In 1857, a provisional committee came forward with the idea of establishing a zoological garden in Frankfurt, leased a site, obtained the necessary permits and founded the Zoological Society for the purpose of establishing and operating a zoo in Frankfurt. The first general meeting was held on March 7th 1858.
On August 8th 1858, the Zoological Garden was opened in Lerschner's Garden in the west of the city. Initially for 10 years - on a trial basis, so to speak.
It quickly became clear: the zoo had successfully completed the “trial period”. For permanent operation, a larger site had to be found. A new zoo was built on part of the Pfingstweide in the east of the city. To save costs, entire animal houses were dismantled and rebuilt in the new zoo. The move took place in the spring of 1874.
The opening ceremony took place on March 23rd. The Zoological Society building was inaugurated in December 1876.
In the middle of World War I, the Frankfurt city administration took over the zoo after the Zoological Society could no longer bear the costs. Unfortunately, being salvaged by the council could not prevent two-thirds of the animals perishing during the famine of 1916, even though fodder was obtained from the zoo’s garden beds. The zoo supported the suffering population by supplying milk and eggs, helping with private small animal breeding, informing about edible wild plants and pest control.
Until 1943, the zoo was mostly spared from the Second World War. It was then almost completely destroyed by three bombing raids between October 1943 and March 1944. Nevertheless, the zoo remained open, although almost all employees had been drafted. Only a few employees kept the zoo open. Shortly before the end of the war, orders were issued to kill the surviving animals and clear the city. This was refused by the responsible bailiff. Just five people were left to care for the animals and they fought to keep the zoo running.
Prof. Dr Bernhard Grzimek became the new zoo director. Together with the remaining staff and thanks to the support of the people of Frankfurt, the reconstruction of the zoo began. The US forces' condition for reopening: the zoo had to make it without subsidies. Grzimek succeeded in establishing a circus and side-shows on the destroyed zoo grounds. Later, a cinema and a theatre were added. This, along with regular festivals and concerts, ensured the zoo's survival. At the beginning of 1950, the "Society of Friends and Supporters of the Zoological Garden" was founded with the aim of raising money for the zoo. In 1958, this gave rise to the "Frankfurt Zoological Society" or FZS for short, today one of the most important conservation organisations operating worldwide and an important partner of the zoo.
The animal houses were standing again, new ones had been added and the zoo was getting bigger: Grzimek had closed the road between the zoo and the rubble field behind it on his own authority and thus achieved his goal of expanding the zoo grounds by about 3 ha. The children's zoo, the bird halls and the monkey enclosures were built on the new area. In autumn 1960, the first zoo school in Germany was established at Frankfurt Zoo.
Since a further expansion of the zoo in the city centre was not possible, an outpost – the Nidda Zoo - was erected alongside the Nidda river. In 1975, the grand opening took place after the completion of the first construction phase, further construction phases followed. The Nidda Zoo was open to the public without admission. However, it was closed in 1989 to enable the Federal Garden Show to take place on that site. All other plans for a zoo outside the city centre were also cancelled.
Starting in the mid-1990s, after accepting that the zoo site would remain in the city centre, renovation of the zoo began. The focus was on the near-natural design of the enclosures. Animal sponsorships, donations and, above all, the City of Frankfurt's investment programme made it possible to build the Seal Cliffs, Cat Jungle (Enclosures for lions and tigers) , Borgori-Wald (Great Ape House) and Gibbon House.