Queues were seen “like never before” outside Bristol Zoo as the 186-year-old institution opened its doors for the last time today.
The world’s oldest provincial zoo has been forced to close due to the impact of the pandemic and lockdowns.
Bristol Zoo Gardens, which have been open on the edge of Clifton Downs for 186 years, are being converted into sustainable homes with the Bristol Zoological Society saying their “hands have been forced”.
The Society said: “Bristol Zoo Gardens has faced various challenges for many years. Namely declining attendance, the financial impact of Coronavirus Pandemic and the challenges of meeting the changing needs of animals.”
The zoo, which opened its doors in Clifton in 1836, is the fifth oldest in the world and still contains many of its original Victorian buildings, including its Doom House, the old Giraffe House and its Monkey Temple.
It was also home to the popular TV show Animal Magic, which ran from 1962 to 1983. Host Johnny Morris played a zoo keeper and spoke to animals and mimicked their responses.
Since it opened to the public almost 200 years ago, more than 90 million people have passed through its doors, and more than 175 species have been saved from extinction through their world-class breeding programs.
As social media users flocked to share their memories of Bristol Zoo, one man said: “Happy and sad to bring the family to @BristolZooGdns for their final day at the Clifton website. Never seen a snake like this – all the way back to the parking lot! I’ve been coming here since I was a boy and I’m glad to have the opportunity to bring my little ones here one last time.
Queues were seen “like never before” outside Bristol Zoo as the 186-year-old institution opened its doors for the last time today
People were reportedly queuing outside the parking lot for one last chance to see the historic zoo
The zoo was forced to close due to financial pressures from the Covid-19 pandemic
Another man shared his experience of getting his first job aged 16 as a scourer at Bristol Zoo, only for his wife to go into labor there with their first child nearly 30 years later.
The zoo was home to the popular Animal TV show, where presenter Johnny Morris (pictured) played a zoo keeper
The animals are now being taken to the company’s sister site in South Gloucestershire. It has owned the Wild Place project site just off junction 17 of the M5 since the 1960s, but for many years had only used it for breeding and quarantine purposes and was not open to visitors.
In June, the society submitted a planning application to redevelop the Clifton site, opening the gardens to the public free of charge for the first time in their history.
Around 200 apartments would be built on the site, mainly in areas where there are already built structures. And much of the gardens remain unchanged, although a new playground is being created.
A new café and exhibition space will be created in the entrance building of the zoo, where educational and community events will take place.
People flocked to social media to share their happiest and funniest memories of Bristol Zoo, including a man’s wife who went into labor nearly 30 years after he was employed as a scourer on the site
Space will also be reserved in the existing Terrace Theater building for community events, and features such as the Monkey Temple and former Bear Pit will also be retained.
And a new zoo is being built and expected to open on the M5 north of Bristol in 2024, using proceeds from sales.
According to the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquarium, 24 zoos were at risk of closure due to the third nationwide lockdown.
However, the sector has recovered and visitor numbers are now returning to pre-pandemic levels.
The zoo is steeped in history that between 1930 and 1948 it was home to Alfred the gorilla, who was the only captive gorilla in the country at the time.
The Bristol Zoological Society said its “hands have been forced” due to the pandemic and national lockdowns
The zoo on the edge of Clifton Downs has been open for 186 years (pictured)
More than 90 million people have visited the zoo since it opened. Pictured: Visitors flock to Bristol Zoo on its last day
He now stands as a stuffed statue in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery.
Bristolians may also remember the days of the elephants, Wendy and Christina, who were known for being taken for walks down the famous Whiteladies Road in the 1960s. Roger, a rare black rhino, was also the first of its kind to be born in Britain in 1958.
Jo Judge of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums said education and conservation is at the heart of zoos and their work.
She said: “A modern zoo must be a conservation organization first and foremost.
“Modern zoos do a tremendous amount of work, both in terms of conservation and research, that could not be done with animals in the wild.”