ADELAIDE ZOO'S HISTORY FOLLOWS A CURVE OF BREAKING DOWN OLD ATTITUDES towards embracing natural ecology – and especially Australian native ecology, as well as moving beyond the idea of a zoo as an amusement park with exotic attractions.
Established in 1883, the zoo is Australia’s second oldest (after Melbourne) and the only major metropolitan zoo in Australia to be owned and operated as a non-profit enterprise. The Royal Zoological Society of South Australia originates from the Acclimatization Society of South Australia, formed in 1878.
Many of the zoo’s original features are preserved. The Lyrebird Restaurant opened in 1891 as a monkey house. The 1883 cast-iron entrance gates and polychrome brickwork remains at the Frome Street entrance. The Thomas Elder Rotunda (1884) and the main administration building (1887) and the former elephant house (built in 1900 in the style of an Indian temple) also reflect past eras.
Near the River Torrens and parklands, the zoo features 1,400 native and exotic animals – with giant pandas Wang Wang and Funi given straring roles. Many animals are in natural settings, from a Queensland rainforest to a south east Asian rainforest.
Seventy kilometres east of Adelaide, Monarto Zoo has free-roaming herds of African and Asian animals grazing in large areas of open grassland.
Many endangered species, including the Przelwalskis (Mongolian) horse and Scimitar-horned oryx roam free here, alongside cheetahs, lions and rhinoceros. Many native Australian animals live extensive areas of natural mallee woodland. The zoos are strong advocates for conservation, education and research, with emphasis on breeding rare species such as the red panda, the black lion tamarin and South Australia’s own yellow-footed rock wallaby.
ACCLIMATISATION SOCIETY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA FOUNDED IN 1878
The Acclimatisation Society of South Australia was founded by chief justice Samuel Way in 1878. The society was chiefly concerned with introducing and domesticating select “animal, insect and bird species” from the British Isles “whether useful or ornamental ... in the hope that they may be permanently established here and impart to our somewhat unmelodious hills and woods the music and harmony of English country life”. The hopes were also that “insect-destroying birds of the mother country” would help diversify South Australian agriculture.
A FAMILY DYNASTY OF DIRECTORS GUIDE THE ZOO'S FIRST 50 YEARS FROM 1883
ENTERTAINMENT OVERTAKES EDUCATIONAL ROLE
Miss Siam was the zoo’s first elephant, arriving on the steamer South Australia in 1883. She gave rides to thousands of children during her 20 years at the zoo and the second elephant Mary Ann gave 30 years (1904-34) similar service. She was quickly replaced by Lillian (1934-52) and then Samorn (1956-94), who benefited from more enlightened outlook by being relived of having to give rides in 1982. The treatment of the elephants parallels the struggle to change attitudes of what author Patricia Sumerling calls the “egotists” on the zoo board.
CHANGING WITH ATTITUDES IN THE 20th CENTURY
MALLEE COUNTRY EAST OF ADELAIDE BECOMES SECOND ZOO SITE
FIGHTING BACK FROM A FINANCIAL BLOW, HELPED BY 43,000 MEMBERS