Bristol Zoo staff bid farewell to Clifton site

Bristol Zoo is expecting huge crowds this Saturday as it prepares to close after 186 years and move to a new site.

The zoo opened in Clifton in 1836, making it the fifth oldest zoo in the world, and it still has many of its original Victorian buildings, such as its gatehouse, the old giraffe house and his monkey temple.

Its owner, the Bristol Zoological Society, made the decision to close it due to financial pressures caused by the pandemic, and focus its resources on its sister site in South Gloucestershire.

Bristol Zoo Gardens opened in 1837 and still has some of its original buildings (Ben Birchall/PA)

The company has owned the Wild Place Project site, just off Junction 17 of the M5, since the 1960s, but for many years only used it for breeding and quarantine purposes and it was not open to visitors.

It was also used as a nursery for Bristol Zoo’s Botanical Gardens and to grow fodder for its animals.

But in 2008 the company submitted plans to the council for a 55-hectare walking safari park, and Wild Place opened five years later.

Zoo staff said they were sad to leave the famous site in the city of Bristol, which still stands within its Victorian walls, but were excited about the conservation opportunities presented by the more spacious facilities in Gloucestershire .

A ring-tailed lemur watches a keeper at Bristol Zoo Gardens (Ben Birchall/PA)

Dr Grainne McCabe, head of conservation and field science, said the move will allow the zoo to expand its work protecting some of the world’s most endangered species.

“Bristol Zoo is one of those classic zoos – it originally started as a menagerie, as many zoos have done, and it has a lot of history here,” she said. .

She added: “Just being able to walk around these kind of little grounds and see so many different species, it’s something quite reminiscent of what zoos were always like in the past and there’s something something pretty special about it.”

When asked what excited him most about the big move, Dr McCabe said: “One of the best things I think about Wild Place is that it will be a lot more like how I feel when I go to the forest in the wild to see the animals.

“So when you walk into what could be a big exhibit, but actually it looks like their natural habitat – you can see the animal, you can’t, which is exactly how I feel when I do my work in the forest.”

Reptile keeper Laura Cosgrove performs a health check on Helen, a 40-year-old giant tortoise, at Bristol Gardens Zoo (Ben Birchall/PA)

Dr McCabe said some of the animals might struggle with the change, but added: “I think ultimately it will be a much, much more enjoyable experience for them in a more natural enclosure, and that’s so really the best thing for these animals to move to this new site.

She added: “With the move to the new zoo, what’s going to be really exciting is that a lot more of our animals there – over 80% at the start and 90% later – will be linked to our work. preservation.”

Simon Garrett worked at Bristol Zoo for 32 years, having taken a summer job there in 1989, and is now head of public engagement.

He said the Bristol Zoological Society would be forced to sell the Clifton site in order to expand Wild Place, but wants to leave a lasting legacy for the town.

“We don’t just sell to a developer and run away with the money. Absolutely not,” he said.

“It’s something we work hard to make sure it’s part of our heritage that we can be proud of.”

A baby gorilla has a surrogate mother
Bristol Zoo animals are moving to the Wild Place Project in South Gloucestershire, which is 10 times larger than its current site (Jordan Jones/Bristol Zoo Gardens/PA)

Under plans currently under consideration, the site would retain its botanical gardens and these would be open to the public free of charge every day.

It would retain famous structures such as the Monkey Temple, while the entrance buildings would be transformed into the ‘Clifton Conservation Hub’, hosting the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project.

The children’s playground and theater building would also remain open as a community space for workshops and events.

The rest of the site would be dedicated to environmentally friendly housing with energy efficiency built into the design.

– Bristol Zoo Gardens will open to the public for the last time from 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. on Saturday September 3.

. staff zoo Bristol bid farewell site Clifton

. Bristol Zoo staff bid farewell Clifton site

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