Select a Zoo




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. biggrin

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 More info). 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.

Lion-tailed macaquesFrom 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.

Gorilla islandThe 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.

Pygmy hippo indoorsThe 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. Seals penguincoasts aviaryMost 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 Video). 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.

At var­i­ous loca­tions aviaries can be found with species that take part in EEPs (see More info). And there is the odd cassowary.

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.

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.


about zoos and their mis­sion regard­ing breed­ing endan­gered species, nature con­ser­va­tion, bio­di­ver­sity and edu­ca­tion, which of course relates to the evo­lu­tion of species.
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