Reflecting on the past year…

Sunday March 21 marked exactly a year since we closed our gates for the first national lockdown.

Our usually bustling zoos, which provide days out full of  anticipation, excitement, and discovery, have been closed to visitors for most of the past 12 months. It’s something we never could have imagined happening - and being closed for this long is a first in our 186-year history.  

The financial losses we have experienced as a result of needing to close for three national lockdowns have been unprecedented and as a charity the impact of this cannot be overstated. 

We have continued to care for all our animals across both Bristol Zoo and Wild Place, throughout all the closures, with all of the costs associated with that. Unlike many organisations, which can cease operations almost entirely, we have not been able to furlough all of our staff and we have continued to need to ensure that our sites are secure and maintained. 

But, despite the pandemic and the changes required to operate safely, our staff and volunteers  have continued to go above and beyond to deliver on our shared mission of ‘saving wildlife together’. I will forever be proud to have led such a passionate and determined workforce during a time of such uncertainty.

It has in no way been a quiet year for us. Behind-the-scenes we have welcomed a host of animal arrivals, including two infant western lowland gorillas, a Critically Endangered aye-aye, twin golden lion tamarins, kea chicks and a new red panda, among many more.

At Wild Place we welcomed the arrival of a zebra foal, two lynx kittens, a dik dik, and a lake Alaotra gentle lemur, among others.

We’ve also continued to lead our important conservation field projects, both in the UK and overseas, to protect some of the world's most threatened species from extinction.

In Madagascar we have been working with local communities to minimise their impact on the habitats of Critically Endangered species such as lemurs. Thanks to funding, we are currently creating a permanent tree nursery to grow saplings which will help establish natural corridors for lemur species such as the blue-eyed black lemur and Sahamalza lemur.

In Equatorial Guinea, we currently have a field team working in the Monte Alen National Park finalising the set-up of motion detecting cameras to identify rare and threatened species deep in the tropical rainforest, such as African forest elephants and western lowland gorillas. These photographs will be crucial in helping to establish a conservation plan for the park and will allow us to work alongside the national park to find areas where patrols should be targeted to prevent illegal hunting.  

Other projects that are currently ongoing, despite the pandemic, include monitoring Critically Endangered Kordofan giraffes in Cameroon. We are supporting a team of rangers on the West Visayas Isalnd of Panay, in The Philippines, to safeguard the unique biodiversity of the island, which include the Critically Endangered Negros bleeding-heart dove and Visayan warty pigs.

Closer to home, we are also working to halt the spread of invasive species in the UK. This year we employed a full-time Biosecurity Officer to work with fisheries, angling and boating clubs and other water managers, to prevent the spread of invasive species such as American signal crayfish and to support native white-clawed crayfish within our waterways.

During the first lockdown we launched an appeal to raise much-needed funds to continue conservation projects such as those I’ve just mentioned. Through the generosity and kindness of our supporters we have raised more than £100,000. I would like to extend a huge ‘thank you’ from myself and my colleagues at Bristol Zoological Society. Without your support we wouldn’t be able to do what we do, but we still have a long way to go. If you can, please visit our appeal page to support us.

Reflecting on the past year has brought back many mixed emotions, both personal and professional, as I’m sure it has for many of you. I hope you’re all well and keeping safe in these still challenging times.

Bristol Zoological Society can now look to the future and prepare to welcome our visitors back to the sites that we are hugely proud of. 

In November of last year, we shared the news about the future of Bristol Zoo Gardens. To meet the changing needs of the animals in our care, and following operating losses in four of the last six years, Bristol Zoo Gardens is proposed to close in late 2022. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it makes complete sense to safeguard the future of Bristol Zoological Society. 

Our sister site Wild Place Project, near Cribbs Causeway, will become the new Bristol Zoo in 2024. The new Bristol Zoo will offer spacious, modern facilities, significant growth in conservation and education work and a ground-breaking, innovative visitor experience.

These plans ensure that a new Bristol Zoo can continue to exist for generations to come, offering millions more people the opportunity to experience a new, transformed Bristol Zoo.

You can still visit and enjoy Bristol Zoo Gardens in Clifton until the latter part of 2022, and Wild Place Project will remain open as the site is developed and rebranded.

Meanwhile, as we gear up for an expected reopening in April, I know I speak on behalf of myself and my colleagues when I say we simply cannot wait to see you all again! Do come back and see our much-loved residents, as well as some new faces, and say ‘hello’ to our team who have been working tirelessly to ensure our site is safe and can be thoroughly enjoyed. 

In accordance with the Government’s COVID-19 guidelines, some of our animal houses may need to remain closed initially, but with the warmer weeks approaching we are sure you will see our animals out and about enjoying some Spring sunshine.

The money you spend on admission tickets, memberships, adoptions and experiences, as well as gift items from our shop or food and drink on site, helps us to care for our animals and fulfill our mission of ‘saving wildlife together’ through our conservation breeding programmes, fieldwork, education and outreach. 

We look forward to seeing you soon.

All the best,

Dr Justin Morris

Chief Executive of Bristol Zoological Society

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