John Hagenbeck

From the list of elephant persons Family: Hagenbeck

John Hagenbeck
John  Hagenbeck
Lutz Heck (left) John Hagenbeck (right) in Berlin Zoo abt 1931
Personal details
Country Germany

Title owner 1923-1936
Location at Ceylon Zoological Gardens in Sri Lanka

Title owner 1894-1905
Location at Firma John and Gustav Hagenbeck in Germany

Title owner 1890-1939
Location at John Hagenbeck & Co. in Sri Lanka

Title assistant director 1881-1890
Location at Firma Carl Hagenbeck in Germany

Relevant literature
Biography details

John Heinrich August Hagenbeck , wildlife animal trader in Germany

Born 1866 in Germany dead 1940 in Sri Lanka , son of animal trader Carl Hagenbeck Sr. .

John Hagenbeck (1866-1940) was the eldest son from the second marriage of Carl Claes Gottfried Hagenbeck and thus a half-brother of Carl Jr., well known for his zoos. John worked for Firma Carl Hagenbeck from 1881, transporting animals and travelling on his behalf, by organizing the export of Ceylonese elephants through the Port of Colombo.

The Hagenbecks had an animal catching station near Kilimanjaro and John accompanied Baron Axel Blixen for a hunt in the area. John was also a friend of Leonard Woolf who was briefly stationed in Hambantota.

1884: John Hagenbeck went to Sri Lanka to buy elephants for Firma Carl Hagenbeck, which he delivered in Hamburg.
1885: J.H. returned 1885 to Sri Lanka and lived there for 25 years, exporting tea, coffee and animals.
In 1886 he visited Ceylon and recruited people for Hagenbeck's Völkerschau or "human zoo".
1890: J.H. established established Firma John Hagenbeck & Co., ship furn. and animal trade.
In 1891 he moved to Colombo and worked as a planter. He soon acquired rubber, cocoa and tea plantations, while he also traded in animals.
1914: The property in Ceylon was repossessed and he was deported by the british in August 1914 during the First World War. He moved to Indonesia to avoid internment and then fled to Germany.
1918: John Hagenbeck established a film company which produced films on his travels, John Hagenbeck Film AG, in Berlin, which he left in 1923. He also wrote several books.
1923: J.H. returned to Sri Lanka and founded "Ceylon Zoological Gardens Company" where he kept animals before being shipped, which were also an open Zoo for visitors.
1924-1927: J.H. returned to Europe with a ship full of animals and show people, which he took on tour in Europe.
1927: returned to Sri Lanka and reestablished his trade with tea and animals.

John  Hagenbeck

1936: Ceylon Zoological Gardens Company in Dehivela was liquidated and the company confiscated as enemy property, which 1937 became Dehivela Gardens in Sri Lanka.
1939: J.H. and his his Sri Lankan born wife was put in Diyatalawa internment camp by the british.
1940: John died, 74 years old, in Diyatalawa internment camp in Colombo, shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War.
John Hagenbeck left his wife and a son, John George Hagenbeck (1909-1959).


  • John Hagenbecks abenteuerliche Flucht aus Ceylon: meine Ausweisung aus Ceylon und Flucht nach Europa. Verlag Deutsche Buchwerkstätten, 1917
  • Mit Indiens Fahrendem Volk. August Scherl Verlag, Berlin, 1932
  • Die Schnur der sieben Knoten. Iris Verlag, Iserlohn, 1948
  • Menschen und Teufel in Ketten. Adolf Sponholtz Verlag, Hannover, 1951
  • Auf der verbotenen Straße nach Lhasa. Adolf Sponholtz Verlag, Hannover, 1951
  • Der Tyrann des Dschungels. Sponholtz Verlag, Hannover, 1952
  • Im Reiche des weißen Elefanten. Walter Schwerdtfeger Verlag, Frankfurt/M., 1954
  • Gefahr im Dschungel. Neuer Jugendschriften-Verlag, Hannover 1957
  • Heilige Schlangen – Das Schicksal indischer Schlangenbeschwörer. Walter Schwerdtfeger-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1957
  • Auf gefährlichen Pfaden. Kolibri-Verlag, Wuppertal 1959
  • Das Geheimnis des weissen Degi. Kolibri-Verlag, Wuppertal 1959
  • Im Banne des Himalaja. Kolibri-Verlag, Wuppertal 1959
  • Tiger greift an. Kolibri-Verlag, Wuppertal 1959
  • Anuk, der Tiger. Neuer Jugendschriften-Verlag, Hannover 1960
  • Allein unter Raubtieren. Kolibri-Verlag, Wuppertal 1961
  • Unheimliche Mächte. Kolibri-Verlag, Wuppertal 1961
  • Aug' in Aug' mit 1000 Tieren. Buchclub Ex Libris, Zürich 1962
  • Der neue Robinson. Verlag Klein, Lengerich 1962
  • Auf den Spuren der grauen Riesen. Neuer Jugendschriften-Verlag, Hannover 1962
  • Das Geheimnis der Insel Kaa. Hirundo-Verlag, München 1967
  • Raubtierfang auf Sumatra. Engelbert-Verlag, Balve 1977


Total: 1 children

  1. John Hagenbeck Jr.. Born: 1909. Dead: † 1959


Siblings through the father Carl Hagenbeck Sr. (1810 -- 1887):

  1. Carl Hagenbeck Born 1844 Dead: † 1913-04-13
  2. Wilhelm Hagenbeck Born 1850 Dead: † 1910
  3. Christiane Hagenbeck Born 1846 Dead: † 1905
  4. Marie Hagenbeck Born 1848 Dead: † 1886
  5. Dietrich Hagenbeck Born ? Dead: † 1873
  6. Gustav Hagenbeck Born ?

John Hagenbeck s ancestral Ahnentafel:


John Hagenbeck
Born: 1866

Gottfried Hagenbeck

Born: 1810

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Reference list


Koehl, Dan, (2024). animal trader John Heinrich August Hagenbeck in Sri Lanka. Elephant Encyclopedia, available online retrieved 19 May 2024 at (archived at the Wayback machine)

Sources used for this article is among others:

  • Funfundzwanzig Jahre Ceylon, by John Hagenbeck
  • Der deutsche Tropenwald: Bilder, Mythen, Politik, by Michael Flitner
  • Verbrecher und Versager: fünf Porträts, by Felicitas Hoppe

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Categories animal trader | wildlife | John Hagenbeck & Co. | Hagenbeck family | Born 1866 | Dead 1940 | People from Germany

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