The Royal Melbourne Zoological Gardens, commonly known as the Melbourne Zoo, contains more than 320 animal species from Australia and around the world. The zoo is 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) north of the centre of Melbourne. It is accessible via Royal Park station on the Upfield railway line, and is also accessible via tram routes 55 and 19, as well as by bicycle on the Capital City Trail. Bicycles are not allowed inside the zoo itself.
The Royal Melbourne Zoological Gardens is a full institutional member of the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).
Melbourne Zoo is Australia's oldest zoo and was modeled on London Zoo. The zoo was opened on 6 October 1862 at the Royal Park site of 55-acre (22 ha) on land donated by the City of Melbourne. Before this, animals were housed at the botanical gardens in Melbourne.
Initially the zoo was important for the acclimatisation of domestic animals recovering from their long trip to Australia. It was only with the appointment of Albert Alexander Cochrane Le Souef in 1870 that more exotic animals were procured for public display, and the gardens and picnic areas were developed.
Visitors can see historical cages including the heritage listed Elephant House, which has been renovated and adapted for use for customers paying to sleep overnight in tents at the zoo in popular Roar and Snore evenings. These evenings allow the public to see some of the nocturnal animals at the zoo in evening guided tours by keepers. One of the most famous exhibits was Queenie the elephant.
The zoo is set among flower gardens and picnic areas. Many of the animals are now organised in bioclimatic zones: African rainforest featuring gorillas, mandrills, pigmy hippos and parrots; Asian Rainforest with tigers and otters; and the Australian bush with koala, kangaroos, emu, echidnas and endangered hairy nose wombats. Popular exhibits also include the Butterfly House, the great flight aviary and the Trail of the Elephants. Melbourne Zoo recently obtained three new Asian elephants from Thailand amidst much controversy regarding their safety and well-being.
The zoo includes a large schools section and caters to many school visitors annually, its immensely popular education program encourages young minds to conserve animals.
The Zoological Board of Victoria administers the Melbourne Zoo, as well as the Werribee Open Range Zoo which features herbivorous creatures in an open range setting; and Healesville Sanctuary on 175 hectares (430 acres) of bushland exhibiting Australian fauna.
On 15 January 2010 Melbourne Zoo welcomed its first elephant calf. This is the second elephant calf born in Australia, the first being in Sydney in July 2009.
Melbourne Zoo new seal enclosure has been completed and was opened in December 2009. Melbourne Zoo commemorated 150 years of operation in 2012 and this was celebrated in an Australian Zoos collector's edition of stamps released by Australia Post in September 2012.
On 19 January 2008, The Age newspaper published allegations of animal cruelty at the zoo.
RSPCA Australia President Hugh Wirth accused the zoo of cover-ups of past involvement with the RSPCA and of putting "the dollar before animal welfare".
The acting chief executive of Melbourne Zoo, Matt Vincent, claimed the zoo's own investigations into the incidents had found no mistreatment of animals, and that the staff had been "devastated" by the allegations.