Thursday, January 20, 2011

Treasures unveiled from Bristol Zoo’s archives

As Bristol Zoo Gardens’ 175th birthday year gets underway, the Zoo has unveiled a collection of treasures from its archives.

Many of the photographs, film footage, signage and records in the Zoo’s archive room have been in storage, unseen for decades – much of it is unlikely to have ever been seen by the public before.

Researchers found the items after searching through thousands of archive documents to find material for a new book about the history of Bristol Zoo, which goes on sale in March to commemorate its 175th birthday.

Bristol Zoo Keepers
Photo credit: Bristol Zoo Gardens

Bristol Zoo is the fifth oldest Zoo in the world, first opening its doors to the public in 1836. Since then it has welcomed six generations of visitors, helped save over 175 species from extinction through captive breeding, established over 30 field conservation and research programmes all over the world, showed 40 million school aged children the value of nature and have given more than 90 million visitors a great day out.

Of course the Zoo has also been home to tens of thousands of animals over the years. Among its most well known were Zebi the Asian elephant, who arrived in 1868 and became renowned for removing and eating straw hats; Rajah, who replaced Zebi, gave rides to children for many years. Rosie the elephant was also very popular, and many local people have fond memories of rides on Rosie during the 1940s and 50s.

Roger, a rare black rhino, was the first black rhino ever born in the UK, in 1958; and the Zoo’s more recent elephants, Wendy and Christina, were known for being taken for walks to Whiteladies Road during the 1960s.

Arguably Bristol Zoo’s most famous resident was Alfred the gorilla, who lived at the Zoo from 1930 to 1948. He 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.

Alfred the Gorilla
Photo credit: Bristol Zoo Gardens

As well as being a successful visitor attraction, Bristol Zoo now focuses on breeding endangered species, developing its educational and scientific roles and working to protect wildlife in their natural habitats.

This year Bristol Zoo will be celebrating its 175th birthday with a host of events and activities. A new meerkat exhibit will be unveiled next month, and April sees the opening of a Walk of Fame at the Zoo, celebrating Bristol’s icons from the past and the present.

The highlight of the anniversary year will see the Zoo place dozens of colourful, life-size, gorilla sculptures around Bristol in a public art exhibition over the summer. The gorillas are available to sponsor by local organisations, and at the end of the year the gorillas will be auctioned off to raise money for charity.

This summer BBC Bristol will be showing a 30 minute programme looking at 175 years of Bristol Zoo, on BBC 1. Anyone with old film footage, memorabilia or photos of Bristol Zoo is being urged to get in touch with the Zoo.

To see a clip of historical film footage from Bristol Zoo’s archives, and an interview with our current Senior Curator of Animals, John Partridge, visit the zoo website at:

If you can tell us anything more about this footage, or if you have any film of you own, you can email the Zoo on  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  or phone 0117 973 7300.

Photo credit: Bristol Zoo Gardens

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