Australia Bison History

Australia Bison History dates back to as early as 1906, several have been imported for the Zoos in Sydney and Adelaide.

Special thanks to the Australia Government and State Archives, National Library of Australia, State Library of South Australia and Zoos of SA,  for providing us with all this great information.  

On May 28, 1906, it was published that Wirth Brothers was coming to Brisbane and had a bison to show. The Wirth family were an Australian family who all were very talented and took their show on the road for more than 80 years.

On November 4th, 1913 the West Gippsland Gazette published an advertising ad for the circus. They boast they have the only bison in Australia.
From what I have found so far, they were correct. (but not for long)


Argus, Melbourne, Vic. 
 4 February 1914


Hobart’s new railway pier, one of the finest in the world, is illustrated; and a picture is given of the bison, the latest addition to the Sydney Zoo; and an engraving of the largest cotton-pod yet grown Queensland.



Sydney Morning Herald, NSW
Monday 16 March 1914


Housed between the two great funnels of the- R.M.S. Niagara, which arrived from Vancouver yesterday, there was a remarkable assortment of birds and beasts, brought out by Mr. Ellis S. Joseph.

Bulking largest are two magnificent bull bison, captured in Montana; and next in size are two elk, the latter pair and some of the other animals being for the Sydney Zoological Gardens.

The other inhabitants of this floating menagerie which proved a source of great interest at the various ports touched at, particularly at Suva and Honolulu, are 14 bears black, brown, and cinnamon-several deer, eight peccary , (Mexican wild boar), five coyotes (prairie wolves), three beavers, several minx, a number of squirrels, raccoons, porcupines, lynx, four badgers, and a leopard cat. Among the birds are four American baldheaded eagles, Canadian “honker” goose, blue jays, snowbirds, and variegated thrushes. There are also a number of snakes. The whole collection is native of either the States or Canada and took over four months to get together. They are destined for various Zoological Gardens.

To keep such a large family in health means endless care and attention, and it is remarkable that only three small birds and a squirrel were lost on the voyage. Before they were shipped, the horns of the elk had to be sawn off, and now antlers are just beginning to sprout.

In addition to Mr. Joseph’s collection, four Shetland ponies and several mules were brought out by a circus performer. On his return to America, Mr. Joseph will take a number of Australian animals for the various Zoological Gardens in Canada and the United States.


Observer, Adelaide, SA 
 Apr 4th, 1914


Mr. A. C. Minchin {Director of the Zoological Garden) returned to Adelaide by express last week from a trip to Sydney, where he inspected a shipment of animals which arrived on the steamer Niagara from North America. Mr. Minchin made a number of purchases, and many of the animals and birds secured are quite new to this State. They include a pair of white-headed, or bald, tea eagles of North America, three Pardine lynx from southern Europe, a pair of American badgers {Taxidea American), a pair of American beavers, a pair of black bears from the same country, two large brown bears from northern Europe, a pair of peccaries {the native American swine), and a pair of coyotes  (the American prairie dog). It was desired to purchase a pair of big bison, but as the price asked was £400, no business resulted. New premise will have to be, constructed for the majority of the purchases, and this will entail a considerable outlay.


The Register, Adelaide, SA, 9 April 1914


If the authorities of the Zoological Gardens had more to spend, they could add many interesting and desirable specimens to the collection. But they do exceptionally well with the money they have.  Visitors to the institution in a day or so will find some new exhibits of an important character. These have just been purchased by Mr. Minchin from Mr. Ellis S. Joseph, who is well known as an international dealer. They consist of bison, pairs of badgers, black bear, raccoons, white headed sea or bald eagle, coyotes, and beavers (all from North America), a pair of collared Mexican peccaries, three lynx from south Texas, some Canadian geese and a pair of blue jays. The birds and animals have arrived in capital fettle, and give evidence of kindly- care as well as of splendid supervision on Mr. Joseph’s part.

The bull bison is a handsome representative of the type, and it is hoped that the Zoo will soon have a mate for it. The beast weighs about a ton, has a beautiful head, and fine ferocity of disposition.

The Peccaries, despite their hog-shaped faces, are compact, attractive visitors with collared coats of grayish brown. The raccoons, known as tree bears, make an engaging little display with their valuable silk like fur. One was a lady’s pet and is exceptionally tame. Mr. Joseph can kiss it, but there may be a risk in other people taking the liberty.

The badgers will need a bit of space between them and the itinerant spectator. They protest against concentrated attention, consolidating themselves into a massive grey ball, and alternately hissing and growling.

The brown beavers are worthy of close study with their rat shaped mouths, wallaby pose, and tails shaped like a South American canoe paddle.

There is an undisguised sinister look about the handsomely pencilled lynx cats. The onlooker is kept under unwearying surveillance and their vision sensitive to the slightest movement. At the first the suggestion of a menacing attitude they snarl and show rows of needle teeth, which in affiance -with sharp-pointed paws, provide an effective defense.

The coyotes and the bears are already housed, the eagles, snow-topped and, bulky, are among birds of their own feather, and the little blue jays give a touch of colour to the cages.


The Register, Adelaide,  SA
April 13, 1914


The recent additions to the Zoological Gardens have attracted a large number of visitors. The new animals purchased by the director ( Mr. A. C. Minchin) include bison, badgers, black bears, raccoons, white-headed sea or bald eagles, coyotes, beavers, peccaries, lynx, Canadian geese, and blue jays. So far it has b=not been possible for the authorities to exhibit the bison on account of the want of a strong paddock and house, but anybody particularly desiring to see t may do so o application.


The Advertiser, Adelaide SA Apr 30, 1914



The Register, Adelaide SA
April 30, 1914


The North American bison which was purchased by the Director of the Zoological Gardens (Mr. A. C. Minchin), under instructions from his council, was introduced to his new home on Wednesday afternoon. There were e fair number of people present -when the large case containing the new member of the Zoo family was rolled up to the gate of the paddock, which, had been prepared for its reception, in the Wistaria avenue;  After considerable hauling and pulling the case was .placed with the door slide facing the gates. The bison, which had been incarcerated for nearly four months in a narrow wooden cell about 5 ft. wide by 15 ft. long, and 10 ft. high, evidently resented the ‘hauling about ‘ it received, for it obstinately refused; to back out, notwithstanding the combined efforts of half a down members of the Zoo staff.  Finally, it was decided to leave the bison in peace, and to allow it to emerge from its prison in its own time. The animal, which is a native of North America, arrived at Sydney from Vancouver on March 16. It was sent on to Adelaide by another boat and was landed at the Port about three weeks ago. This period was occupied in preparing for it a paddock off the Wistaria avenue, west of the South African elands’ paddock. The only other North American bison in an Australian Zoo is in the Sydney Gardens.


The Register, Adelaide SA
June 8, 1914


On Saturday morning a pair of large alligators arrived from Los Angeles at the Adelaide Zoological Garden. They were bred at the California Alligator Farm. In America many ladies make pets of young saurians reared in captivity. All the other recent arrivals, including the bison, beavers, and badgers are in good health and doing well.  


The Advertiser, Adelaide SA
 June 29, 1914


The Zoological Gardens will be open all day. The animals which arrived from America recently are now doing well. The bison which was for some months continued to a small box is showing signs of a fast-growing new coat.


The Register, Adelaide SA
 Oct 24, 1914

Drought & War (extract)

Among the acquisitions of the year the purchase by Mr. Minchin of an American bison was the most interesting. It was a male specimen and if a female could be obtained, it might be possible to prolong the period of existence of this almost extirpated variety.


The Zoos of SA was kind enough to provide me with their information below. 

April 1914: Purchased a male from Mr E. Joseph.

Dec 25, 1917: Purchased a female from Mr E. Joseph.

1927: Both had died.

Jan 20th,1930: From the Dominion of Canada 1 male and 2 females from Wainwright National Park.

March 7th, 1935: one of the above females sent to Perth.

Dec 13th, 1940: the above male died.

1936:  the other remaining female above died.

Bison at Adelaide Zoo1915 Australia Bison History Adelaide Australia Zoo Bison 1915


The Critic, Adelaide, SA
March 10, 1915


“He is the boss,” said Mr. Minchin. A new importation that Mr. Minchin recently secured an American Bison, quite the most alarming- looking animal in the Zoo. He has attacked his little wooden hut most savagely and it is showing signs of wear.


St Arnaud, Mercury, Vic.
Oct 9, 1915

Mentions a North American Bison that will be displayed with all the other animals and acts in the Wirths Circus/Zoo


The Argus, Melbourne- Celebrates at the zoo Mar 25, 1916

Australia Bison History Australia Bison in Melbourne
This animal is practically extinct in the wild state. The remains of his last winter coat are not yet shed.


The Age, Melbourne, Vic.
Jan 13, 1917 



Two other babies deserve more sympathy than they usually get because people do not know their sad histories. The lion cub seems to have inherited rheumatism from her mother, a fine old lioness’ named Girlie, who is now crippled with the painful complaint. The cub’s twin was so bad with it that its short life ended mercifully some time ago. It is possible that the baby will outgrow her troubles, but so far she finds it distressing to attempt to walk.

The other pathetic infant is the young bison, whose mother died when it was only three months old, and who has since, like Topsy, merely ‘growed,’ and also, like her, has not made a great success of the business of self-raising. The forlorn, untidy looking creature reminds one of Topsy irresistibly.


The  Sun, Sydney, NSW
January 14, 1917


There arrived in Sydney recently from America one of the finest collections of wild animals yet landed at an Australian airport. These have been gathered from all parts of the globe by Mr. Ellis Joseph, who hopes to dispose of them to the trustees of the Zoological Gardens at Taronga Park, and to the Adelaide Zoo. Mr. A.S. Minchin, of Adelaide, was in Sydney to see the animals landed.

Despite exceptionally rough weather, only two elks and a buffalo were lost.
The most interesting animal of the consignment is a monster grizzly bear, which was captured after a hard fight in his Rocky Mountain home. This animal destine for the new bear pit at Taronga Park. The other animals include three polar bears, two grizzly bears, a Kodiak bear, and two Mongolian wild horses, monkeys, bears, raccoons, 14 elks and black and cinnamon bears. There are also a number of parrots, buzzards, Virginian wild turkeys, white cross pigeons, alligators, and various varieties of snakes.

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic.
June 9, 1917

(extract- previous paragraph speaks of a  monkey who holds resentment to Mr. Wilkie)

Bill, the American bison, also knows Mr. Wilke well, but his feelings are different. As soon as he is called, even if he is right at the others end of the enclosure, he limbers up to the fence to get a bit of grass or some other tidbit, his long, serious face, with its tuft of long hair on the chin, bearing a ludicrous resemblance to the conventional representation of the face of Uncle Sam with the “goatee.”


American Bison Society Jan 1918 
The present condition in European countries do not permit any accurate count of the few specimens that may still exist, therefore are not included in the tenth census, except those in England and Australia.

This is the earliest report in the ABS of bison in Australia. But we do know there were bison living there as early as 1906.

New South Wales: Sydney—Zoological Park  1 Male  Female
South Australia: Adelaide—Zoological Gardens 1 Female
Total in Australia . . . 3


 Australia Bison History Bison at Taronga Zoo
Bison at Taronga Zoo 1950
Australia Bison History Bison at Taronga Zoo
Bison at Taronga Zoo (date unknown)

An afternoon view of the Bison Enclosure at the Adelaide Zoo in June 1967. There appear to be six bison eating hay along the back fence line.

Bison at Adelaide
State Library of South Australia Adcock, Cyril Tennyson, 1892-1979, photographer. PRG 1562/4/170