General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 24 Mar 2019/13 Lizard
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How do we know Tenochtitlan had a zoo?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Jackie Herman-O’Neal: My children’s book has been accepted for publication and it deals with a journey back to Moctezuma’s menagerie. What evidence exists that there was a zoo in Tenochtitlan? Many thanks. (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

‘The ruler’s animals’, Florentine Codex, Book VIII
‘The ruler’s animals’, Florentine Codex, Book VIII (Click on image to enlarge)

There’s considerable evidence in the writings both of the Spanish chroniclers and of the Nahua scribes and wise old men whose knowledge was documented by the great Franciscan Bernardino de Sahagún, in the 16th century. Sahagún’s monumental, almost encyclopedic, work, has come down to us as the Florentine Codex. In Book VIII we find the illustration above and references to what we would call zookeepers - ‘caretakers of wild animals, majordomos there guarded all the wild animals: ocelots, bears, mountain lions, and mountain cats... eagles... and various birds’ - all things designed ‘to bring [ruling] men pleasure’.

Bernal Díaz de Castillo, a chronicler and soldier who witnessed the conquest - and wrote of it in his Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España, described zoos and aviaries attached to palaces in both Texcoco and Tenochtitlan. He claims, without direct evidence, that the wild animals of Moctezuma’s zoo (‘every kind of beast of prey... most of which were bred there) ‘were fed on deer, fowls, little dogs, and other creatures which they hunt, and also, I am told, on the bodies of the Indians they sacrificed...’

Aztec pleasure gardens

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Mexicolore replies: Very many thanks to Professor Restall, a leading scholar on the Spanish Conquest and its aftermath and author of many books including ‘Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest’, for taking time and trouble to add this informative comment. We have, BTW, uploaded a brief review of Moctezuma’s Zoo (which we recommend) in our Resource Reviews section, here -
Mexicolore replies: Cheers, Jackie! We look forward very much to seeing the book...