Bristol Zoo shuts its doors as tearful visitors and staff say a final goodbye

Visitors and staff were in tears as Bristol Zoo shut its doors for the last time after 186 years.

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.

Many also took pictures with a new plaque which was placed on the entrance gate and reads: “On 3 September 2022 Bristol Zoo Gardens, the world’s oldest provincial zoo, closed after 186 years. Thank you for the memories.”

The crowd shouted three cheers for staff as they took a group photo in front of the plaque.

Bristol Zoo Gardens closes for the final time
The plaque at Bristol Zoo detailing its closure (Beresford Hodge/PA)

Jade Money, 30, worked at Bristol Zoo for nine years, and the retail assistant has been on maternity leave for the last year, coming back for the last day.

She told the PA news agency: “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.

“(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.”

Bristol Zoo Gardens closes for the final time
Visitors at Bristol Zoo on its final day open to the public (Beresford Hodge/PA)

Steve Jenkins, 64, lives in Wales but grew up in Bristol and has fond memories of visiting the zoo as a child.

He told PA: “I was born and brought up in the eastern part of the city and in those days we didn’t have a car, so it was an outing to go almost anywhere in Bristol.

“There was a bus that came from near the house to outside the zoo gates and when I was quite small and had an even smaller little brother, mum would bring us out for the day.

“Of course with the gardens as well, it was a lovely day out and for a child it was rather magical.”

Bristol Zoo closes for the final time.
The final visitor leaves Bristol Zoo on its last day open to the public (Beresford Hodge/PA)

Mike Burghall, 39, an IT consultant who lives in Bristol, was with his five-year-old daughter Florence.

He said: “We’ve been quite a lot since Florence was born. We used to have membership, but we haven’t this year. We’ve had membership for most years because Florence is into animals and me and my wife are so it’s good whether we come in for the day or just pop in if we’d go shopping.”

Florence said her favourite memory is when the family would have picnics on the grass.

She said: “This is my favourite zoo I’ve been to, and when I was little I loved playing with the hippos – peekaboo – and I also loved seeing the seals and the penguins. I’m just really sad that it’s going to shut down.”

Head of public engagement Simon Garrett, 56, who has worked at the zoo for 32 years and set up its first email address, said: “I’m not planning to cry, but I’ve lost it once or twice this morning, I’ll be perfectly honest.”

He added: “It’s really mixed emotions. It’s exciting, I love seeing the zoo as it is, but then again it’s going to get to 5.30 and then I’m probably going to lose it.”

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.

Bristol Zoo closes for last time
Staff at Bristol Zoo gather for a group picture (Beresford Hodge/PA)

It has opened an hour early for the last three days due to an increased number of visitors.

The 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.