The Zoological Garden in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is a delightful
place to visit for both travelers with children and history buffs.
Located in the Quinta da Boa Vista, a public park that was once
a part of the gardens of the São Cristóvão
Palace, the Zoological Garden, also known as the Rio Zoo, boasts
over 2,500 species of animals and sits virtually next door to the
the National Museum, another of Brazil’s treasures. Once included
in the estate of the nineteenth century Emperors of Brazil, the
Quinta da Boa became home to the Zoological Garden.
The history of the land upon which the Garden and the Museum now
sit holds a place of great importance to the city of Rio de Janeiro
and the country of Brazil. Originally a Jesuit farm, the land now
known as the Quinta da Boa Vista was divided up among private landlords
when the Jesuits were expelled from Brazil in 1759. In 1803, a wealthy
Portuguese merchant by the name of Elias António Lopes built
a manor on the top of a hill located on his portion of this land.
It was the view that the house provided of Guanabara Bay that led
to it’s name. Boa Vista means “nice view” of the
Five years later, in 1808, Prince Regent John VI and his court
arrived in Rio. Lopes donated the farm and the house to the Prince.
The house was renovated to accommodate the Royal family between
1816 and 1821. It was during this renovation that the gate that
now graces the entrance to the Zoological Garden was added to the
estate. The gate was actually a gift from Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of
Northumberland, and was sent from England to Brazil. It was also
during this period that the house became known as Paço de
São Cristóvão or the Palace of Saint Christopher.
When Brazil declared her independence, the Palace became the home
of Emperor Pedro I and his family. The family continued renovations,
adding a third floor as well as a tower. Maria II, the future Queen
of Portugal was born in the house in 1819 and the future Pedro II
of Brazil arrived in 1825. Princess Leopoldina of Austria, the wife
of Pedro I died in the home that same year. It was Pedro II who
ordered the renovation of the gardens which would later become the
current home of Quinta da Boa Vista in 1869.
It was at this time that the artificial lakes, bridges and caves
that adorn the grounds today were created. In 1846, Princess Isabel
was born in the palace. In 1888, it was Isabel that abolished slavery
in Brazil. When Brazil was declared a Republic, the Royal family
returned to Portugal and the Palace sat empty for a time. It was
in the palace in 1891 that the first Republican Constitution of
Brazil was penned. In 1892, the Nacional Museum of Rio de Janeiro
moved from the Campo de Santana to the Palace.
Also known as the Jardim Zoológico do Rio de Janeiro, the
Zoological Garden is Rio de Janeiro’s oldest zoo. Founded
in 1888, it is definetely the finest in Brazil. The majestic gate
mentioned earlier graces the entrance to the zoo which is reached
only after a delightful stroll through the Quinta da Boa Vista.
The parque is lined with columns. Many have compared the entrance
to those of the Budapest and Berlin Zoo’s. Once inside the
zoo, visitor’s are usually surprised by the botanical displays
that surround the animal enclosures. Royal Palms, many as tall as
25 metres provide shade for the zoo’s patrons while colorful
flowers such as bird-of-paradise and red heliconia provide a brilliant
The Rio Zoo is liberally spread over approximately 30 acres and
the 2,500 species of mammals, birds and reptiles provide plenty
of variety. Two species, a female red-backed saki and a pair of
dusky titis are extremely rare and native to Brazil. Another source
of pride is the Rio Zoo’s Primate Centre. It is in this collection
that a visitor is given the opportunity to see the yellow-throated
capuchin, a very rare subspecies of the ordinary brown capuchin.
It was the Rio Zoo which launched the captive-breeding project that
was eventually responsible not only for these animals but for the
ones on display in the Muhouse, Zurich and Chester Zoos. One of
the most well-liked attractions, however, are obviously the orangutans
and chimpanzees. In addition to the elephants and zebras, visitors
to the Zoological Garden will also find many animals native to Brazil
and has it’s share of the curious as well. A favorite among
the children is the Tamandua Bandeira which resembles a skunk colored
oversized ant-eater and the Nocturnal House, an exhibit that displays
animals that prefer the dark of night such as sloth’s and
In addition to the animals who call the Riozoo home and the history
that permeates the land, the Zoological Garden has it’s share
of folklore. It is said that the infamous Animal Game (“Jogo
do Bicho”) was originally inspired by contests to raise money
for the Zoo. The Jogo do Bicho is the illegal but officially ignored
numbers racket run in Rio de Janeiro. It is also reported that the
zoo’s residents are often caught up in the politics of the
city. A resident of the zoo, a chimpanzee named “Tião,”
placed third in a mayoral race while another zoo resident received
nearly 400,000 write-in votes in an earlier election.
Currently there is only one building open to visitors at the Zoological
Garden. That building houses the reptiles and fish as well as a
gift-shop and restaurant. The restaurant is a favorite eating spot
even among the locals and provides a self-service pay by weight
fare. Both the Museu Nacional and the Zoological Garden are open
from 9 am to 4:30 pm, Tuesday through Sunday. The address of the
Zoo is Parque Quinta da Boa Vista, São Cristovão.
Other spots of interest located close by include the famous Maracana
Stadium, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Solar Da
Marquesa De Santos- Museu do Primeiro Reinado, the palace built
by Dom Pedro I tho house his mistress. The two-story townhome is
now a museum and is also open to the public.