In the early 1900s, a trip to Melbourne Zoological Gardens may have involved a ride on Queenie the elephant, throwing peanuts to the bears in the bear pit and watching Mollie the orang-utan smoke a cigarette in her small enclosure!

Things are different these days.

Nowadays, a visit to Melbourne Zoo could include viewing endangered Asian elephant calves, Mali and Ongard, foraging and roaming in the Trail of the Elephants habitat; viewing baby Dewi in the Orang-utan Sanctuary; listening to a keeper explain the Zoo’s breeding program for the endangered Lord Howe Island stick insect or even enjoying a twilight concert in the grounds.

The Zoo has been part of the experiences and memories of the Victorian public for 150 years, and in this story we celebrate, explore and remember the animal stars of yesterday and today, visitor experiences through the generations and stories of the keepers who have cared for the animals since it opened in 1862.

Visitor encounters and expectations of the Zoo have evolved over the years along with the Zoo’s practices. It has transformed from its early days of collecting and displaying species for public viewing to its current role in fighting extinction through local and global breeding and conservation programs.

Zoos Victoria’s commitment to fighting extinction is also explored through the Melbourne Zoo’s breeding programs for threatened and endangered species and their international conservation work outside the zoo walls.

For more on the history of Melbourne Zoo listen to Queenie, Choi and friends , a wonderful radio documentary by Hindsight, Radio National.

For further information, read:

150 years Melbourne Zoo, Zoos Victoria, Bounce Books, 2012

Almost Human: Reminiscences of Melbourne Zoo, A.A.W Wilkie, Whitcombe and Tombs, 1920

The Zoo Story, Catherine de Courcy, Penguin, 1995

Queenie’s Last Ride, Mary O’Brien, The Age, August 9, 2006

Melbourne Zoo: Acclimatisation to Conservation, Mark Kellet, Australian Heritage Magazine, 2009

Evolution of a Zoo: History of Melbourne Zoo 1857 - 1900, Catherine de Courcy, Quiddlers Press, 2003