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Samorn, The Elephant in our Zoo

Remember when a day out at the Adelaide Zoo included a ride in the Elephant cart pulled by Samorn the elephant?

Earlier this year there were a number of very strongly worded letters to the Advertiser from people outraged by the suggestion that we needed another elephant at the zoo, so our kids and grandkids could experience what we did as kids in the 50’s to the 70’s. I think most people would now agree that it was a cruel and inhumane existence for poor old Samorn, who from memory seemed to be a very gentle animal, living such a solitary, lonely existence.

On a recent Facebook post Michelle El remembered “We used to run ahead of Samorn and her cart to place peanuts on the top of the fence posts, and she would scoop them up in her trunk as she passed by”. Others recalled that if you put a coin on the post she would scoop that up and give it to her keeper. 

Cath Tugger Taylor wrote “I did work experience at the zoo when samorn was there. Poor thing, looked depressed and lonely, her enclosure was tiny and she spent all day swaying back and forth with boredom. Elephants live in herds and should never be kept on their own in small confinement, in the wild they travel hundreds of miles a day and have close life longs bonds within the herd. Seeing her just made me incredibly sad”.


Samorn with a cartload of happy kids and adults enjoying a day at at the Zoo

Samorn with a cartload of happy kids and adults enjoying a day at at the Zoo

Rumor has it that Samorn drank a bottle of scotch whisky every day to keep her warm in Winter. Her growing tonnage obliged her to rock to and fro to assist her heartbeat. It wasn’t boredom, it kept her healthy. Samorn’s Adelaide career lasted through several eras and much change. The three-tonne elephant retired from the role in 1982 and moved to Monarto Zoological Park nine years later. She died in 1994 and in 1998 her bones were put on display at the University of Adelaide medical school on Frome Road.

In the book “Elephant in our Zoo”, Victoria Raine has written a collection of short stories about Samorn who arrived here in 1956, a royal gift to Adelaide from the King of Siam. “Right from the start she was bright, very observant, curious, and rarely forgot. She formed many staff friends and became very attached to Hero Nuus, her senior keeper, who effectively became her “mahout”. She was a jealous, working, clever and trustworthy elephant both up front and behind the scenes, and would not share her beloved jobs”.
Samorn stopped giving rides in 1982 and was moved to Monarto Zoo in 1991 and died in 1994. ‘Elephant in our Zoo’ is available at; Photo thanks to the Gaynor Furnell

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12 Responses to Samorn, The Elephant in our Zoo

  1. ian tige September 13, 2014 at 4:06 am #

    what a beautiful elephant, i enjoyed many a ride in the cart she pulled, sad when she passed and a pity kids of today cannot see her beauty up close as we were able when we were younger.

  2. John September 13, 2014 at 7:09 am #

    The link for the book is no longer valid. I couldn’t find it listed on the Zoo website, so I suspect it is out of print.
    I managed to find a copy of it at the University of Adelaide’s Barr Smith Library, but am unsure where else it is held.

  3. Matthew Brownbill November 29, 2015 at 10:14 am #

    we dont need another elephant… the elephant enclosure at the adelaide zoo was ridiculously small… it would have been torture… it was always amazing to see the elephant but i also remember thinking how bad it musta be for him locked in that small Arabian castle looking thing all alone when i was a kid… then my mum told me they moved him to be with the other elephants i guess she didnt have the heart to tell me it died(which broke my heart when i more recently found out)…

    • Mignon May 28, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

      I agree – honestly, I think her small enclosure sent her mad. she would sway and make sounds every minute of every day … how is THAT keeping healthy ?

      • Bernadette White February 25, 2021 at 1:16 am #

        Totally agree. Even as a child, I was sensitive to her great loneliness and that ridiculously small cement enclosure she lived in.
        I cried about her at times. As a five year old I knew nothing of her natural home or the family ties of elephants. She just gave rise to a depressive, deeply sad feeling in me.
        When she died I was devastated, as many others were also. She didn’t have enough time at Monarto with all that space.
        You are remembered with love Samorn.
        A beautiful creature who deserved better.

  4. Mignon May 28, 2016 at 7:03 pm #

    I remember Samorn – she spent most of her time in a concrete pen the size of the average lounge room. There was a huge ditch between her and the gate, to stop her from moving from her spot and crashing out.
    She rocked back and forth so much there were four massive dents in the cement. Call it what you want, “not boredom but keeping healthy”
    Elephants live in herds. She NEVER saw another elephant for many, many years. She spent most of her time during the day in a tiny cold cement pen with no room to move.
    Her life was one of cruelty and quite frankly, like being in prison.
    As an adult, I look back and can not believe how she was treated.
    Don’t make excuses for Adelaide Zoo’s past.
    In this day and age and with social media, you would have been exposed and shamed world wide.
    RIP Samorn – freedom at last.

    • tj June 24, 2019 at 8:56 pm #

      i know right

  5. Jerry October 20, 2016 at 9:23 pm #

    I remember the elephant that used to lug the kids around and there was a ring of poles that I think they secured her to for the kids to get on. It must have been 1978 when I saw her.

    I never did ride her. but here’s a funny thing I did being a cheeky kid. My mother had some peanuts, well a big bag actually, that I would put handful on each of the poles.(wooden or concrete) and she followed me around grabbing the peanuts and stuffing them in her mouth. Much to the annoyance of the ones riding her she followed me around and around and around as I kept putting handfuls of peanuts on each of the poles until I ran out after several round trips of the ring. 🙂

    I always wanted to know where she ended up and maybe meet her. It was good she had some free time to be free in the park but a tragedy she died of a broken leg that didn’t heal.

    No one hurt her anymore.

    Rest forever in peace old girl. You are loved.

  6. Karl June 25, 2017 at 9:31 pm #

    Ah yes, that wonderful elephant…( not! )
    There is a reason why I didn’t like her as a kid.
    My Oma and Opa took me to the zoo a few times, and one time I recall lining up at the railings you see in the photo for a ride on the wagon Samorn towed. As she came around, I held my arm out and she took a sniff at me with her trunk. What followed was a sneeze of sorts, which left me liberally coated in slimy wet goo! I bawled my eyes out in shock and embarrassment, much to the amusement of the others waiting in the queue.
    It took me a while to get over that experience.
    But I do agree that those enclosures were just way too small for such a magnificent animal. In fact that 1960s zoo was pretty barren – nothing like what it is today.
    Later in the 60s or very early 70s when I went to the zoo, a small train and carriages which ran on a narrow track had taken place of Samorn and the wagon.
    Decades later when took my kids there, both Samorn and the small train were long gone. Some remnants of the the narrow train tracks were still there to be found, embedded in the asphalt path in a couple locations around the zoo, but also no longer used.
    Pleasant memories.

  7. Mike Micanopy June 11, 2019 at 3:08 pm #

    There were other elephants at the zoo before Samorn. In the 1930s there was one called Lilian. The legend in my family is that my mother, Lilian Jean, switched to using her middle name Jean purely because there was no way she was going to be called the same name as the local elephant. That was the way of it with some sensitive teenage girls, I suppose.

    We all need to get used to the fact that it is cruel and just plain wrong to keep large social animals like elephants in small enclosures and make them do tricks for us.

  8. Kylie March 29, 2021 at 11:43 pm #

    Unless you worked for the Zoo, you have no right commenting. Stay in your lane- you have no idea what you’re talking about

  9. Sally July 13, 2024 at 5:23 pm #

    I think Samorn enjoyed ‘her jobs’. Like people they need purpose. She was loved by many who worked at the zoo. She rarely took a dislike to anyone … but she did not like the vet at the time (in the 60s). She knew his car. One day when being walked back to her enclosure, she saw the car and walked over to it, lifted her front leg and pushed in the roof! (True story). Her death at Monarto was tragic.

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