Taronga Zoo in Sydney has one of the best locations for elephant spotting in town.  But it has not always been the case, in fact, before Taronga, the Zoo moved around Sydney with some regularity looking for the right spot.  The first animal collections were more menageries than Zoo’s.  They were random collections of animals, usually privately owned and displayed for public entertainment.  In Sydney, the first of these was in the Botanic Gardens, set up during Governor Macquaries’ term.  The collection included Chinese deer, monkeys and an anteater.

By the 1850s, Sydney was beginning to grow intellectually (so to speak) and the opening of new scientific institutions such as the Australian Museum and Sydney University brought a new interest in the establishment of a Sydney Zoo.  The Museum actually displayed animals in Hyde Park between 1848 and the early 1850s.

Moore Park Zoo in 1881
Moore Park Zoo, 1881

In 1852 a public meeting, called by the Reverend George E Turner, saw 200 people turn up to support the creation of the Zoological Society of Sydney.  Part of the stated aims of the Society was to ‘raise the amount of intellectual recreation available to the inhabitants of Sydney and to lay a foundation of knowledge through moral and intellectual improvement’.  Sadly the government didn’t agree and would not give them any land for a zoo.  With no zoo the Society stumbled and faded away.

It was not until the late 1870s that any real progress was made on the idea.  In 1879 the NSW Zoological Society was established and was granted a lease of land at Billy Goat Swamp in Moore Park for the building of a zoo.  Between 1881 and 1914 the NSW Zoological Society ran the zoo from here with a large collection of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish including polar bears, elephants and native animals.  By 1907 however it was clear that more room was needed and a new site required. 


Sites considered for the new zoo included Tempe, Maroubra, Lane Cove, Long Bay, Bondi, Harris Park, Rockdale, Middle Harbour and Vaucluse, with Ashton Park at Bradleys Head finally being chosen.  The new zoo would be administered by a government appointed Trust with five of the NSW Zoological Society members appointed to the board.

Polar Bears in 1917 at Taronga
Polar Bears at Taronga 1917

The new zoo took shape through 1913 and 1914 until it was time to transfer the animals.  While most of the collection could be caged and taken across the harbour in boats and barges, Jessie the elephant, one of the old zoo’s main attractions since 1883, was too large for this method.  Instead, Jessie accompanied by two circus elephants to keep her calm, was walked through the city to a waiting vehicular ferry and then taken across the harbour.  Jessie was one of the first animals to arrive at their new home, alighting at 6.15am, 24 September 1916.


Taronga zoo was officially opened on Saturday October 7, 1916 with 177 animals and 329 birds transferred from Moore Park.  Although briefly closed in 1917 to house strike breakers of the 1917 General Strike, the zoo has remained open since 1916.  Changes in animal husbandry and zoo management have been reflected in the physical layout of the site and the exhibits and all of these layers are still visible at the zoo.

Maybe I should go tomorrow.