Bristol Zoo relocation

3 September 2022


Born Free welcomes the decision by the Bristol Zoological Society to close the zoo site which had long become outdated and wholly inadequate to cater for many of its inhabitants.

A photo of the entrance to Bristol Zoo

Image © Sic19 (Wikimedia Creative Commons)

On Saturday, September 3rd, Bristol Zoo’s site in Clifton will close after 186 years. Born Free welcomes the decision by the Bristol Zoological Society to close the zoo site which had long become outdated and wholly inadequate to cater for many of its inhabitants. 

Sadly, Bristol Zoo is only relocating, not closing. Their intention is to extend their Wild Place Project sister-site, which opened in 2013 to accommodate many of the species from the old facility. Other animals will reportedly be found new homes at zoos across the UK and Europe.

On their website, Bristol Zoological Society state, “The Society’s vision for the new Bristol Zoo highlights that focus [breeding endangered species, conservation and scientific education], with 80 per cent of the species for the new Bristol Zoo linked to conservation breeding and conservation programmes around the world – a higher percentage than any other zoo in the UK.”

Bristol Zoo is a member of the Consortium of Charitable Zoos, which featured in Born Free’s Conservation or Collection report released in May 2021.

The report revealed that only around a quarter of the species housed in the UK’s largest charitable zoos were ‘Threatened’ with extinction. The report further highlighted that more than 70% of the species being bred in these zoos were not part of a conservation breeding programme.

Chris Lewis, Captivity Research Officer at Born Free said, “It remains to be seen if Bristol’s words match reality. The conservation claims made by zoos are meretricious at best and should be taken with a big pinch of salt.”

“Although the proposal that 80% of species held at the new site will be linked to conservation programmes seems eye-catching on paper, it’s important to remember that the majority of captive breeding programmes do not result in animals being returned to the wild. They simply provide more individuals for use by the zoo industry. Once the new facility opens, these bold claims will require careful scrutiny to see if there is any meaningful contribution to conservation taking place in reality.”

Questions also remain over the decision to move to a larger and no-doubt costlier site at a time when the zoo was experiencing a general fall in visitor numbers. The pandemic highlighted how financially unprepared zoos were for losses in income, which ultimately jeopardise the welfare of the animals in their care. In the current climate, the cost-of-living will no doubt impact zoo attendances, while the energy costs to care for the exotic animals held by many zoos is likely to markedly increase. It is feared that these factors will once again bring the financial fragility of zoos to the fore. Born Free has long called for the creation of a Zoo Insurance Bond to ensure the care and welfare of animals at zoos which are forced to close, and their humane dispersal to other appropriate facilities during what could be a protracted winding-up period.

A government consultation on new standards of modern zoo practice for Great Britain has recently closed. Born Free provided a strong response, reiterating our call for major reform of the zoo industry. In our response we also voiced our support for increased conservation requirements on zoos, the phasing out of tethering birds and touch pools, an end to the use of live vertebrates as food for zoo animals, the banning of bullhooks and “free contact” management practices for elephants, as well as the requirement for all animals in zoos to have an active programme of enrichment; while reemphasising our call for the phase-out of keeping elephants in UK zoos.