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Feed the giraffes at Taronga Zoo

Discover the Evolution of Zoos in Australia

Brooke Montgomery channels her inner historian to discover the evolution of zoos in Australia.

Human interest in keeping animals dates back thousands of years and began with the royal families housing animals in menageries. Jack Hanna once described zoo animals as “ambassadors for their cousins in the wild”. It was only once scientists realised the potential of zoos as entertainment that the modern zoo was born with exhibits and a strong focus on conservation. Plus, there are so many adorable animals to fall in love with!

Taronga Zoo

Sydney, New South Wales

The first public zoo in New South Wales opened in 1884 and was reopened as Taronga Zoo in 1916. The new park was modelled after the bar-less exhibits of Germany’s Hamburg Zoo and nearly 850 animals crossed Sydney Harbour to their new enclosures on board a barge. In 1967 the zoo began to focus on conservation, research and education, and is now involved with breeding programmes for 18 different species and cares for roughly 1500 native animals each year in its animal hospital. With 4000 animals to visit and over 20 keeper talks and shows each day it’s a wonder visitors can fit it all in. Although, why not have a sleepover? Roar and Snore is Sydney’s ultimate slumber party set in the heart of the zoo with spectacular views over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Just imagine that sunrise!

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

Currumbin, Queensland

Local beekeeper and flower grower, Alex Griffiths, accidentally established the sanctuary in 1947 when he began feeding the lorikeets so they wouldn’t chow down on his precious blooms. The spectacle soon developed from a local curiosity to a full-blown tourist attraction. Now set on 27 hectares of bushland, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is home to hundreds of native birds and animals – including the famous lorikeets, of course. Hand feed the kangaroos as you venture through their paddock, cuddle one of the 54 koalas, feed Boss Hog, the massive croc, and try your luck at a happy snap with the free-roaming emus. Visitors can even explore the back deck of the Wildlife Hospital and get a bird’s-eye view of the veterinarians at work.

© Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

Australia Zoo

Beerwah, Queensland

Australia Zoo spanned just two acres when it first opened as the Beerwah Reptile and Fauna Park in 1970, housing mainly reptiles, birdlife and kangaroos. Following his parents’ retirement in 1992, Steve Irwin continued to expand both the wildlife park and the Irwin brand. With a keen focus on conservation, Steve and his wife Terri put all the money earned from their filming projects back into conservation and preservation. It was their philosophy that “the zoo animals came first, the zoo team came second and the zoo visitors came third”. Thanks to this ideology, the park now encompasses 42 hectares, employs over 400 staff and is home to the largest and busiest wildlife hospital of its kind in the world... crikey! These days the zoo houses over 100 different species from the tiny to the tremendous, but everyone knows it’s the fearsome crocodiles that everyone comes to see.

Melbourne Zoo

Parkville, Victoria

Opened in 1862, Melbourne Zoo was the first of its kind in Australia and has wowed crowds ever since. Like many zoos, its objectives have transformed over time from a purely entertainment role to a far greater focus on conservation. The zoo’s “Don’t Palm Us Off” campaign fights for clearer labelling on products, particularly palm oil, and conserving the natural habitat of those beautiful orangutans. Enjoy the popular behind-thescenes encounters, immerse yourself in the magic of the Butterfly House, tour the treetops in the Orang-utan Sanctuary, scamper through the rainforest on Lemur Island and meet the magnificent manes of Lion Gorge – if you dare!


Meerkats and Ranni. Photo credit: Adrian Mann

Adelaide Zoo

Adelaide, South Australia

Opening to the public in 1883, Adelaide Zoo holds the title of Australia’s second oldest zoo and was modelled on the European facilities of the time, particularly London’s Regents Park Zoo. Some of the original exhibits feature building styles symbolic of the resident animal’s country of origin, for example the focal point of the Elephant House, built in 1900, is an Indian-style temple. Now the Zoo is a vibrant sanctuary in the city and more than 3000 exotic and native animals call it home. With more than 20 amazing animal experiences are on offer for visitors, from feeding the tiny to the tremendous, furry to the fearsome, your family will have a blast. Adelaide Zoo Is also heavily involved with conservation efforts throughout Africa and Asia, and has even been at the forefront of an animal breeding technique called cross-fostering to save endangered wallaby species.

The Australian Rhino Project

More than 5000 rhinos have been poached in South Africa since 2010 and the animals will likely be extinct within the next 10 years. The mission of the Australian Rhino Project is to fly 80 African rhinos from South Africa to Australia in order to establish a breeding herd as an insurance population.

Bindi Irwin

© Melbourne Zoo


This article appeared in volume 49 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

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