The first to use this term were groups of kids in the area. Although they are not a gang as such, the tag markers are certainly territorial. It is easy to plot the limits of their zone by following the very basic tags, often written in felt-tip pen or chalk, across the area. If the tags are not marker enough, this website makes it even clearer; Ramponeau, Rue Piat, Rebeval, l'Orillon, the social housing projects in Belleville. This is a territory they rarely leave, so perhaps it is this sentiment of being caged and confined in a particular sector of the city which has lead to them labelling it as a zoo.
But can you own a tag or a name? In July 2009, a collective of several artists working together produced a monumental fresque at la Forge de Belleville. The day was documented here, and therefore we know who put this up and why. No mention is made of the history, of the groups of kids who already use the term. For this collective, Belleville Zoo is "une vérité, car ici la population est métissée, hétéroclite" (the truth, because the population here is mixed and heterogeneous). They appropriated the term, but used it for different reasons. Sitting above these giant letters are a gorilla and an elephant, a comic book celebration of the vibrancy of the area.
The local kids who live alongside this creation do not seem to mind that Belleville Zoo has been used by someone else. In fact they are probably happy to see their territory identified so clearly.
Also in La Forge de Belleville, and at several other locations around the east of Paris you can find examples of the most mysterious zoo of all - Zoo Project. The artist (or artists) behind these creations has never been identified, and the only communication made is through the paintings.
The creations are always large, always painted and almost always in black and white. The name was almost certainly chosen to describe the pictures which are often human bodies with bird or goat heads. The fact that many of these creations can be found within the boundaries of the Belleville Zoo seems to be a happy accident. (Many more Zoo Project creations can be seen here).