Final curtains in Clifton: Melancholy Bristol Zoo staff chant three ‘hip hip hoorays’ and pose for group photo as the world’s oldest provincial zoo closes for the very last time after 186 years

  • Bristol Zoo shut its doors for the final time today after the financial impact of the pandemic forced it to close
  • The zoo, on the edge of Clifton Downs, opened in 1836 and still boasts many of its original Victorian buildings
  • Queues were seen ‘like never before’ today and people shared happy memories of the zoo on social media 
  • Animals will be moved to the Wild Place Project in South Gloucestershire, where a new zoo will open in 2024
  • Around 200 sustainable homes to be built on the Clifton site but much of the gardens will remain unchanged 

Bristol Zoo has shut its doors for the very last time after 186 years, with visitors coming from all over the UK to be there for its final day.

A gold plaque was put up saying: ‘On 3 September 2022 Bristol Zoo Gardens, the world’s oldest provincial zoo, closed after 186 years. Thank you for the memories.’

Three ‘hip hip hoorays’ were chanted at staff as they took a group photo in front of the plaque and said goodbye to the last customers, who had lined up all the way back to the car park this morning in queues ‘like never before’. 

Bristol Zoo Gardens, on the edge of Clifton Downs, will be turned into sustainable homes after the financial pressures of the pandemic and lockdowns left its owners no choice but to close.

The Bristol Zoological Society said its ‘hands were forced’, adding: ‘For many years, Bristol Zoo Gardens has faced various challenges. Namely, declining visitor numbers, the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and the challenges of meeting the changing needs of the animals.’

The zoo, which opened its doors in Clifton in 1836, is the fifth oldest in the world and it still boasts many of its original Victorian buildings, including its gate 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. 

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 its world-class breeding programmes. 

Bristol Zoo Gardens has shut its doors for the very last time, with visitors flocking from across the UK today for one final visit

Three ‘hip hip hoorays’ were chanted at staff as they took a group photo in front of the sign which read: ‘We are now closed. Thank you for all your support over the last 186 years’

A gold plaque was put up saying: ‘On 3 September 2022 Bristol Zoo Gardens, the world’s oldest provincial zoo, closed after 186 years. Thank you for the memories.’ The zoo’s animals will now be moved to the Bristol Zoological Society’s sister site in South Gloucestershire

Queues were seen ‘like never before’ outside Bristol Zoo as the 186-year-old institution opened its doors for the final time ever today 

Visitors and staff were in tears as Bristol Zoo shut its doors for the last time. Scores of people gathered outside the entrance on Saturday to watch the last visitors walk out through the doors and to wave goodbye to the much-loved Clifton landmark. 

Jade Money, 30, worked at Bristol Zoo for nine years as a retail assistant and has been on maternity leave for the last year. She returned for the zoo’s final day.

 ‘All morning I’ve been crying, we just had to get behind (the desk) and get on with the day. I just constantly get goose pimples from it. It’s so emotional,’ she said.

‘(I’ll miss) the lions roaring every morning – when I used to come in the morning for work they used to roar. I’m going to miss that, waking us all up ready for our day. 

‘I never thought this place would shut, I thought I was going to retire here.’ 

The zoo, which has been at the site since 1836, making it the fifth oldest in the world, had customers queuing at 7.45am for when the doors opened at 9am. It has opened an hour early for the last three days due to an increased number of visitors. 

Bristol Zoo has had more than 90 million people visitors, and will be moving in 2024 to a new site at the Wild Place Project, near junction 17 of the M5 motorway. The Clifton site is 12 acres and the new one is 136 acres. 

The zoo’s animals will now be moved to the Bristol Zoological Society’s sister site in South Gloucestershire. It has owned the site of the Wild Place Project since the 1960s, but for many years had only used it for breeding and quarantine purposes and was not open to visitors. A new zoo is to be built there using the proceeds of the Clifton sale and is expected to open in 2024.

A planning application to redevelop the Clifton site was submitted by the society back in June. Under the plans, the gardens will be accessible to the public for free for the first time in its history.

Around 200 homes are to be built at the site, mainly in areas where there are already built structures. And much of the gardens will remain unchanged, although a new play area will be created. 

A new café and exhibition space will be created in the zoo entrance building, with educational and community events being held there. 

Space will also be reserved for community events in the existing Terrace Theatre building, and features such as the Monkey Temple and the former Bear Pit will also be preserved.

The Royal Family were among those who offered their condolences as the site closed its doors for the final time today, tweeting on their official account: ‘Good Luck on your move to the @wild_place! As Patron, The Earl of Wessex has made many visits to @BristolZooGdns over the years, most recently in July 2022.

‘Thank you for all your work and looking forward to seeing your conservation efforts continue at your new site.’

The zoo has been open since 1836 on the edge of Clifton Downs (pictured). Around 200 homes are to be built at the site, mainly in areas where there are already built structures

A new café and exhibition space will be created in the zoo entrance building (pictured), with educational and community events being held there

Staff posed for photos in front of the entrance as the site officially closed to visitors at 5.30pm. Bristol Zoo Gardens, on the edge of Clifton Downs, will be turned into sustainable homes after the financial pressures of the pandemic and lockdowns left its owners no choice but to close

Staff waved as one of the final visitors left this evening. A new zoo is expected to open in 2024 at the Wild Place Project, just off Junction 17 of the M5

The Mayor of Bristol Marvin Reeves also Tweeted a goodbye to Bristol Zoo Gardens, saying he had ‘fond memories’ of the Clifton site as he shared a photo of a visit he made as a child in 1974. 

Other social media users have also flocked to share their memories of Bristol Zoo, with one man saying: ‘Happy and sad to bringing the family to @BristolZooGdns for their last ever day at the Clifton site. Never seen a queue like this – all the way back to the car park! Been coming here since I was a boy and I’m glad to have the chance to bring my little ones here one last time’. 

Meanwhile, Thomas Morris, 45, who grew up in Clifton, told MailOnline about working his first ever summer job, aged, 16, as a potwash at Bristol Zoo, only for his wife to go into labour with their first child there, almost 30 years later.

Speaking about working in the Pelican Café at the zoo back in 1993, he said: ‘I actually remember I was paid £2.10 an hour to wash pots and clear up all the trays. I would get home stinking of frying fat.’

A staff member hands out stickers to a child who is among the final visitors to Bristol Zoo. People have flocked to social media to share their own memories of visits when they were younger

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 its world-class breeding programmes. Pictured: ‘Wilder’, a giant gorilla sculpture that was unveiled as part of the closing celebrations

Visitors flocked to the zoo on its final day, with many sharing their favourite memories online, including Bristol Mayor Marvin Reeves

Thomas Morris (right), 35, was washing pots at the zoo in 1993 but almost 30 years on, this April, his wife Jenny (left) went into labour there before going to hospital and giving birth to Harriet (middle)

But in April this year, almost 30 years on, Mr Morris made a return to Bristol zoo, this time taking his wife Jenny, 37, before it closed its doors for the final time.

‘It was her due date, we knew it wasn’t going to be long. She had never seen a zoo and we thought we should go before the baby was born.

‘As we were walking round, she was having contractions. We had time to walk through the zoo, but she went to the hospital that night, and gave birth in the early hours of the following morning.’

Mrs Morris gave birth to Harriet, who is just four months old, and sadly will not get to see the zoo herself. 

Other social media users also shared their happiest and funniest memories.

One user said: ‘Lovely memories for me of Bristol Zoo. I remember going with my Granny who I used to stay with in Clifton. I’m a granny myself now but live in NZ!’

While another reminisced, saying: ‘Bristol Zoo memory: visiting the aquarium at the age of 5, specifically to see Flip & Flop – our goldfish who had ‘been taken there because they were so special’. Only to discover, decades later, that my Dad’s mate Colin had accidentally tipped a bottle of whisky into their tank.’

The son of a gardener who worked at Bristol Zoo for nearly 50 years and a woman who was married at the site have also recalled ‘beautiful’ memories of their time at the zoo.

Sarah Farrell and her partner, Jon, were married in the Clifton Pavilion ‘next to the butterflies and flamingos’ at Bristol Zoo in October 2018.

‘It was somewhere we both loved to visit, we loved the atmosphere and how it held history through its beautiful buildings as well as being a zoo,’ Ms Farrell, a primary school teacher from Bristol, said.

‘My favourite memory was going to see the penguins and seals and going through the underwater walkways, which was very surreal while dressed up in wedding outfits,’ she added.

People flocked to social media to share their happiest and funniest memories of Bristol Zoo, including one man who later told MailOnline about his wife going into labour almost 30 years after he was employed as a potwash on the site

‘The animals themselves weren’t involved, unless you count the flamingos squawking from their enclosure next to the pavilion.’

She said she feels ‘gutted’ about the zoo closing. ‘It’s such a special part of Bristol and we’ll really miss visiting it and reliving those happy memories,’ Ms Farrell said.

‘We managed to go a few weeks ago with our toddler and enjoyed going around it one last time.’

Meanwhile Paul Lewis, 62, is one of three generations in his family who have worked at the zoo, including his father, Michael, who was head of indoor gardening.

‘My dad worked there for the best part of 50 years,’ Mr Lewis, a carpenter from Peasedown St John, Somerset, said.

‘I even worked there myself in the hot summer of 1976 after leaving school – dad got me a summer job in the store.

‘I had to keep all the kiosks stocked with ice cream, but it was so hot that the ice creams would melt by the time I managed to get them across the zoo on a trolley.’

Mr Lewis described the zoo as ‘a huge part’ of his life, somewhere that ‘gave us as a family secure employment for 50 years’.

The Bristol Zoological Society said their ‘hands were forced’ due to the pandemic and national lockdowns

His father got his first job at the zoo in 1945, and Mr Lewis said his grandfather was also employed there for a number of years.

‘I used to play table tennis at the zoo with dad, he had a team in the Bristol & District league – [we played] in the canteen in the evenings,’ he added.

‘We lived in a house owned by the zoo which had a large garage under, [and] the zoo used this to park three lorries and a van which they used to pick up food from Avonmouth Docks, such as the exotic fruits required to feed the wide range of animals… [Often] waking us up at five or six in the morning!’

According to the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquarium, 24 zoos were at risk of closing due to the third national lockdown. 

The sector has however recovered, with visitor levels now returning to pre-pandemic levels. 

The zoo is steeped in history, so much so, that between 1930 and 1948, it was home to Alfred the gorilla who at the time, was the only gorilla in captivity in the country. 

He now stands in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery as a taxidermy statue.

Bristolians might also remember when elephants, Wendy and Christina, who were known for being taken for walks to the famous Whiteladies Road during the 1960s. Roger, a rare black rhino, was also the first of his species ever born in the UK in 1958.

Jo Judge, of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said education and conservation were at the heart of zoos and their work. 

She said: ‘A modern zoo has to be first and foremost a conservation organisation.

‘Modern zoos do a huge amount of work both in terms of conservation and research that could not be carried out with animals in the wild.’

Swansong for the Animal Magic we adored: As the zoo that made Johnny Morris a childhood favourite closes, CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reminisces about a world of wise-cracking chimps and snooty snakes

    For a generation of TV viewers who grew up enjoying Animal Magic on BBC1, the announcement this week that Bristol Zoo is to close in September marks the poignant end to an era.

    The gardens in Clifton are where presenter Johnny Morris filmed most of his animal dialogues. This real-life Doctor Dolittle talked to the zoo’s residents and, in a delirious assortment of silly voices, made them seem to talk back to him.

    The apes were cockney, the llamas and camels crooned in an exotic patois, the big cats purred and the reptiles hissed — and it was always hilariously entertaining.

    More than that, though, Johnny’s affectionate voices taught children to see the animals not as mere exhibits, but as individuals with their own personalities.

    HEY MR KEEPER, I’M NO SCAREDY CAT: ‘Eh senor, you no come any closer. I am not adorable jaguar kitten. I am fierce wild beast, si, and I eat you for dinner snack. Grr-owwll! Andddd . . . cut. Oh really, this is too demeaning. I shouldn’t be asked to perform Amazon jungle accents, it’s actually offensive. I was born in Britain, you know. It may only be 1967 but roll on the 21st century, I say — you won’t get away with silly voices then’

    DON’T CALL ME A WOOLLY JUMPER: ‘Whaddya mean, I’m an alpaca? Never heard such nonsense. I’m a Jack Russell, I am. They call me Spot but my show name is Aloysius Alexander Anthony Absolute de Pfeffel. Admittedly I’m tall for my age, but long legs run in my family. Long legs run, geddit? I’m a terrier, honest. Look at me markings. Proper pedigree, me. Go on, Keeper, throw the ball, I’ll fetch it’

    I CALL THIS DANCE THE ORANGUTAN TANGO: ‘Now lean back, half turn and smile, darling, smile till your teeth hurt. The judges are going to love you: bend your back, snap those fingers and now we twirl! Yes, two-three-four, and hold me close. Get it right — this year I’m going to win that Glitterball or my name isn’t Anton Du Beke!’

    OI! WHO ARE YOU CALLING BIG EARS! ‘Ear, ear. No, listen. That’s no way to take an elephant for a walk. I’m not a teacup and that is not my handle. Leggo! Come on, let’s hop instead. That’s it, one foot up and bounce. This schoolboy is doing it right, Keeper. You try it, or I’ll stamp on your toes — that’ll make you hop, Keeper’

    Like millions who adored the show, I learned more about wild animals as a child by laughing at the wise-cracking chimps and snooty snakes than any textbook could teach me.

    Despite his natural and fearless rapport with all sorts of animals, Johnny had no training as a handler. Born in 1916, he managed a farm before World War II and later ran a pub in Wiltshire — where a BBC radio producer overheard him entertaining regulars with his voices.

    He made his first TV appearance in 1953 as the Chestnut Man, standing with a barrow of hot chestnuts like a street vendor and telling tall tales for children. Animal Magic, which began in 1962, was his own idea: he played the Keeper, in a peaked hat, doing his rounds at the zoo and chatting with his furry mates.

    WHAT A NOSE! WE COULD BE TWINS! ‘Arf arf, look at this, Mavis! This is my Johnny Morris impression, look at me. I’ve got his nose, haven’t I? Whacking great long hooter. And see — when I flatten me ears down like this, don’t it just look like his long hair? We’re twins! Bet he wishes he had eyelashes like mine, though’

    IT’SS JUSS-ST SS-SO SS-SSUPER TO MEET YOU: ‘Ah yes-ss! I ss-ssee you are an as-ssiduouss-ss f-f-follower of f-f-fashion. Shall I ss-sslip around your neck juss-sst ss-sso? One ss-sswift twiss-sst and I ass-ssemble myss-sself into a Windss-ssor knot. Not ss-sstrangling you, am I? Keeper, do ss-ssay ss-ssomething, pleasssse…’

    DON’T GO BREAKING MY HEART JOHNNY: ‘My mum reckons I look like Elton John before the hair transplant. I mean, I’m better looking but she’s got a point. Go on, you be Kiki Dee and we’ll do the duet. One, two, ‘Ooh ooh, nobody knows it!’ Who am I kiddin’, I can’t sing that line — I ain’t going ‘Ooh ooh’ for anyone. What do you take me for — a silly chimpanzee?’

    The outdoor sequences were shot without sound. Johnny knew the fluffy microphones on their long booms could alarm the animals, so all the voices were added back at the studio.

    After 21 years, Animal Magic fell foul of po-faced BBC apparatchiks who felt Johnny ‘anthropomorphised’ too much — that is, he made the animals seem too human. But that was, of course, the whole point!

    When he died, aged 82 in 1999, he was buried with his Keeper’s cap. But his voices live on — as they do in these glorious archive photos, with the Mail imagining the chummy chatter of his animal co-stars . . .

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