Creativity and Culture

Paul de La Panouse : A tireless creator


Paul de La Panouse, a tireless creator, opened the Thoiry Animal Park in 1968. He chose to set it up on the family estate next to the Renaissance castle where he and his family lived.

Committing some part of his finances and defying general scientific opinion, he built the zoo in a revolutionary form and offered an unusual visit. Thoiry Zoo Safari, which is the third most visited leisure park in the Ile-de-France, is constantly investing in new concepts and events.

Exclusively for Airs de Paris, Paul de La Panouse brings Charles, our special correspondent, on an exceptional visit to share his passion.


Paul de La Panouse 2


Why did you create a wildlife park on the historical estate of thoiry?


In 1965, I was 21 years old and I knew that the upkeep of the castle, a listed site and historical monument, was becoming more and more expensive and that the income from the family farms and forests was becoming less and less.

I asked my parents for their permission to open Thoiry Castle to the public in order to give it a social function through cultural activity as well as tourist revenue from the entrance tickets. To attract more visitors, we had to attract more children.

An amusement park would have degraded the historic gardens. The animals are in harmony with the trees and they would never go out of fashion, being a living and a rare ecological asset therefore, I opened a traditional zoo in 1967.


Un créateur infatigable - camion brousse


Why did you want to create this animal park where visitors would be immersed in the middle of wild animals?


I regret locking the animals up in the cages and pits of the new zoo, whose ugliness I had to hide with plantations, where I had an estate of 380 hectares, 3.8 million square metres. My parents were kind enough to sell part of their estate to finance the project of a 23 year old son.

When I created the African Reserve in 1968, I put visitors in a rolling cage, their car, and invented breeding techniques to make wild animal species live together and in freedom on vast territories crossed by 6 kilometres of road. The endangered species reproduced successfully.

The wild animals saved Thoiry castle, but by taking on board and reproducing endangered species, it has become the flagship of several animal parks, which help to protect the planets biodiversity.


How did you manage to find all the animals?


55 years ago, I bought the animals in European zoos and in their countries of origin. Since then, the French Association of Zoological Parks, created in 1967 and of which I am the only surviving founder, has forbidden buying or selling the animals.

The parks, members of EAZA, the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums, respect the guidelines of the 380 breeding programmes.

They manage the genetics of the European population of rare and endangered animal species. Thus, the coordinator of each species concerned, orders the composition and distribution of breeding pairs.

Each park bears the cost of the exchange and free of charge of the animals recommended to it.

EAZA also organises regular quality control of the facilities, the advances made by a member in the techniques of animal husbandry and presentation are imposed on the other members.


How do the animals live in the park?


Large natural territories and cohabitation with other species encourage the expression of instinctive and social behaviours, which are also encouraged by appropriate facilities and activities. For example, bears live together with bison, arctic wolves and the wild fauna of Ile-de-France.

They swim in water holes, climb trees and dig their own burrows. The caretakers hide honey in the stumps or throw mackerel sherbet in the waterholes during heatwaves. Herbivores live the social life of herds.

The humans, who cross the territories in cars, are framed by the course and are hidden in their cars. The glass tunnels are half buried. The footbridges and nets between the trees are out of bounds.


What is thoirys biggest project?


Every flower bloom and every baby animal birth is admirable because it is perfect. The quality of the staging of the gardens and the landscaped animal territories helps visitors to perceive this.

To experience the joy of a child marvelling at the discovery of natures contact with its five senses and with the eyes of theirs heart is more than a reward, it is a moment of shared happiness.

The fundamental project is how to improve the animations of our nature theatre to enhance the great objectives of life, to improve our capacity to learn, to acquire more awareness of being, to animate the beauty of artistic works by vibrating the fundamental harmonies, and to personalise the emotional relationships.

In this way, we enhance the value of natural and cultural sites where it is easier to transform the happy moments of a family or love walk into moments of eternity.


Un créateur infatigable - girafes et zebres


Could you have imagined the success of thoiry?


All success is transitory . As soon as one goal is achieved, life asks us to undertake more innovative ones. The success is that the creative joys experienced and the emotional connections made, will be personalised in a dimension of being and eternity that cannot be understood on this planet.


What is your greatest pride?


To have the esteem of those I admire and love.


What is your motivation to continue working?


The honour of living.


Are you proud of the works you have created?


In my line of work, it’s obvious that you don’t create much. I am amazed by the beauty and the breath-taking complexity of plants and animals, whose life I portray. The feeling that carries everything away is the praise of the one who is intimate with all that is beautiful and good. The poet Victor Hugo wrote : « Behind every being is God, to love someone is to make him transparent…»


Interview : Charles


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