The zoo in Bristol has gone through a number of names in its distinguished history (first opening in 1836) and is currently the ‘Bristol Zoo Gardens’ though for a long time it was the last surviving ‘zoological and botanical gardens’ in the UK, and quite possibly the world. In fact thanks to its age it has a long-standing minor disagreement over its position as the ‘oldest’ modern zoo since while London Zoo first opened its doors in 1828 it was not until 1847 that it opened them to the general public and not just the member of the Royal Zoological Society and thus either predates Bristol by 8 years, or is 11 years younger.
In any case, both are important historical collections that have survived and even thrived in the modern era. Bristol Zoo is small and self contained close to the city centre but nevertheless manages to cram in a great deal and uses the limited space very well. Like London, they have moved away from large animals (elephants, rhino, giraffe etc.) so that despite the small size of the zoo, the enclosures themselves are roomy. Despite its age Bristol is one of the most modern zoos in Europe with almost every major building being either new or recently renovated and the collections as a result are very nice.
In keeping with its traditions of botanical as well as zoological collections, the animals are housed in a series of enclosures that run around the edge of the zoo leaving a very large open lawn in the centre. Many trees and plants are labelled and important historical plants are protected, even when integrated with animal enclosures.
The zoo contains all that one might expect from a modern city zoo – an aquarium, reptile house, invertebrate collection and aviaries as well as numerous mammals. The zoo has always been forward thinking leading to such innovations as a walk through ‘aviary’ for fruitbats, and a similar open-plan enclosure for lemurs. Of special merit is the marine section of a large aviary containing numerous Antarctic seabirds and penguins which is joined to a section of sealions. The visitors can walk through the whole set up and then double back underneath with various windows and underwater tunnels to revisit the enclosures again from a new angle.
For those who like their zoos modern but with history and small but rich then this is a perfect day out and indeed was recently enjoyed by a big group of SVP-ers after the meeting.
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