The Wild Jungle in the Center of Prague

At only 91 years old, it is not the oldest Zoo in Europe. However, Prague Zoo is repeatedly ranked as one of the best zoological gardens worldwide. Let us give you a virtual tour.

prague zoological garden
Photo: Courtesy of Petr Hamerník / Prague Zoo

The Prague Zoological Garden is located in the beautiful landscape of the Troja Valley. It is open daily, including weekends and holidays all year. There are 15 pavilions, over 150 exhibitions, two large restaurants, and seven refreshment stations. After you are fed and too tired to walk, you can use other means of transportation: the zoo has its cable car and two trackless train lines circling the zoo. And eventually, when you will get tired of eating and riding the trains, you can sit in the modern café and let the children play in the obstacles playground park.

Top-rated zoo in the world 

The zoo has an interesting jungle vibe to it. Located in the hilly and forested area on the northern side of Prague, it feels like a nature reservation in the middle of the city. The zoo covers over 60 hectares, of which 50 hectares are animal exhibitions. Meaning there are animals everywhere.

In 2008, Forbes magazine ranked it the 7th best zoo in the world. More recently, in 2018, TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site, published a ranking of the world’s most popular zoos based on the ratings of millions of its users. The Prague Zoo was ranked 5th, confirming its global popularity. The zoo is so popular with tourists that it was ranked the third most visited place in the Czech Republic (after Prague Castle and Petřín Hill).

In 2020, Prague Zoo was the only European zoo among the four finalists of the prestigious WAZA Conservation Award. The WAZA Conservation Award recognizes member organizations outstanding contributions to nature conservation and biodiversity.

Many animals for many people

The zoo was first opened in 1931 with just around 200 animals. Since day one, the zoo became a major hit in Czechoslovakia, and tens of thousands of people visited it annually. Today, the zoo houses 685 species and over 5,400 animals from all over the world, and more than one million visitors visit it every year. The record year was 2019, when one and a half million visitors visited the zoo. 

The covid-19 pandemic also hit the Prague Zoo. Low visitor numbers significantly affected the budget, and the zoo had to find other funding sources. In addition to the long-running animal adoption program, a parallel charity collection was launched where people could send money for animal food. And people did! The zoo’s director said they came out of the pandemic as almost nothing happened thanks to the support of the people.

The Swimmer of Prague

Gaston, the sea lion, became the most famous animal of Prague Zoo in 2002. During the 2002 floods, he was washed out of the zoo due to damage to the seal pavilion. He got into the Vltava River and was carried by the river to the Elbe. The rescue teams tried to catch Gaston, unfortunately, without success. He managed to swim a breathtaking 300 kilometers to Lutherstadt Wittenberg in Germany. There he was finally caught. Gaston later died of stress, fatigue, and exhaustion.

He became a symbol of the tragic floods that changed the face of Prague Zoo forever. His memorial at the zoo commemorates not only his sad fate but also the zoo’s determination to prevent such tragedy from ever happening again. Moreover, this monument overlooks the new sea lion pavilion where Gaston’s descendants live.

World rarity in Prague Zoo

The most unique and rare in the Prague Zoo is the pavilion of Indian Gavials. Gavials, a critically endangered type of crocodile, are one of the rarest animals on the planet. In 2008, Prague Zoo became the only European zoo to breed them. Even on a global scale, it is an absolute rarity. Only ten zoos in four countries (USA, Japan, Singapore, Sri Lanka) can boast of having Gavials outside India. In all of them together, only 19 individuals are kept. The Prague group of three male and four female gavials is a record in numbers. 

Prague Zoo also rescues many endangered species and maintains global studbooks for some of them. The Prague Zoo has gained worldwide fame for breeding Przewalski’s horse, which it has been actively reintroducing back into the wild since 2011 as part of the global Return of the Wild Horses project.

Be sure to also check Doftana prison.

Marek Koten

A Ph.D. student in economics, specializing in nuclear energy from the Czech Republic, he also serves as a political consultant to the Czech government and the U.S. Republican Party.

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