The Berlin Zoo opened in 1844 when Frederick Willem IV gifted his menagerie to the city. It has a chequered past that includes the exhibition of humans between 1878 and 1931 and the looting of European zoos during WW2. Lutz Heck was the Director of the Berlin Zoological Gardens between 1932 and 1945. He was a close friend of Hermann Göring and initiated a genetic breeding programme that attempted to resurrect aurochs, an ancient cattle species. He was also involved in the pillaging of the Warsaw Zoo during the war, which brought the most valuable specimens to Germany. At the start of the war the Berlin Zoo had more than 4000 specimens. On 22 November 1943, more than a third of these animals were killed within fifteen minutes by allied bombs. By April 1945 what remained of the zoo was destroyed as the Russian army entered the city.

In 1928 Mtoto, a male black rhino, was brought to the Berlin Zoo by Ludz Heck from East Africa. Mtoto died during the 1943 air attack.