|Bristol Zoo Gardens is permanently closed to the public as of 4 September 2022, but a new Bristol Zoo is under development|
At 186 years old, Bristol Zoo Gardens was the fifth oldest zoo in the world and the oldest outside of any capital city. It opened its gates to the public for the first time on 11 July 1836. The decision to close the Zoo was announced in November 2020 and will help the Society to focus on their mission of Saving Wildlife Together, and create a new Bristol Zoo at their Wild Place Project site. More information available here.
A historic narrative on Bristol Zoo Gardens is to be added.
Bristol Zoo opened its gates to the public in July 1836, which makes it one of the oldest zoos of Britain, and of the world. But unlike other ‘ancient’ zoos it does not have to take care of many listed buildings. Therefore, the Zoo could modernise according new ideas on enclosure design without too many barriers other than money of course.
It is a small city Zoo, which has limited space at its disposal. The ever so inevitable flamingos are kept in a pond just opposite the entrance. With on the right the enclosure for variegated or brown spider monkeys (Ateles hybridus). These new world monkeys are provided with an outdoor enclosure with wire mesh fences and rooftop, while glass window panes on public level enhance viewing experience and prevent physical contact. The animals are fairly exposed to the public in this enclosure unless they go inside of course. Lots of climbing enrichment with ropes and tree trunks. The grounds are multilevel with some rocks.
Then turning left you can walk along a wide and straight lane, the Top Terrace, which provide the nostalgic feel of the old days when the upper (middle) class came to the Zoo to see and be seen. Although Bristol Zoo is small in size, the way they designed the place with big lawns right from the Top Terrace and lakes in the centre of the garden gives it a nice spacious feel.
When you keep left you arrive at the Asian lions enclosure. The four lions — male, female and two cubs born Christmas Eve 2010 — occupy two adjacent and connected exhibits with various bedding materials (grass, rocks, wood chip, soil and sand), trees and shrubs. The enclosure of 50 by 20 meters is further enriched with a small waterfall, and several high level resting platforms, while it allows the lions to hide from the public easily. New enrichment features can be introduced in one of the exhibits without disturbing the environment of the adjacent exhibit. Hooks and chains on pulleys are available to hang meat or herbs in a sack. The public is separated from the animals by old-fashioned fences and viewing windows. When compared to other, more modern and larger, zoological gardens this lion enclosure doesn’t seem to meet state-of-the-art requirements, e.g. space, although the Zoo invests in many enrichment features. Nevertheless, the track record regarding breeding results is good which indicates there is normal reproduction behaviour. Although keeping lions (or tigers) in such a small zoo seems not appropriate — I have seen tigers roam around on 3 hectares in ‘Le Parc des Félins’, France — lions are a major public attraction. And more public means more money, and more opportunities for conservation efforts.
Nextdoor, built against Twilight World the kea aviary houses this beautiful and charismatic, but endangered mountain-dwelling parrot from New Zealand. Kea (Nestor notabilis) are famous for being playful and intelligent but notorious for their destructive behaviour. They destroy windscreen wipers and door rubbers of cars, and raide picnic tables for instance. Though the interior partly resembles its original habitat of the New Zealand alps, the aviary lacks a car for the bird to tear apart.
Twilight World, the former Ape House, is situated next to the lion enclosure along the outer edge of the garden. It comprises nocturnal species from different continents, such as the aye aye, grey mouse lemur and the giant jumping rat from Madagascar, the Linné’s two-toed sloth and grey-legged douroucouli from South America, and surprisingly the sand cat which can be found through the deserts of northern Africa and southwest and central Asia. As the sand cat is the only felid found primarily in true desert, it enjoys the winter sun during the day, and to avoid the high temperatures during the hot season it becomes crepuscular and nocturnal again. In fact, in many zoos around the world cats are not kept in nocturnal houses, but in regular exhibits. For instance during my 2011 tour along zoos in South England I found the sand cats at Marwell Wildlife and Rare Species Conservation Centre (unfortunately closed since 2012) kept in regular daylight exhibits. Nocturnal houses are not my favourite, because I never manage to adapt to the darkness and see much of the animals and exhibits. In Twilight World they use spot lights to illuminate the information panels, which is a good idea from educational point of view. Unfortunately, about 20% of these spot lights were broken.
Bristol Zoo is engaged with several other zoos worldwide — Taronga Zoo, Melbourne Zoo and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo to name a few — in an ambitious project. They have taken on the challenge to save amphibians from global extinction (see ). The AmphiPod, an elongated self contained detachable unit, opened on 3 June 2010. This high-tech facility allows Bristol Zoo to create the perfect conditions to breed two of the world’s most endangered frog species — lemur leaf frogs (Hylomantis lemur) and golden mantella frogs (Mantella aurantiaca). Both species are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. During the first year the golden mantella frogs produced more than 500 offspring, and over 300 of them are now kept in other zoos and organisations in the UK. The lemur leaf frogs are much trickier to breed and have produced 56 offspring in AmphiPod’s first year of existence.
In addition the Zoo tries to save another small and less notable species, the Partula faba snail — a tree snail from South Pacific islands — which is extinct in the wild (Raiatea in French Polynesia). These can be found in Bug World, which is situated on the upper level of the building that also houses the Coral Café downstairs.
The terrace in front of the Coral Café has a large canopy which was very convenient during the rain shower at noon. It was a busy day at the Zoo, so a large crowd sought shelter under the canopy and in the Café. It didn’t quite fit.
From the Coral Café it is a few steps to enter Monkey World. The indoor enclosures of the black howler monkey, lion-tailed macaque and De Brazza’s monkey have similar features with painted green concrete walls and wood chip bedding, but not much climbing enrichment. The howler monkeys share the exhibit with yellow armadillo. All monkeys have access to excellent outdoor facilities with tree trunks, long grass, shrubs, rough vegetation and rocks. But the animals are all very exposed to the public, indoors as well as outdoors. The De Brazza’s monkeys are privileged, because they have the choice of mixing with the gorillas on Gorilla Island. This resembles the natural situation, as both species are found in the same rainforest habitat in West Africa.
The six western lowland gorillas, the other major public attraction besides the lions, have indoor enclosures at their disposal with concrete floors and walls, and a bit of saw dust on the floor. The enrichment consists of reinforced iron and ropes on different levels. The silverback is born in 1983. He sired some babies, but the last one born at Bristol Zoo was in December 2006. Their outdoor enclosure — Gorilla Island — is, as you may expect, surrounded by a moat filled with water and additional electrical wire to keep the gorillas on the island. The island itself is partly overgrown with shrubs, trees, grass and herbs where the gorillas can wander around and look for tasty leaves and branches. A wooden scaffolding with many ropes provide additional climbing enrichment.
Close to the gorillas the only three larger ungulates can be found: the okapi, the pygmy hippo and the Brazil tapir. This has not always been the case. In former days elephants and giraffes were part of the animal collection, but wisely the decision has been made to move those extremely large animals elsewhere and settle for other smaller species. Species that, considering the available space at Bristol Zoo and new standards for enclosure design, are more suitable to provide fit-for-purpose exhibits. So, the old elephant and giraffe house has been turned into a gorilla and okapi house. The three okapi have their own separate small meadow outside, while inside (the former giraffe enclosure) the walls have cushions and a jungle painted on them.
The neighbouring pygmy hippos are better off I would say. Their indoors is more or less just a pool with a low ceiling and vegetation which gives it a nice touch. Outside, the hippos have got a pool as well, although small, in addition to a large area to roam around.
The lemur walk-through, which is situated behind Monkey Jungle, offers close encounters with ring-tailed lemurs and mongoose lemurs (Eulemur mongoz). I only spotted two specimens of the latter species (mother and son), which is one of only two species of lemur found on the islands surrounding Madagascar. The exhibit is nice, perhaps a bit small, with rocks, trees (including palm trees!), and much foliage.
And then I was in for a big surprise a few steps away from the lemurs, the Seal & Penguin Coasts exhibit. As conservation of genetic diversity is — and should be — one of the main goals of zoos, I am not in favour of keeping species that are not endangered. Therefore, most seals including the species at Bristol Zoo — the South American fur seal — do not require to be kept in a zoo and will be better off in the wild. Most of the seal species that are not endangered and listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ show an increasing population size as a trend, by the way. But I have to admit, seals are fun to watch. Moreover, the Zoo created a very interesting exhibit with a marine habitat and two different enclosures. The walk-through aviary with African penguins, Inca tern and common eider duck, has nice features with its large pond and rock piles. Most appealing is the size of the enclosure, because this allows the Inca tern to fly around. From the elevated boardwalk the visitor has excellent view at the animals. Continuing the visit in the adjacent fur seal enclosure, where until 1992 polar bears were kept, is a great experience. The diversity of what is offered to the seals and the visitor is appealing. There’s a device that generates artificial waves, and together with the rocks, sea weed and tunnel for underwater viewing the marine ‘feel’ is complete (see ). The tunnel is also a nice way to shelter from the rain.
The several monkey islands in the lake harbour primate species from different continents: agile gibbons, squirrel monkeys, saki monkeys and red ruffed lemurs. The islands, though small, are a good example of the modern way zoos have these primates on display. The lush vegetation resembles the jungle and the enrichment to support climbing looks sufficient. The Lac Alaotra gentle lemur (Hapalemur griseus alaotrensis) of Bristol Zoo take part in the EEP (European Endangered species Programme) and is one of the most endangered species of lemur in their native habitat, Madagascar. Both their indoor and outdoor enclosure are accessible for observation and outside it is crammed with vegetation and looks great. But strangely, the exhibits are a bit tucked away behind the enclosure for the North American river otter.
As you may expect in this small zoo the majority of the animal collection consists of small species. The collection is grouped according habitat similarities in different geographical locations, except Zona Brazil where several species from just the Brazil region can be found. Of the two major public attraction, the Asian lions and the gorillas, the lions deserve a larger enclosure in my humble opinion. All in all, it is easy to enjoy the visit to Bristol Zoo, where much information is provided about their conservation efforts, ex-situ as well as in-situ. And I suppose that the children’s entertainment and play areas are serving their purpose, including the Activity Centre (for face painting and much more), Explorers’s Creek, ZooRopia and the lorikeet feeding in the walk-through aviary in the centre of the Zoo.
Finally, it is noteworthy to mention that Bristol Zoo’s (endangered) primates collection is impressive.
The South American fur seal enclosure at Bristol Zoo provides excellent viewing; especially when it is raining outside:
Global amphibian extinction crisis and ex-situ conservation
The current extinction crisis is mainly due to climate change and man’s destruction of amphibians’ natural habitats, but amphibians across the globe now also face an even bigger and deadlier threat — a fungal disease called ‘amphibian Chytrid’.
This killer fungus is steadily spreading over the world. One third to one half of all amphibian species are currently threatened with extinction, with more than 160 species thought to have been lost in recent years. The threat is so serious that the World Conservation Union (IUCN) has said that the only hope for many species is to hold them in captivity until the disease can be tackled in the wild.
As a result, priority amphibian species are being taken into dedicated facilities at zoos, aquariums, and other institutions around the world for safekeeping and breeding. Until a solution is found to stop the fungus continuing to spread in the wild, the safekeeping and captive management of threatened amphibians is the only way to ensure their long-term survival.
(Source: website Bristol Zoo)
Bristol Zoological Society helps release new guidance to predict penguin rehabilitation success
A first-of-its-kind model, which provides guidance on the survival likelihood of abandoned penguin chicks in southern Africa, has been developed by researchers from Bristol Zoological Society, the Universities of Bristol, Exeter and Cape Town and The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).
Large numbers of abandoned African penguin chicks are hand-reared each year by SANCCOB before being released back into the wild as part of the African penguin ‘chick bolstering project’. Hand-rearing chicks that are unlikely to survive naturally has the potential to significantly contribute to the conservation of threatened bird species, such as the African penguin.
Bristol Zoological Society has been working with SANCCOB since 2006 to hand-rear abandoned chicks and offer rehabilitation to chicks that have been oiled.
The new study, published on 15 February 2017 in the journal Animal Conservation, shows that analysing the chicks’ body condition index, other structural measurements and its sex can help predict individual rehabilitation outcome and guide colony managers on when best to remove chicks for hand-rearing.
Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Bristol Zoological Society’s director of conservation, said: “We have known for a number of years that hand-rearing and releasing abandoned penguin chicks can be a very important contribution to the conservation of this species. However, it has always been difficult to decide when to classify a chick as ‘abandoned’ and when best to remove the abandoned chicks from a colony, so as to give them the best chances of survival. This study helps us enormously, as it provides quantitative guidance for colony managers to figure out the ideal point of time for chick removal.”
Joanne Morten, lead author, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, and Bristol Zoological Society, UK »
Chick abandonment is often seen if the adults start to moult before their chick fledges, meaning the adults are not waterproof anymore and are unable to feed their young. Scarcity of prey leads to slow growth rates and can result in chicks not fledging in time. Often it is the case that abandoned chicks do not survive without intervention.
Globally the use of rehabilitation for conservation is growing, with many research papers monitoring the success of individuals post-release.
The ‘chick bolstering project’, which came up with this new model, is an important conservation action for these endangered birds, as it aims to bolster the African penguin population while methods to establish new colonies near sites of high prey abundance are developed.
Decisions of whether to and when to remove animals from the wild rarely use quantitative criteria. Where such criteria are assessed, there have been few studies to investigate their efficacy to predict rehabilitation outcomes. Lead author of this study, Joanne Morten from the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences said: “Using data from over 1,400 chicks rescued over six breeding seasons, we identified clear body condition thresholds that colony managers can use to prioritise the removal of chicks. These thresholds also allow the rehabilitators to rapidly identify individuals in need of critical attention.”
African penguin colony managers are currently using the body condition index to guide removal. This study demonstrates its effectiveness, with only 2.3 percent of chicks admitted with a body condition index so low that there was a less than 50 percent chance of survival.
Morten added: “The body condition thresholds identified in this study can be used to guide future management strategies, and can be rapidly incorporated. The body condition index uses mass and bill length, two measurements that are easy and quick, minimising handling stress. This is an extremely useful guide which, when used in conjunction with nest monitoring, can effectively identify chicks that have been abandoned. This tool could be useful, not just to the endangered African penguin, but other species where chicks can be successfully hand-reared.”
(Source: Bristol Zoo Gardens news, 17.02.2017)
Directions to Bristol Zoo Gardens
Zoo guests are encouraged to use public transport when coming to the Zoo. There are lots of different public transport options and there are also several offers and promotions when using sustainable transport.
There’s a local train service to Clifton Down Station (a ten-minute walk to the Zoo). Or, from Bristol Temple Meads Station, take the 8 or 9 bus service to the Zoo’s main entrance. More information on train tickets and offers here.
The 8 and 9 bus services run between Temple Meads Station, the city centre and the Zoo. More details on bus services in Bristol here. City Sightseeing, run an open-top bus service which tours the city and pass the Zoo. They normally run every 90 minutes, which increases to every 30 minutes during school summer holidays and at weekends.
The 505 and 901 bus stop at the Zoo as well, while they also provide easy Park and Ride service.
The 901 bus provides an easy Park and Ride service between Portway Park & Ride site, Shirehampton and Clifton, serving Bristol Zoo, Clifton Village and Clifton Down Station. More information here.
The 505 bus provides Park and Ride service from Long Ashton Park and Ride seven days a week. Busses run from 06:05 until 17:05. Click here for more information.
If you’re planning to travel by bicycle, the Zoo has plenty of cycle racks available. As part of Bristol Zoo’s vision ‘a sustainable future for wildlife and people’, cyclists receive a 20% discount off their ticket price when present proof of cycling (e.g. a helmet). More information on cycling and route planning can be found at Better-by-Bike and Sustrans.
At junction 18 of the M5, exit toward A4/A403/Bristol/Avonmouth/Docks.
At the roundabout, take the 2nd exit onto Portway/A4 heading to City Centre/Bristol/A38.
Sharp left onto Portway/A4176 (Bridge Valley Road)
Continue to follow A4176.
Bristol Zoo is located on your right hand side at the top of Bridge Valley Road.
Leave the M5 at J17.
Head onto the A4018 following signs to the city centre/Westbury on Trym. (Cribbs causeway Road).
Follow this road to the next roundabout and bear left onto Wyck Beck Road.
Stay on this road until the next roundabout, head straight over onto Passage Road.
Stay on Passage Road and it merges into Falcondale Road.
Stay on Falcondale road and it merges into Westbury Road, stay on Westbury Road, stay in the right hand lane and follow the signs to the zoo, (Stoke Road temporarily) then the A4176 (Upper Belgrave Road) which merges into the Clifton Down Road.
The Zoo car parking is on the left hand side of the road.
If you are using a SatNav, use BS8 3HA as your destination or click here to use the AA route planner.
The North car park on Clifton Down is open every day the Zoo is open. The West car park on College Road is open during peak periods and an overflow car park operates on the Downs during the high season (subject to weather and availability). Parking at the zoo is limited; we advise arriving early during peak periods to avoid disappointment.
Download the zoo map here.