“What do you want for your birthday?” I am so sick of hearing that question. But people know me. I don’t want stuff I’m not interested in or I’m not going to use, so they tend to check with me first. This time it was my sister-in-law, but she didn’t ask THAT question. Instead she had a suggestion and asked if I would like to do the new Adelaide Zoo After Dark tour. I jumped at the chance, excited to do something new.
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About Adelaide Zoo After Dark
When we arrived outside the gates to the Adelaide Zoo just as the sun was going down, our guide greeted us with “You know this isn’t a ghost tour, right?” Yes, we knew, but apparently others in the past did not know and so were disappointed in the tour right from the start. So now it’s made abundantly clear, but I have to say, there was still a reasonable amount of ghosty mentions throughout the tour. Perhaps we can call it a ghost tour for the faint-hearted.
Instead of a ghost tour this is a tour to learn about some of the darker history of the Adelaide Zoo. While sometimes there are mentions of ghosts, we didn’t go looking for them. Instead we heard about some of the animals that have called Adelaide Zoo home over the years since it was opened in 1883. The tour covers only the time period up to the 1940s – it would probably need to go twice as long to get right up to today.
Back then times were different, ideas were different, and things were very different at the zoo. One of my favourite stories was a hippo called Newsboy. So named because each day he would have the front page of “The News” (a local newspaper) stuck to his side and he would be a walking advertisement. Now you wouldn’t (with good reason) see that today!
It seems that elephants didn’t have a great time at the zoo either (not that I’m sure they did at any zoo!) and there are stories about four of them told throughout the tour. The tiny elephant house is now used to house historical displays, including the huge metal harness the elephants wore. The last elephant was moved to Monarto Safari Park in 1991, but died soon after. Currently there are no elephants in South Australia.
We learned about some of the zookeepers and their unfortunate accidents that occasionally resulted in loss of limbs or even death. There was a snake expert, recently arrived from Africa to look after the snakes. He was giving a demonstration to a crowd one day and was bitten. No worries, he thought, I’ve been bitten dozens of times before. He continued on with the presentation. What he neglected to consider was that the snakes in Africa are different to Australia. Unfortunately he did not survive the day.
The bears were also the protagonists in a story or two, with keepers having issues with both the polar bears and the brown bears that once resided at the zoo. There are no longer any large bears here.
The visitors sometimes ended up in danger too. A five year old boy ducked under the outer fence and shoved his arm through the wire into the lion’s cage. He had a hand full of lollies and biscuits to feed him with (as was the norm back then). The lion came over, but wasn’t interested in the treats. He took a swipe at the boy, and unfortunately make contact with his throat. His parents paid dearly for their lack of attention that day.
We learned about some of the buildings (five of which are now on the State Heritage List) and their previous uses. From the Rotunda to the Nocturnal House to the Polar Bear House. We were even allowed a quick peek inside Minchin House, the home of the Minchin family who founded the zoo and ran it for three generations. This building is now used as an administration building and is not normally open to the public so this is a rare opportunity.
The tour lasts for about two hours (ours went slightly over) and it will be well and truely dark by the time that it finishes. We were supplied with red light torches to help us find our way around without disturbing the animals. You will notice I’ve not mentioned the current animals. That’s because we really didn’t see them at all during the tour. Not only is it dark, but many of them are in their night enclosures so not out where they would be during the day.
The scariest part of the night was dodging the absolutely stunning webs the golden orb spiders like to build at this time of year. These spiders are harmless, but the webs are huge – and no one wants to be covered in sticky spider web!
Overall this was a really interesting tour. It combined the dark history of the Adelaide Zoo with a little bit of the unexplained without being an actual ghost hunt tour. As a sceptic, this was the perfect amount of ghosty information for me. Our guide Kag (no that’s not a typo) was fantastic. It was obvious she is really interested in the Adelaide Zoo stories and its dark side. I am wondering if more material will eventually be added to bring the tour up to current times, or perhaps a second tour, because I know that even in my lifetime some dark tales have come about.
About Haunted Horizons
The Adelaide Zoo After Dark tour is run by Haunted Horizons. This Adelaide company was inducted into the SA Tourism Awards Hall of Fame in 2017 for it’s many excellent tours. Along with the Adelaide Zoo After Dark tour, they offer ghost tours of Old Adelaide Gaol, Old Tailem Town, Z Ward Asylum, National Railway Museum and Adelaide Arcade. They take things a bit further too, with longer, paranormal investigation tours at various locations, including the Adelaide Zoo.
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Josie Kelsh is South Australian, born and bred. She has lived in the state for almost her whole life, just one short stint away as a teenager with her family. Travelling all over the world has shown her exactly how amazing South Australia is to live and travel in and she uses her passion to show it to you the way a local sees it.