From establishing to World War II
Tallinn Zoo celebrates 25 August 1939 as its birthday; on that date, the Little Zoo in Kadriorg was inaugurated as the national zoo of Estonia.
In the early years, the young zoo focused mainly on increasing its animal collection, establishing living conditions for the animals and building up experience of animal care. As early as in the summer of 1940, the names of zoo animals were Estonianised, i.e. all animals from abroad with foreign names were renamed with Estonian names. This could be seen as promoting Estonian-language nature education. World War II caused an interruption; however, tours at the zoo were mentioned in an article in the newspaper Eesti Sõna in the spring of 1943. There was an interest in nature education even in hard times.
The difficult post-war years
After World War II, the importers of the new order certainly did not prioritise the restoration of Tallinn Zoo. 10 directors followed each other within 15 years after the war.
The quality of nature education was also uneven. Nevertheless, there were efforts to promote it, and the Young Naturalists’ Group was established at the zoo in the autumn of 1947. Its purpose was to inspire interest in zoology among young people and to teach them respect for animals.
In 1950, the position of a tour guide was added to the staff of the zoo and the activities of young naturalists instantly became more active.
In 1952, the nature education activities in the country were consolidated and the group activity at the zoo stalled.
Anne Saluneem (née Aabreldaal), a mainstay employee at Tallinn Zoo and its most long-term veteran specialist, came to work at the zoo via the national naturalists’ group. Several more young and capable specialists have come to work at the zoo via hobby activities.
Busy with increasing the collection, selecting a new site and preparing the move in 1962–1979, the staff of the zoo had no time to organise any wider nature education activities besides tour guiding.
Hobby group activities activated again in the 1980s
In January 1980, Ivi Uudelepp, who had a long teaching experience, came to work at the zoo as a lecturer and tour guide from the national Centre of Young Nature Friends. Mati Kaal, who was the director at the time, hired Ivi under the condition that she would restore the hobby group activities at the zoo.
In the same year (1980), the statutes of the Animal Friends’ Group of Tallinn Zoo were approved.
As the opportunities of hobby group activities improved, the staff providing nature education increased and new specialists with higher education and/or experience of practical animal care became involved. The Animal Friends’ Groups now included several age groups.
The artist-animalist Sándor Martin Stern, who had close relations with Tallinn Zoo, started leading the Art Group of the zoo in 1984, teaching people to see animals and capture them on paper for more than 25 years. Several generations of animal and art enthusiasts have been instructed by him, many of whom have gone on to become professional or amateur artists, so-called animalists.
In the early years, the group classes of the young animal friends could be especially exciting, as they would sometimes be allowed direct interaction with bottle-fed young animals at the nursery of the zoo. Animals were also often brought to schools for lectures at that time.
The move to the Veskimetsa subdistrict increased the opportunities to improve the library of the zoo and make it available to readers.
For the 50th anniversary of the zoo in 1989, a nature education-themed set of photo slides was launched, as well as the first newsletter of the zoo in Estonian and Russian where specialists of the zoo provided pet care advice in popular form and a small book presenting the zoo animals, „Tallinna Loomaaed. Juht“ (Tallinn Zoo. A Guide), which was translated into German, English and Russian.
In 1991, the Children’s Zoo was opened near the east entrance of the zoo, at the edge of the Veskimets forest.
From the beginning of the 21st century, nature education at the zoo was conducted by a special department. Specialists who had educated children for years under the name of the information and advertising department were now included in the staff of the nature education and public relations service and the work gained even more momentum. Led by Üllar Rammul and inspired by Mati Kaal’s vision for the future, the concept of the animal signs and displays was created, printed materials were issued, the Zoo School and smart projects were launched, the e-zoo was developed, information was distributed via tours and lectures and of course, the activity of the Animal Friends’ Groups was expanded.
The purpose of the Animal Friends’ Groups is to cultivate the love of nature in children, provide more detailed knowledge about nature in all its diversity, threats to the nature and environment and the role of the zoo in solving those. Group classes are complemented by educational tours for viewing the animal collection, as well as opportunities to study skulls, skeletons, animal hides and other interesting things. Practical work is also carried out as much as possible: behavioural observations, furnishing cages, enriching the environment of animals, working with microscopes.
New building, new opportunities
The Environmental Education Centre at Ehitajate tee, near the west entrance of the zoo, was completed in 2014. The building of approx. 3000 square metres cost over 4 million euro. This was a big dream come true. The zoo could now provide nature and environmental education for various age groups from preschool to adults. The centre has classrooms, a lab, a larger storage for books, an auditorium with sound and visual equipment for seminars, conferences and film viewing, as well as spacious exhibition areas, outdoor learning opportunities and the Children’s Zoo which is open year round.
The zoo in the Veskimetsa subdistrict is a rewarding environment for young nature and animal enthusiasts. Besides exciting creatures from all around the world, they can discover the diverse and fascinating broadleaved deciduous forest of Veskimets, including a protected blockfield which is a remnant from the Ice Age. Veskimets, which was a municipal protected area of the Harju region during the Soviet era, was declared a key habitat in 2020. A permanent open air exhibition has been set up in Veskimets in order to provide information about the diversity of the natural forest.
Nature education is provided to visitors of the zoo via displays, signs, interactive means, exhibitions, printed materials, self-guided animal watching, tour guides, lecturers and media. Hobby groups are active during the autumn and spring semester while educational summer camps and city camps during school holidays are organised for the members of the hobby groups, as well as tours to various exciting places in Estonia. The Zoo School which was launched in 2001 as a demonstration project provides schools with opportunities to organise nature, biology and geography lessons at the zoo.
The mission of Tallinn Zoo is to care for all life forms by promoting nature conservation, improving the well-being of animals and contributing more and more to nature education in order to help everyone to care.
The zoo conducts educational programmes for schools and preschools, organises hobby groups and city camps and celebrates international animal days.