Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Bristol Zoo Gardens appeals for your memories
Bristol Zoo Gardens is this week launching a project to capture peoples’ memories of the Zoo from years gone by.
The appeal is being led by the Zoo’s learning department, ahead of the Zoo’s 175th anniversary in 2011. The aim is to create an oral history archive to preserve peoples’ memories of the Zoo for future generations.
Bristol Zoo is the fifth oldest Zoo in the world and first opened its doors to the public in 1836. Since then it has been home to thousands of animals of all shapes and sizes.
In the early days, the Zoo’s animal collection was boosted by gifts including a lioness from Queen Victoria, and the Maharajah of Mysore sent over Zebi – the largest Asian elephant in captivity, who has since made it into the Guinness Book of Animal Records.
The Zoo also found international fame in 1934 when Adam, the first chimpanzee to be conceived and born in captivity in Europe, was born. Many people have particularly fond memories of the Zoo’s more recent inhabitants, such as the Asian elephants, Rosie and Wendy.
Another well known character was Alfred the gorilla, who arrived at the Zoo in September 1930 and died in March 1948. Alfred was, at the time, the only gorilla in captivity in the country and was a very popular Bristol citizen. Now his body stands in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery.
Simon Garrett, Head of Learning, said: “Bristol Zoo is such an integral part of the city’s past that we do not want to lose vital information and memories. There are already countless stories and events from the early days of the Zoo that have been lost for ever, and we want to preserve as much of the Zoo’s magic as possible for the future. Looking to the past is also a vital tool in determining how we can make the Zoo better for the future.
“Now we are trying to capture people’s memories and experiences to give future generations the chance to have a glimpse of Bristol Zoo from years gone by, and let everyone know how important the Zoo is for Bristolians past, present and future.”
The Zoo has set up a dedicated email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) where anyone can send in their memories, photos or any other archival material. Alternatively, you can write to the Zoo by post.
Don Packham worked at the Zoo for 50 years, first as a penguin keeper and later as head keeper from 1977 to 1998. He was at the Zoo when it opened the world’s first nocturnal house in 1953.
Now retired and living in Portishead, Don has plenty of colourful memories of his time at the Zoo. He said: “I started work in 1948, on the same day as the very first penguins arrived at the Zoo. One of my fondest memories is the hatching of the very first king penguin, as well as breeding the first okapi, which was of huge significance and a great achievement.
“Another lasting memory was when 35 rhesus monkeys escaped (in the 1960s?) after someone snuck into the Zoo one night and put a ladder up again the wall of their enclosure. It took me three weeks to recapture them from all over Clifton – we got them all back eventually though.”
Mr Packham added: “The biggest change I saw over the years was the reduction in the number of large mammals at the Zoo, after having been in charge of bears, elephants, giraffes, zebras and various primate species, a reflection of the ever-changing and improving standards of husbandry and animal welfare, and the Zoo’s subsequent move towards conservation.”
In more recent years, the Zoo has developed its educational and scientific roles, including the opening of a new Conservation Education Centre in 1999. Full-time education, science and research officers are now employed and great emphasis is placed on activities which help both to inform our visitors and conserve wildlife.
John Partridge is the current Senior Curator of Animals and has been at the Zoo for 35 years. He said: “The Zoo has seen a lot of changes over the years, particularly in creating new immersion-style animal exhibits and developing its educational and scientific roles, with greater emphasis on conserving wildlife in their natural habitats.”
He added: “I’ve had the pleasure of working with some the Zoo’s most well known and loved animals over the years, such as the gorillas Samson and Delilah who produced the first baby gorilla to be successfully reared in the UK and Wendy the elephant. I’ve also helped to plan and develop some big changes at the Zoo, such as the opening of the current nocturnal house – Twilight World – in 1996, and, in 1999, Seal and Penguin Coasts. Change never stops and I am currently involved in developing plans for the Zoo’s future.”
Bristol Zoo has also played a vital role in breeding numerous threatened species including gorillas, Asiatic lions, aye ayes and, in 1999, the UK’s first successful breeding of critically-endangered Livingstone's fruit bats. Zoo staff have also successfully bred and reintroduced two of the UK’s native species - the Barberry carpet moth and the water vole.
To email you memories about the Zoo, email email@example.com or write to Simon Garrett, the learning department, Bristol Zoo Gardens, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 3HA.
For information about Bristol Zoo Gardens, please visit the website at www.bristolzoo.org.uk