Tallinn Zoo is a worthy part of the global network of zoos. Like all zoos, we rest on three pillars: the animals, the visitors and the zoo team. Skillfully combining this triangle gives us the perfect opportunity to work in four areas: nature education, direct conservation, research and providing educational recreation for our visitors. All of this requires ever better care for the welfare of the species and animals under our responsibility – both within the zoo and in the wild.
In short, our mission is “caring” and “teaching to care”. In other words, to consistently promote a culture of caring for biodiversity and understanding the environment as a whole, from children to the elderly. This is why Tallinn Zoo, as a distinctive natural island in an urban landscape, has an important role to play in our national culture.
In Estonia, as in most of the countries that gained independence after the First World War, the development of culture and the economy did not reach the zoo until the eve of the Second World War, although the debate on the necessity of the zoo began here immediately after the declaration of statehood. Tallinn Zoo opened on 25 August 1939. The main burden of preparing for this event fell on the Animal Protection Union and the Institute of Nature Conservation and Tourism.
The Estonian Shooting Association team, which had won the world championship in Helsinki in 1937, had brought a lynx Illu from Finland as a present, in addition to the so-called Argentine Cup. He became one of the first exhibits in Tallinn Zoo, and later became its emblem animal. An initial display was set up at the edge of Kadriorg Park, with a view to finding a site for a proper zoo in the future. After the annexation of Estonia in 1940, when societies and unions were banned, the zoo was taken over by the Tallinn City Government and is still a municipal institution. The zoo remained on the Kadriorg hillside until 1983, when it moved to a new site of about 89 ha in Veskimets.
No zoo can handle a large number of species at the same high level, which is why they specialise in certain groups of animals. Tallinn Zoo has the world’s best display of bald eagles and mountain sheep, a significant number of eagles and vultures, and a considerable selection of cockatoos and cranes. Other animal groups are more limited. However, it is fair to say that we have assembled the most exciting collection of reindeer in our existence, and we are also successful in breeding the young. These are results that depend directly on the will and skills of our staff. Tallinn Zoo was the first zoo in the Soviet Union to become a member of the World Association of Zoos (WAZA) in 1989, and a supporting member of the American Association of Zoos (AAZA) a decade earlier. Since then, Tallinn Zoo has been actively involved in the establishment of regional associations of zoos (EAZA and EARAZA).
Who was the zoo’s first resident?
Illu the lynx
In 1937, Estonian shooters donated a lynx, an animal that was quite rare in Estonian forests at the time, to the future zoo as a prize for winning the World Shooting Championships in Finland. The recipients christened him Ilu, or Illu as he was affectionately known, and for the first few years of his life he grew up in the garden of the Kadriorg Nursery School, under the care of President Päts’ niece Asta Päts. Ilves Illu was unfortunate to be killed by a bomb hit during the March raids of 1944.