Carl Hagenbeck

Carl Hagenbeck

Creator of zoos and animal circuses
Date of Birth: 10.06.1844
Country: Germany

  1. Biography of Carl Hagenbeck
  2. Early Life and Beginnings
  3. Exhibitions and Circuses
  4. Animal Training and Hybrids
  5. Establishment of Zoos
  6. Explorations and Contributions
  7. Legacy

Biography of Carl Hagenbeck

Carl Hagenbeck was a German collector of wild animals, trainer, zoologist, and circus artist who revolutionized the concept of zoos. He was the first to create a zoo with enclosures without bars, using natural barriers such as trees, water bodies, and rocks. This architectural innovation was called the "Hagenbeck Revolution". In 1907, Hagenbeck established the most successful private zoo in Germany, Tierpark Hagenbeck, located in Stellingen.

Carl Hagenbeck

Early Life and Beginnings

Carl Hagenbeck was born on June 10, 1844, in Hamburg, Germany, to Klaus Gottfried Carl Hagenbeck, a fish merchant who also dealt with the buying and selling of exotic animals. At the age of fourteen, Carl's father bought him several seals and a polar bear. His collection of animals continued to grow, leading to the need for a larger facility to house them. Hagenbeck left home to accompany hunters and explorers on trips to the jungles and snowy mountains, successfully capturing animals on almost every continent.

Carl Hagenbeck

Exhibitions and Circuses

In 1874, Carl organized an unusual exhibition of Samoans and Saami people surrounded by a group of reindeer. These indigenous populations were presented as "truly natural" populations, and their tents, weapons, and sleds were also showcased. By 1875, Hagenbeck began exhibiting his animals in major European cities and the United States. He later sent his companions to the Egyptian Sudan to bring back wild animals and Nubians. The Nubian exhibition was highly successful in Europe, and Carl toured with his program in Paris, London, and Berlin. He even sent one of his agents to Labrador to "acquire" several Inuit people from the Hopedale settlement, who were then exhibited in the Hamburg Zoo as "savage primitives".

Animal Training and Hybrids

In addition to his exhibitions, Hagenbeck also trained animals for his circuses. The results were showcased at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The Hagenbeck Circus gained immense popularity, featuring a collection of large animals and reptiles that were trained to perform tricks. In 1900, Hagenbeck successfully crossbred a lioness and a Bengal tiger, selling the hybrid animal for two million dollars to Portuguese zoologist Bisiano Mazinho. Hagenbeck's trained animals also performed in amusement parks on Coney Island, New York City, until 1914.

Establishment of Zoos

Hagenbeck had long dreamed of creating a permanent exhibition of animals in enclosures that closely resembled their natural habitats. Despite the existence of the Hamburg Zoological Garden, Carl opened his own large zoo in Stellingen, near Hamburg, in 1907. He also oversaw the construction of the Giardino Zoologico in Rome in 1909-1910.

Explorations and Contributions

In 1905, Hagenbeck demonstrated his exceptional abilities in capturing animals by capturing thousands of camels for the German Empire's use in Africa. He documented his adventures and methods of animal capture and training in his book "Beasts and Men", published in 1909. Hagenbeck was also one of the first Europeans to describe the creature known as the "Mokele-Mbembe". He believed this mythical water-dwelling creature, resembling a half-elephant, half-dragon, existed in the depths of Rhodesia. Despite his unsuccessful attempts to find it, Hagenbeck insisted on the creature's existence, which garnered worldwide newspaper coverage and contributed to the folklore surrounding the African monster.


Carl Hagenbeck passed away on April 14, 1913, in Hamburg, likely due to a snakebite, possibly from a boomslang. His revolutionary concepts in zoo architecture and animal training continue to influence modern zoos worldwide. Hagenbeck's innovative approach of creating natural enclosures without bars set the stage for a more humane and educational experience for both animals and visitors.