Lions And Zoos

‘It’s a sad day’: Bristol Zoo welcomes last visitors before closing | Zoological parks

FFor 186 years, visitors have flocked to Bristol Zoo Gardens and marveled at the sights and sounds of the animals that have lived there, including Alfred the gorilla, Roger the rhinoceros and Zebi the Asian elephant – the latter famous for removing and eating straw hats in Victorian times.

On Saturday afternoon, the last guests will emerge from the 12-acre site in Clifton for the last time and the delicate process of closing the world’s fifth oldest zoo will begin.

Some of the animals will be moved by the Bristol Zoological Society to a much larger site outside the city five miles away, others shipped to zoos around the world. The land will then be cleared for housing, and the roar of lions and the chatter of gibbons will no longer be heard.

“I’m devastated, to be honest,” said John Partridge, 68, a recently retired keeper who worked at the zoo for 45 years. “It is a magnificent site. Everyone likes it. He started as a great ape keeper in 1975 and remembered the orangutans roaming around the terrace. “It was during the construction of their new house and there was a little space problem.”

John Partridge, 68, who started working as a caretaker in 1975, said he was “devastated”. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

Partridge lives near the zoo and likes to lie in bed listening to the lions. “People will miss it, I think. It’s an integral part of Clifton.

Visitors have arrived in their thousands this week to bid farewell. A woman was in tears as she explained how she used to bring her baby boy. He is now six feet and is starting college this fall. A man said he came to remember his father, who brought him here as a child. “I feel it here when I come,” he said.

Simon Garrett, the engagement manager, who has worked at the zoo for 32 years, found himself keeping a Malagasy hissing cockroach warm under his fleece while waiting for him to appear on a local radio show.

“Families have been visiting for generations,” he said. “It’s a big part of the city. It’s not just about the animals, it’s about the memories people have of spending time with loved ones here. People remember rolling over Rosie [another elephant] but they also remember the details – that day when a family member had something thrown by an animal, or the time someone dropped an ice cream on his forehead.

Simon Garrett, the zoo's public engagement manager, shows a Madagascan cockroach to seven-year-old Lucy and 10-year-old Freddie.
Simon Garrett, the zoo’s public engagement manager, shows a Madagascan cockroach to seven-year-old Lucy and 10-year-old Freddie. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

Mary Rogowski, 75, who has volunteered at the zoo for 30 years, said it was the end of the era. She loved showing visitors the Fluffy Pine Snake. “It was a nice snake, very tortuous, very long. I was only bitten once.

Her colleague Ceri Addis, 80, said she enjoys working with spiders. “I loved the tarantulas,” she said. “I am sad but you are in a hurry. Animals will have better housing, better facilities.

Some creatures, such as gorillas and red pandas, will remain at Bristol Zoo Gardens until their enclosures are built on the Wild Place project site outside the city. But many other species, including African penguins, fur seals, giant tortoises and fruit bats are not taken.

Nigel Simpson, animal manager, promised that a home would be found for all. Moving can be difficult. The zoo recently transported a pygmy hippopotamus to the United States and a Gila monster – a poisonous lizard – to Switzerland. “Every move is different, everyone has their challenge,” he said. “But we will find a home for all of them.” He accepted that animals such as gorillas might find it strange when the crowds disappear for the last time. “But they got used to that during Covid.”

Bristol Zoo Gardens Gorillas
The gorillas will remain at Bristol Zoo Gardens until enclosures are built on the site outside the city. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

Finances are a big reason the changes are afoot. The company has suffered losses and selling the site – built on prime development land – will help. While that won’t satisfy those who think animals such as gorillas shouldn’t be kept in captivity, conservation and science director Brian Zimmerman said the larger site would be much better for the good. – to be animals. “You wouldn’t choose to build a little zoo in the middle of Clifton today,” he said.

Zimmerman argued that the biodiversity crisis meant there was a need for zoos as a safety net. The new out-of-town site will link 80% of species to conservation programs around the world – a higher share than any other UK zoo.

At Gorilla Island, Shane Wainfur, 50, from Newport, South Wales, watched 39-year-old silverback Jock. “I’ve been coming here since I was five. I feel like I have a connection with Jock. It’s a sad day.