfare, as well as discussing the boundaries between using and abusing nature.
Since the 19th and 20th century, Europe became ever more aware of the importance of animal welfare, especially in zoos. Cages were replaced by larger habitats, emulating the animals’ natural surroundings. There is still a lot of moral discussion about zoos, as they do contain animals in captivity, often in and near cities.
One of the ways zoos try to contribute to animal welfare is with an extensive breeding programme, aimed to keep the numbers up and avoid possible extinction. Many zoos are part of an interconnected network that exchanges possible mates, to diversify the gene pool and the animals’ surroundings. Some of these bred animals can eventually even be released into the wild.
Various zoos offer special attractions, such as public feedings, informative exhibitions about the biology, history and habits of the animals, tours, screenings, planetariums, gift shops and even animal performances and shows.
General zoos and animal parks in the Netherlands
General zoos and animal parks have a diverse array of breeds and species from all parts of the world. The air and temperature are artificially changed to emulate the different conditions they are used to.
Artis was founded on May 1, 1838 under the name Natural Artis Magistra (Nature is the Teacher of Art) by a publisher and a watchmaker. It was one of the first public zoos in Europe, and is located right in the centre of Amsterdam.
Artis started out as a park of 4.800 square metres, including a garden with a pond and a small building. It owned a few apes, deer and parrots, and a naturalia cabinet. In 1839 they purchased the menagerie of a carnival patron, consisting of an elephant, lions, a panther, a tiger, a puma, hyenas, polar bears, brown bears, a zebra, llamas, a kangaroo, a gnu, monkeys and a boa constrictor.
The park also received various animals donated by Dutch civilians in the colonies, in exchange for an honorary membership.
Burgers' Zoo is located in the forest grounds of Arnhem, Gelderland. Opened in 1913, it is rather modern. They started relatively early with creating natural looking surroundings for the animals. Burgers’ Zoo is divided into seven areas, each simulating specific surroundings such as the ocean, the bush, the desert and the jungle. The many kinds of animals include rhinos, tigers, aardvarks, penguins, sharks, cheetahs and meerkats.
Dierenpark Amersfoort was built in 1948. It consists of various sections, such as the Giants' Quarters, the second biggest indoor animal enclosure in Europe. The zoo also has the biggest bird park in the Netherlands.
Wildlands Adventure Zoo
Wildlands Adventure Zoo is a new kind of theme park that takes the place of the old Animal Park Emmen, mixing adventure with nature and culture. Choose a habitat, such as the junge or the Poles, and explore spacious animal habitats with a focus on keeping their ecosystems as natural as possible. The elephants, for instance, have an outside area of 4.600m2 that includes a river where they can swim.
Wildlands pursues sustainable methods. They have a bridge made of biological materials, and their safari trucks run on reused cooking oils.
Diergaarde Blijdorp is located in Northwest Rotterdam. It is over 150 years old, and survived the Rotterdam Blitz due to a relocation. Some of the street names recall the zoo's old location. Blijdorp is the home of the famous gorilla Bokito, who made headlines after breaking out and attacking a woman in 2007.
Safaripark Beekse Bergen
Safaripark Beekse Bergen is the largest wildlife zoo of the Benelux region. Visitors can go on safari by bus, boat or their own car and experience Africa in four different habitats filled with around 1.400 animals.
Ouwehands Zoo Rhenen
Ouwehands Zoo started out as a chicken farm that kept some exotic animals as a special attraction. Today, it spans 22 hectares. A special feature of the zoo is the Bear Forest, where brown bears that were rescued from abusive owners roam along with wolves in a large wooded plot, complete with a waterfall, rocks and a pond.
General zoos and animal parks per Dutch province
Here is a list of general zoos and animal parks you can find per Dutch province.
Zoos in North Holland
- Artis, Amsterdam
Zoo in South Holland
- Diergaarde Blijdorp, Rotterdam
Zoos in Utrecht province
Zoos and animal parks in North Brabant
- Safaripark Beekse Bergen, Hilvarenbeek
- Dierenpark de oliemeulen, Tilburg
- Zoo Parc, Overloon
- Best Zoo (formerly known as Dierenpark de Vleut), Best
- Dierenrijk Europa, Nuenen
Zoo in Flevoland
- MeerZoo, Marknesse
Zoo in Friesland
Zoo in Groningen
- Doezoo, Leens
Zoos and animal parks in Drenthe
Zoo in Gelderland
- Burgers’ Zoo, Arnhem
Zoos and animal parks in Limburg
Specialised zoos and animal parks in the Netherlands
Many zoos specialise in a certain kind of animal, like sea-dwelling creatures or birds. Specialisation makes it easier to study, keep and care for specific animals.
In the 60s, Rotterdam Photographer Wim Mager bought two monkeys. When they started to reproduce, Mager quit his job and started Apenheul in Apeldoorn. Rather than put them in cages, a lot of the monkeys roam free in a large, green park where about 500.000 people visit every year.
There are more than 35 kinds of monkeys and apes, including orangutans, gorillas, makis, macaques and tamarins. Scientists visit the park to observe the simians in their relatively free habitat, and a lot of research and information was gained through the park.
Apenheul also has its own charity, ANF, that collects money and works for the preservation of apes and their natural surroundings.
Bird park Avifauna has anything from eagles to ostriches. A few red pandas and monkeys aside, the park is almost fully dedicated to the winged and feathered. Dedicating the park to birds, creatures that generally need quite some room to fly around, enables Avifauna to make sure the creatures have more space to move around freely.
Visitor’s fees are fully spent on obtaining the ideals of the park, like providing optimal care for the birds.
Dolfinarium Harderwijk is a mix between an animal park and an attraction park. You can admire dolphins, walruses, sea lions, porpoises, seals and fishes, such as sharks. Besides caring for and studying the animals, the park also uses the trained dolphins to give spectacular choreographed shows with 3D water and light effects.
Sea Life Scheveningen
Sea Life Scheveningen is a large aquarium, connected to the international Sea Life brand. Located near the beach, this view into the underwater world shows creatures from various seas and freshwater areas. Underwater tunnels and bubble tanks put the visitors right by the fishes. Sea Life works with marine biologists to "breed, rescue and protect" the world’s oceans, creating breeding programmes to help better understand species.
Seal Rehabilitation Centre Pieterburen
Seal Rehabilitation Centre Pieterburen is not an attraction, but a shelter and care facility that rescues local seals that were dangerously affected, usually by human actions. They also research and educate about seals. The crèche doesn’t keep any animals permanently, and rereleases them into the wild as soon as they are healed. Visitors can see the seals, and special activities event let you swim with them, spot them in the wild and help release them.
Specialised animal parks per Dutch province
Here is a list of specialised zoos and animal parks you can find in the Dutch provinces:
Specialised parks in North Holland
Specialised parks in South Holland
Specialised parks in Utrecht
- Reptile Zoo Serpo, Rijswijk
Specialised parks in Zeeland
Specialised parks in Flevoland
Specialised parks in Friesland
Specialised parks in Groningen
Specialised parks in Overijssel
- Bird Park Taman Indonesia, Kallenkote
Specialised parks in Drenthe
Specialised parks in Gelderland
This page does not include the many petting zoos that can also be found in the Netherlands. These zoos hold less exotic animals such as deer, rabbits, pigs, goats and chickens, that can be fed and petted by visitors. Petting zoos can generally be found in and near forest areas and national parks.