I will miss the sound of the gibbons! The occasional roar of the lion is now a thing of the past as well. We live within earshot of the animals at Bristol Zoo and now, after one hundred and eighty-six years, the animal sounds have been silenced. Bristol Zoo, or officially, Bristol Zoo Gardens, has now closed in Clifton. Worry not! The animals at the former Zoo have all been found excellent homes throughout this country and in Europe.
Some of the animals have not had to go far to their new home. The Bristol, Clifton and West of England Zoological Society, the charity responsible for Bristol Zoo, has developed a new type of home for many of them on the outskirts of Bristol. Wild Place is a modern zoo with much more space for the animals; one hundred and thirty-six acres as opposed to the twelve acres when they were housed in the centre of town. The underpinning ethos there for everything from viewing the animals to education programmes is Conservation. Wild Place collaborates with partners around the globe to ensure that species who need protection are getting it.
One of my fondest memories of the old zoo was when our son was a boy in the early 1990s. With our annual subscription, for a time, he and I were fortunate enough to visit the place most weeks. We had become fascinated by Nadia, a baby gorilla born at the zoo. She was a delight and watching her playful antics as she watched us, as we watched her, was a wonderful experience. Sadly, she died in 1993 at the tender age of eighteen months. After her death, we stopped visiting quite so regularly.
Our watching Nadia was probably closest to the sort of experience of the people that visited zoos when they first began. Without television and films, zoos were the only way people could view other species. At the time, commercialism drove the ethos of most zoos. Conservation hadn’t become the relevant driving force that it is now. Protection of animals was not high on anyone’s agenda.
Zoos of all descriptions have been in existence in one form or another since the ancients. The word “zoo” itself comes from the Greek zoion, meaning “living being.” The first “modern” zoo in Europe can still be visited in Austria at the Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna. Beginning as a royal menagerie, as most zoos in the early days did, the Schönbrunn Palace grounds soon housed animals that the wife of Emperor Franz (who established the place) insisted must not be able to eat her children!
The world’s first and now oldest “Scientific” zoo is Regent’s Park in London. Here, the original aim was to examine and classify as many species as possible from the natural world. Charles Darwin, a frequent visitor, often studied Jenny the Orangutan, or Lady Jane, as she was known. Lady Jane certainly contributed to Darwin’s interest in the subject of species as he was said to have been mesmerised by the human mannerisms of this female orangutan. A bit like we were with baby Nadia! Perhaps Darwin’s observations and curiosity about Lady Jane contributed to his important work – Origin of the Species!
If you haven’t visited exotic animals recently and you find yourself in Bristol, do go visit Wild Place. You won’t hear a lion roar, but you might just hear the contented noises of a bear, or a monkey, or even a cheetah! As much as I adore David Attenborough and his work, visiting a wild animal today that is roaming around its environment still remains a totally different experience than watching a film or television programme. The sounds (and the smells!) are unique.
I may not be able to hear the animals anymore, but there is a song about zoos that remains one of my favourites and always reminds me of all of the creatures that live in zoos. It will certainly get your foot tapping! You can listen here… Enjoy!
Fancy sharing your own favourite zoo stories with us? Send your words and images over to firstname.lastname@example.org and we may even feature them on our blog!
Kathy Feest has a wealth of experience with writing, leadership and personal development mentoring. Kathy fulfilled her dream at the age of 41 and earned her first University degree; she went on to complete a PhD in Medical Education. She regularly runs self-development workshops at The Joy Club so keep your eyes on our events calendar for one of her next live sessions.