The zoo’s founder, Cor Ouwehand, had moved from Rotterdam to Rhenen to start a cigar factory, but changed his mind and started a chicken farm on the Grebbeberg in 1919, where he held a number of other animals as well, including raccoons, peacocks, and pheasants, quickly drawing public interest. During the Great Depression of the 1930s the chicken farm lost much of its business, though people kept coming to look at the animals, leading Ouwehand to turn his farm into a zoo. He visited European zoos to gather ideas, and opened his on 18 June 1932.
The war and after
The park’s commercial success had an unintended side effect. In the run-up to World War II, the Dutch government attempted to secure its defenses against a German invasion. The Grebbe line, a defensive line built in the 1700s to protect the Dutch Water Line, ran right through the Grebbeberg, on which the zoo was built. German officers, in civilian clothes, visited the zoo while the Grebbe line was being rebuilt, and were able to establish from the zoo that the Grebberg was a weak spot in the line since the bomb-proof pumping equipment, necessary to inundate the area in the case of an invasion, wouldn’t be finished by May 1940. During the ensuing Battle of the Grebbeberg, 11–13 May 1940, the Dutch authorities demanded all the dangerous animals in the zoo be shot to prevent their escape if the zoo got hit. Ouwehand, trusting his own aim better than that of the Dutch soldiers, took it upon himself to do so.
The rebuilding process was slow. Ouwehand died in 1950, and his son Bram and Bram’s brother in law Jo Baars took over. Compensation for the animals shot in WWII didn’t happen until 1953.
Since then the zoo’s area has doubled, to 22 ha. Further expansion was prevented by the municipality, and some animals, including hippos, elephants, gorillas, and chimpanzees were done away with. By the end of the 1990s the zoo was practically bankrupt, receiving less than a half a million visitors per year.
Fortunes turned for the better when, in 2000, the zoo was bought by millionaire businessman Marcel Boekhoorn, who invested in new accommodations for lions, tigers, polar bears, and elephants, and built playgrounds and a new restaurant. Boekhoorn also began a pursuit to bring giant pandas to the zoo (on loan from China), which became reality in 2017.
African elephant (Loxodonta africana)
Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus)
Black-capped squirrel monkey (Saimiri boliviensis)
Giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
Mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx)
Meerkat (Suricata suricatta)
Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)
Rothschild’s giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi)
Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)
Tufted deer (Elaphodus cephalophus)
Wild yak (Bos mutus)
American flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber)
Rhinoceros hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros)
Saddlebill (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis)
Scarlet macaw (Ara macao)
Sulawesi hornbill (Penelopides exarhatus)
Toco toucan (Ramphastos toco)
Green iguana (Iguana iguana)