Bristol Zoo is the fifth oldest zoo in the world.

Our Zoo was founded on 22nd July 1835, by Henry Riley, a local physician, who led the formation of the Bristol, Clifton and West of England Zoological Society. Riley, and a number of other prominent local individuals, gathered with the mission to facilitate ‘the observation of habits, form and structure of the animal kingdom, as well as affording rational amusement and recreation to the visitors of the neighbourhood’. Shareholders at the time included several famous Bristolians, including Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

We have constantly changed and evolved since 1836, but the 1980s and 1990s saw Bristol Zoo Gardens really start to become the zoo it is today. It was our integration with global conservation strategies and local communities that paved the way to the Zoo’s 21st Century role. Over the decades, the Zoo has retained not only some of its structural elements but also its emphasis on fun, education and encouraging engagement in conservation.  

Since we opened to the public in 1836, we have helped save over 175 species from extinction through breeding programmes, established over 30 field conservation and research projects all over the world, showed 40 million school-age children the value of nature and given more than 90 million visitors a great day out.

As well as a great day out, our Zoo is an important centre for conservation and research.

Bristol Zoo Gardens opens for the first time.

The Bristol, Clifton and West of England Zoological Society open the Zoo’s doors to the public for the first time, on Monday 11th July 1836.Bristol Zoo’s situation within a port greatly helped with the acquisition of animals when it first opened. Zebi, the Zoo's famous elephant, was here from 1868 to 1909. She was quite a character, renowned for removing and eating straw hats!

1900 – 1925

The new lion house was built in 1900 and welcomed a family of large cats. Fetes, carnivals and amusements benefitted the Zoo greatly during the early 1990 and during World War One. One of the Zoo’s major attractions during the time was Rajah the elephant who arrived at the Zoo in 1913 and lived there for 13 years.

1926 – 1939

Zoo introduced an aquarium and the Polar Bear enclosure opened in 1935.

1930 – Alfred

On 05/09/1930 a young lowland gorilla arrived at the Zoo, Alfred. At the time there was only one other gorilla in a Zoo in Europe. Alfred was a huge success at the Zoo, he had learned how to make snowballs and it was common practice to lead him around the Zoo on a lead. Throughout the Second World War Alfred grew not only in size but also in popularity, still remaining one of the most popular animals in Bristol Zoo’s history.

1934 - Many species have been successfully bred at Bristol Zoo Gardens over the years; the first chimpanzee to be conceived and born in captivity in Europe was Adam at Bristol Zoo in 1934.

1940 – 1959

Sebastian, the polar bear cub was born in 1958 and he proved to be a huge attraction.

1960 – 1979

In early 1960’s we became the first Zoo in the UK to home Okapi and in 1967 we became the first UK zoo to successfully breed Okapi. We no longer have Okapi’s at Bristol Zoo however there are now four Okapi at the Wild Place Project.

In June 1963 a pair of white tigers arrived at the Zoo, the Lion House was completely rebuilt for their arrival. In the late 1960’s we bred the pair for the first time and again two years later. In the mid 1980’s we decided to focus on endangered species such as the Asiatic lions and the white tigers left the Zoo. IIn 1961 after 23 years at the Zoo, Rosie sadly died. Rosie had given over 80,000 rides a year to children. She was replaced by Wendy, an Asian elephant, and Christina, an African elephant. Christina sadly died in 1986 and Wendy, the last elephant at Bristol Zoo, lived here at the Zoo until 2002.

1980 - 1999

The 1980’s and 1990’s saw the Zoo start to become the Zoo it is today with the opening of several large, new exhibits including the Reptile House in 1981, the Monkey House in 1983 and the re-designed Aquarium in 1986. As the century drew to a close, Seal and Penguin Coast was opened by Professor David Bellamy.

2000 – today

In the early noughties we opened two new exhibits, Zona Brazil and the Livingstone fruit bat enclosure. In 2009 ZooRopia, a high ropes course opened in the Zoo. The course allows guests to climb above some of the most popular exhibits at the Zoo.  The £1million re-development of the gorilla house took place in 2013 and has more than doubled the size of the exhibit for our growing family of gorillas and added a mind blowing 180 degree guest viewing area of these six magnificent animals! Using heavy duty toughened glass, 32 stone silverback male gorilla Jock and the rest of the gorilla family are able to move above the heads of guests.

Please note: due to the high volume of requests we are receiving, unfortunately we cannot accommodate requests for historical information or facilitate access to our archives at this time. Please continue to check our website for further information on our history and plans to celebrate Bristol Zoo Gardens in 2022.

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