If you go down to the woods today, to the Bois de Vincennes, you’ll find the main Paris zoo closed for renovation until about 2014. In the distance you may see its trademark manmade mountain, le Grand Rocher, its antelopes now decamped, or the heads of a few lonely giraffes, who have been left behind while their zoo mates have been relocated to temporary homes.
But you can still find a friendly menagerie in the Jardin des Plantes, on the Left Bank of the Seine not far from the Gare d’Austerlitz. A favourite with generations of young Parisians, it draws almost three-quarters of a million visitors a year – not all of them bored nannies. This is a small zoo, suitable for everyone from tiny children to adults, yet with some success in breeding endangered animals such as orang-utans and snow and clouded leopards. Established in 1794, it is one of the world’s oldest zoos and still rather old-fashioned. It has all the usual animal attractions – big cats, great apes, red pandas, camels and kangaroos – more than 2,000 animals in all. It is open every day from 9am to 6pm (6.30pm on Sundays and public holidays).
A little farther out in the Bois de Boulogne, animal life in the Jardin d’Acclimatation has a history going back to 1860 when Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie inaugurated its Great Aviary, now home to about 200 birds, while peacocks, swans, geese and ducks roams free in the park. It has recently renovated its Deer Rock, home to Barbary sheep, pygmy goats from Senegal, Angora goats, ibex, chamois and gazelle. Its Petite Ferme Normande (little Normandy Farm) is another favourite, with beehives and all the usual farm animals. All are open daily.