The Dvůr Králové Zoo was founded in 1946 as a small town institution. Its history as a modern zoological garden began in the late 1960s when its focus shifted to the breeding of large African ungulates. The man behind this idea, the zoo’s then-director Josef Vágner, conducted eight large African expeditions between the years 1968 and 1975. During these years, the zoo successively imported 2,045 different African animals, including 915 mammals. As a result, the zoo became the most important breeding centre of African ungulates in the world. Thanks to prudent management and improved breeding experience, the zoo began to serve as a genetic reservoir and a reference breeding centre for similar centres not only in Europe, but to some extent elsewhere in the world as well.

Since the late 1970s, the zoo has been one of the most important breeders of African ungulates in the world. For example, the zoo is the only animal park where the northern white rhino has ever bred in captivity (four calves). In total, over 50 rhinos (four species) have been born in the zoo. Most of the newborn rhinos are of the critically endangered eastern black rhino subspecies. Apart from the rhinos, almost 300 giraffes, over 800 zebras and approximately 4,500 antelopes have been born in the zoo.

The zoo currently breeds over 40 species of large African ungulates, some of them in various subspecies. All of them – approximately 700 individuals in total – are of known genetic origin. Apart from its breeding activities, the zoo also supports in situ projects aimed at returning animals to their natural habitats. These sites are usually managed as private or state reserves and parks. The zoo pursues this goal not only in order to preserve endangered species, but also because it views returning animals to their homeland as its moral obligation.

The following principles are based on Building a Future for Wildlife – The World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategy, a document published in 2005 by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). They define the ground rules for cooperation between the Dvůr Králové Zoo and other entities in regard to any conservation or breeding activities.

The animals’ welfare and their conservation goals take precedence in all of the zoo’s activities – i.e., species conservation, the preservation of natural habitats, and breeding programmes. Economic interests are never given priority.

The zoo understands that its approach to conservation must be integrated and encompasses the ex situ breeding of endangered species as well as in situ support of species and populations, including the preservation of natural habitats. The zoo views conservation education as a matter of great importance as well, and provides access to its animal collection in order to gain or broaden the scientific knowledge and practical experience necessary for their effective conservation. The zoo continues to cooperate with both governmental and non-governmental organizations focused on conservation, in particular international associations of zoos (e.g., WAZA, EAZA, AZA, PAAZAB, EARAZA).

One of the zoo’s main goals is to provide suitable animals free of charge for reintroduction into the wild. However, such reintroductions must always be performed as part of comprehensively organized and professionally competent programmes conducted in line with the international (IUCN) guidelines for species reintroduction.

The zoo is aware of the importance of international breeding programmes (EEP, SSP) and collaborates with these programmes and provides them with animals free of charge.

Surplus animals not suitable for the purposes described above are offered to other zoos and similar breeding facilities, but only on the condition that the facilities can ensure the highest standards of animal welfare. Priority is given to facilities that actively cooperate in international conservation or breeding programmes. We can provide animals to these entities on the basis of a custodian agreement, via exchange or on the basis of a trade agreement.

The zoo views the deliberate prevention of reproduction as denying the animals their basic physiological needs. Sterilization, castration and contraception are options of last resort for controlling breeding.

The objective of all activities of the Dvůr Králové Zoo will always be to improve wildlife conservation and habitat preservation, to provide the highest standards of animal welfare and husbandry and to preserve genetic diversity at all levels of breeding.