For 186 years, visitors flocked to the gardens of Bristol Zoo and marveled at the sights and sounds of the animals that lived there, including Alfred the gorilla, Roger the rhino and Zebi the Asian elephant, the latter. famous for taking off and eating straw hats in Victorian times.
On Saturday afternoon, the final guests will be taken out for the last time from Clifton’s 12-acre site and the complicated process of closing the fifth oldest zoo in the world will begin.
Some of the animals will be moved by the Bristol Zoological Society to a much larger out-of-town site five miles away, others shipped to zoos around the world. The land will then be developed for housing and the roar of lions and the chatter of gibbons will no longer be heard.
“I’m devastated, actually,” said John Partridge, 68, a retired keeper who has worked at the zoo for 45 years. “It is a beautiful site. Everyone loves it ”. He started as a monkey keeper in 1975 and recalled that orangutans were taken for walks around the terrace. “That was when their new house was being built and there was a bit of a space problem.”
Partridge lives near the zoo and loves lying in bed listening to the lions. “People will miss this, I think. She was an integral part of Clifton.
Visitors came in the thousands this week to say fond farewells. A woman was in tears as she explained how she carried her baby. She is now a six foot and she will start college this fall. One man said he came to remember his father, who brought him here as a boy. “I feel it here when I come,” he said.
Simon Garrett, the engagement boss, who worked at the zoo for 32 years, was supposed to keep a Madagascar hissing cockroach warm under his fleece while he waited for an appearance on a local radio show.
“Families have been visiting for generations,” he said. “This is an important part of the city. It’s not just about the animals, but the memories people have of spending time with loved ones here. People remember riding Rosie [another elephant] but they also remember the details: that day when a family member received something that was thrown at him by an animal, or that time someone dropped an ice cream on his front ”.
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 lovely snake, very twisted, very long. I was only bitten once.
Her colleague Ceri Addis, 80, said she enjoyed working with spiders. “I loved the tarantulas,” she said. “I’m sad but you can’t wait. Animals will have better accommodation, better facilities. “
Some creatures, such as gorillas and red pandas, will remain at Bristol Zoo Gardens until their enclosures are built on the out-of-town Wild Place Project site. But many other species, including African penguins, seals, giant tortoises, and fruit bats are not brought along.
Nigel Simpson, head of the animals, promised that a home would be found for everyone. The move can be difficult. The zoo recently brought a pygmy hippo to the United States and a Gila monster, a venomous lizard, to Switzerland. “Every move is different, everyone has his own challenge,” he said. “But we will find a home for all of them.” He accepted that animals like gorillas might find it odd when the crowd vanished for the last time. “But they got used to it during Covid”.
Finances are a big reason changes are underway. The company has made losses, and the sale of the site, built on top-notch building land, will help. While it won’t please those who believe animals like gorillas shouldn’t be kept in captivity, the director of conservation and science Brian Zimmerman said the larger site would be much better for animal welfare. “Today you wouldn’t choose to build a small zoo in the middle of Clifton,” he said.
Zimmerman said the biodiversity crisis meant the 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.
On Gorilla Island, Shane Wainfur, 50, of Newport, South Wales, was watching the 39-year-old Silverback Jock. “I’ve been coming here since I was five. I feel like I have a connection with Jock. It is a sad day ».