Adelaide Zoo – A Brief History

Adelaide Zoo history

The Adelaide Zoo was officially opened on 23rd May 1883, after much debate and concerns of animals being so near the city.  The first Director was an Irish gentleman called Richard Minchin who had no zoo training, but what he did have was a clever mind and a good eye.   On Richard’s demise in Mount Barker (1893), the victim of a virus caught whilst on a journey to the Far East, his successor was his second son Alfred.  Richard was a very well respected and well-loved man.

Alfred Minchin trained at Melbourne zoo before taking over after his father’s death.  Alfred saw the zoo through some tough times, such as cutbacks, drought and two serious incidents involving keepers, one sadly was the death of Samuel May who was attacked by a polar bear.  Alfred was the Director for 40 years and lived with his family in the Director’s House until he passed away with heart issues in 1934.  Alfred was a well-liked, tall imposing man with a love of lemurs.

Ronald Minchin was the third Director at the zoo and Alfred’s second son.  He was born at the zoo and started working there at the age of 19.  He was a quiet man with a sense of humour and lived in the Director’s house with his wife and child.  Ronald had a love of birds and built more aviaries, concentrated on rare breeds and breeding of his feathered friends.  Unfortunately, he died of cancer in 1940, he was only 36 years old.

Keith Minchin never made it to Director, but was a big part of the zoo, travelling the world collecting animals to send back to SA.  He had a passion for reptiles, especially snakes and set up a snake park in the Botanical Gardens, which later turned into the Koala Farm.  Even catching polio and having to use a wicker wheelchair, didn’t stop Keith from getting around.

Sir Thomas Elder is a big part of the history of the Zoological Gardens.  He a major benefactor and the gentleman that gave the zoo its very first elephant, Miss Siam and also gifted the fantastic Rotunda.

Zoos have certainly changed over the years and Adelaide Zoo is no exception.  The Zoo has gone on to become a leader in education, conservation, breeding and connecting the public to nature.  They remain an independent conservation society and not Government funded. They rely on the sale of tickets to their venues, the purchase of yearly memberships, the sale of zoo experiences such as giraffe feeding and meerkat mingling, as well as donations and bequests. Let’s help the Adelaide Zoo and Monarto Safari Park to continue their good work for many years to come!


Adelaide Zoo Ghosts

Adelaide Zoo Ghost Stories

Over the years with there have been countless Keepers and animals passing through the gates of the park, are some of them still there to this day?  With animals, it would be hard to say, but there have certainly been sightings of the human kind.

Adelaide Zoo after Dark - Haunted Horizons GhostsIt was at the tourism awards, that we first spoke with Steve from Adelaide Zoo.  We were sharing a table and it was over a glass of wine that he told us how much of a sceptic he was but, there was this one time.  He continued to tell us about his experience in Minchin House which was built between 1887/88 and used by the Directors as living quarters until 1970.  It is now used for Admin.  He arrived to work early one winters morning and as he entered Minchin House, he heard a bang from upstairs.  Curious as to what it was, Steve hurried upstairs only to find a lady standing at the top on the landing.  He described her as wearing a long white dress, with her hair pulled back.  She quickly vanished.  He pointed to the lady in the photo here and said, although he couldn’t be sure it was her, the dress was very similar but she wasn’t wearing a hat.  Over time she has also been witnessed by other employees of the Adelaide Zoo.

Often on our tours, we have employees from Adelaide Zoo, and they regale us with their own experiences, often coming from the Nocturnal House.  There appears to be a keeper who is still diligent in his work and seen to be still cleaning out the exhibits.  Alison, the owner of Haunted Horizons had her own experience with him while investigating the service tunnel of the Nocturnal House.  Could it be the keeper who met with a tragic accident when hosing the polar bears?  Maybe it is just a keeper who loved his work so much, he has returned?


Adelaide Zoo Paranormal Investigation 

Adelaide Zoo Paranormal Investigation


Minchin House

We were really excited to have the opportunity to investigate the Minchin House, especially after hearing about the paranormal stories we’ve heard from there.

We began by placing our equipment around the hallway, stairs and landing.  Starting with an EVP burst (Electronic Voice Phenomena) we caught a possible ‘yes’ in reply to my question of ‘are there any children in the house?’.

Upstairs in the Boardroom, we had carried out an Estes Experiment (headphones connected to the ghost/spirit box) where we had some interesting responses.  Asking what they wanted to be changed at the zoo, we had the reply ‘Kiwi’.  A few days later we found out that the Head Bird Keeper had been wanting a Kiwi for the zoo.  Coincidence?

On the landing, we carried out a portal session and everyone heard the word ‘respect’ come from the equipment.  After saying that we hope they thought we were being respectful to them, an agreement was heard.

It was a fairly quiet investigation, but it was our first time there and we only stayed in the house for a short time.  No doubt any previous residents still there, would have been a little confused as to what we were doing.  Maybe they have to get used to us and our equipment first.


Nocturnal House

This dark environment was made even creepier due to the fact that we had to keep very quiet indeed as we didn’t want to disturb the animals behind the doors.  Would we come across the keeper that has been seen cleaning out the exhibits?

As we entered, we all heard loud noises coming from one end of the service area!  No one was there and the animals in the exhibits on the other side of the wall were only small, such as hopping mice and bilbies.  Footsteps were heard and a cat ball started to flash for no apparent reason.

During an EVP burst, a question was asked if Samuel, the keeper who lost his life at Adelaide Zoo, was there and, if so, did he want to talk to us?  The cat ball and EDI (Environmental Detection Instrument) began to flash seemingly in response.  During an Estes Experiment with Alison and Dylan using different ghost boxes, they both came out with similar meaning words at the same time!  Alison said “you make it sound scary”, whilst Dylan said, “it was frightening!”  It happened again but with a medical theme this time.  Very interesting to listen to indeed.

Hearing a loud bang, Alison went down the opposite end of the tunnel by herself and, unbeknown to her, we asked if someone could touch her on the head.  Shortly after Alison turned to find a dark shadowy figure standing next to them before disappearing, making her jump back, knocking a cat ball flying.

Again, we were only there for a short time, but what a great experience.  So much activity experienced.

Thank you to everyone at the zoo for a great night and also for trusting us with the Adelaide Zoo – After Dark Walking Tours and Paranormal Investigations.

The highlights of the live stream investigation can be found in the video below:


To find out how you can support Adelaide Zoo and the wonderful conservation work they do, visit their website: Zoos S.A.

For more on the tours and investigations visit Adelaide Zoo After Dark Tours


Written By Kag Allwood
Adelaide’s Haunted Horizons
Paranormal Researcher, Tour Guide and Blogger for H.H.
All articles are the personal opinion of the author only and do not always reflect the views of Adelaide’s Haunted Horizons.

Kag Allwood - Blogger Haunted Horizons

© Kag Allwood – Adelaide’s Haunted Horizons – 2021



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *