The History of European Wilderness and Zoos: From Fear to Fascination

The History of European Wilderness and Zoos: From Fear to Fascination


The text explores the history of Europe’s wilderness and zoos. It describes how wilderness was feared due to the presence of dangerous animals, leading to their near extinction. However, attitudes towards animals changed with the growth of urbanization, leading to the invention of zoos as not only scientific initiatives but also economic functions. The text also highlights how nature became a sport to conquer and how deforestation became a major issue.

Table of Contents

  • The Fear of Wilderness
  • The Evolution of Zoos
  • Nature as a Sport to Conquer
  • The Issue of Deforestation

The Fear of Wilderness

Q: Why did the public fear the wilderness in Europe?
A: The public feared the wilderness due to the presence of dangerous animals, such as wolves and bears. These animals were hunted by humans and, as a result, nearly became extinct.

Q: Were there any exceptions to the near extinction of these animals?
A: Yes, small pockets of wilderness in Russia and Finland allowed for these animals to survive.

Q: Did attitudes towards these animals change over time?
A: Yes, the public’s attitude towards bears changed from being hunted for sport to being admired and even domesticated. The teddy bear is an example of this change in attitude.

The Evolution of Zoos

Q: How did zoos begin?
A: Zoos began as a way for restaurant owners to attract customers. Over time, zoos became scientific initiatives, with some having economic functions, such as the Jardin Zoologique d’Acclimatation in Paris, which aimed to domesticate and sell useful animals.

Q: Were there any organizations that helped outlaw cruel sports towards animals?
A: Yes, in England, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals helped outlaw cruel sports such as bear-baiting and cockfighting. However, badger-baiting continued.

Q: What was the impact of hunting on Europe’s wildlife?
A: Hunting became a pastime for Europe’s wealthy elite, leading to the importation of fox cubs. This, along with the popularity of fox hunting among rural landowning classes and the competitive pastime of collecting rare bird eggs, led to the extinction of the great auk.

Nature as a Sport to Conquer

Q: What mountain ranges served as barriers to communication in Europe?
A: Mountain ranges such as the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Scandinavian Mountains, and the Carpathians served as barriers to communication.

Q: How did Napoleon contribute to the movement across these mountain passes?
A: Napoleon constructed paved roads across the major Alpine passes to aid in the movement of troops and supplies.

Q: What became a sport in the winter months in Europe?
A: Skiing became a popular sport in the winter months, with ski clubs coming into existence and teaching locals how to ski.

The Issue of Deforestation

Q: What was the major issue with deforestation?
A: Agronomists recognized that the destruction of forests led to soil erosion and climate change, and large areas of forest were cut down for logging or to build or restore houses and buildings. This led to the decline of Europe’s forests.

Q: Did deforestation also cause natural disasters?
A: Yes, deforestation encouraged landslides and floods.

Q: Were there any efforts to slow down the rate of deforestation?
A: The use of coal, iron, and steel slowed down the rate of deforestation, and reforestation policies emerged. However, these policies found limited success.


In conclusion, the history of Europe’s wilderness and zoos reflects the evolving attitudes towards animals and the environment. Initially feared, animals in Europe have now become subjects of fascination. Similarly, zoos, once a means of attracting customers, have grown to become scientific and economic initiatives. As Europe advanced, nature became a sport to conquer, and deforestation became a major issue. Ultimately, it will be necessary to strike a balance between economic growth and the preservation of Europe’s wildlife and natural resources.

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