Historic 186-Year-Old Zoo Shuts After Visitor Numbers Dwindle

One of the world's oldest zoos has closed its doors for the final time—after 186 years.

More than 90 million people have visited Bristol Zoo Gardens at its site in Clifton, in the U.K., since it opened in 1836. Staff had geared up to welcome its final visitors as the impact of COVID-19 and lockdowns have taken too much of a toll.

It is the fifth oldest zoo in the world and has housed famous residents such as Roger, the first black rhino born in the U.K., and Alfred the gorilla. Bristol Zoological Society, the charity which owned and operated the zoo, says they were "forced" to sell due to plunging visitor numbers caused by the pandemic.

Afia
Afia, a six-month-old gorilla at Bristol Zoo plays with her keeper Joanne Rudd in an undated photo. Bristol Zoo Gardens, the world's oldest provincial zoo, in Clifton, in the U.K., is shutting its doors for the final time this weekend, after 186 years. SWNS/ Zenger/Jon Mills

The charity is set to create a new attraction at its Wild Place Project site, just off Junction 17 of the M5 Highway, using the proceeds of the sale. The new zoo is expected to open in 2024 and the old gardens will be turned into sustainable homes.

In respect of the closing, Simon Garrett, head of public engagement, said: "These last few days will mark a moment in the city's history. Bristol Zoo Gardens has been a staple part of Bristol life for 186 years and is recognized globally.

Bristol zoo
A camel and its keeper at Bristol Zoo, Clifton, Bristol, in an undated photo. The zoo has housed famous residents such as Roger, the first black rhino born in the U.K., and Alfred the gorilla. Jon Mills/SWNS/ Zenger

"Thousands of families will have memories dating back decades. For many, the zoo has been a significant part of their life. This week marks the end of a momentous chapter. In recognition of that, we want to give as many people as possible the chance to say their goodbyes before the gates close."

Since the Clifton zoo opened in 1836, it has attracted more than 90 million people and has housed famous residents such as Roger, the first black rhino born in the U.K., and Alfred the gorilla, who lived there from 1930 to 1948.

Bristol Zoo
Aerial of Bristol Zoo, Clifton, Bristol, undated. A new zoo is expected to open in 2024 and the old gardens will be turned into sustainable homes. Jon Mills/SWNS/ Zenger

Alfred was the longest-surviving gorilla in captivity anywhere in the world at the time. Some animals, such as the gorillas and red pandas, will stay at the Clifton-based zoo until their enclosures are built at the new site.

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 organization. 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."

Produced in association with SWNS.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.