Home Animals Zoos Search Zoo Mall Contents Feedback
Welcome to The Good Zoo Guide Online (goodzoos.com), the essential guide to the best zoos, wildlife parks and animal collections on the planet
Now more than 200 Pages of Zoo Reviews and discussion - and growing with the help of Internet Zoo Critics from all around the world
And while you're here - check out our world famous 'Zoo Noticeboard'  Can you help zoos and animal lovers from around the world with their zoo enquiries?

wpe73.gif (2084 bytes)

goodzoos logo.gif (3461 bytes)

Bristol Zoo

Address Clifton
How to Find it: From the City Centre follow the signs to Clifton. The zoo is on the B4468 about 2 miles from the centre of town
Open: All year from 9.00 am
Area: 5 hectares 12 acres
No of Species No of Animals Star Rating
Mammals 67 444 Conservation **
Birds 109 418 Enclosures **
Reptiles 27 162 Education ** *
Amphibians 2 15 Recreation **
Fish Research **
Total 205 1039
Click here for a Link to the Zoo’s own Web Pages
Write a review of this zoo
This critique last updated:  Aug 2009

Official Description

If you work for the zoo, please submit an official description

Visitor Reviews

Review by David Lomas, 2002 (posted August 2009)

Bristol Zoo gives the “City Zoo” a good name. It may be comparatively small in area, but it’s rich in its diversity of animal and plant life. There is a strong focus on both conservation and education. You’ll see plenty of species that you won’t find in many other UK Zoos. For instance, while you won’t see Giraffes or Zebras, but you will encounter Okapi; and you won’t see Chimpanzees, but you will meet Lowland Gorillas. By concentrating on smaller species such as Pigmy Hippopotamuses and West African Dwarf Crocodiles this zoo can comfortably accommodate a representative slice of nature.

The Zoo has excellent aquarium, reptile house and a Bug World – I never seen a better collection or more imaginative display of invertebrates. The Twilight World also includes mammals that I’ve never seen before in a UK zoo before such as the Aye-Aye from Madagascar as well as Sloth and Loris. This is a Twilight World that works! These nocturnal animals are active in their simulated night-time that coincides with the visitors day-time.

The Seal and Penguin Coasts is an exhibit without parallel in the UK. This presents the animals on land and in seawater from above and below the waterline – the penguins will even swim over your head!

Bristol Zoo is a modern zoo and is deserving of your support as the Zoo’s advertising puts it: “See it; Sense it; Save it”.


Anonymous review 17th June 2009

We visited on 17th June 2009 to find the park very busy which was a surprise, but there were lots of things on.  The children were entertained on a big grass lawn, where people were enjoying picnics in the sun, with a 'Amazing Animals' show where we saw Macaws free flying and an Armadillo amongst other things.  The gardens were beautiful and it was really nice walking through such pretty landscaping to get to see the animals.  The set out was great, we didn't get lost at all and the map really helped us find our way round no problems.


The highlights for us were:


Twilight World – We saw our very first Slow Loris which was amazing, and Owl Monkeys which most people have probably never even heard of.  Also in here were Sand Cats, again not a species seen very often in UK zoos.  Sloths were also on show, again a rarity.  These animals are all housed in enclosure which exchanges night and day so that when we visited the nocturnal animals were mostly all awake and moving around.  The only negative point was that the Aye Ayes which we very much wanted to see, were off show and a note on their enclosure informed us of this, it was a shame they couldn't be on show in another enclosure whilst work was being done to theirs.


Fruit Bats – Amazing!  They have an indoor area which you do not have access to but you get a good view through the window.  But the great thing was that they also had access to an outside net covered enclosure.  In the afternoon a few of the Livingstones Bats had come outside and were swooping down past our heads and you could see them so clearly as it was daylight (not like other bat enclosures).


Lemurs – Bristol Zoo has a Lemur walkthrough which is lovely, it is planted really well and has lots of interesting plants for the Lemurs.  At the time of our visit a pair of Crowned Lemurs (?) were being introduced to the RingTailed Lemurs so on our first look round we only saw a glimpse of these, and second time round at talk time the RingTails were coaxed out with fruit and we got to see their new baby!  Bristol had quite a few Lemur species so is a must for anyone interested in Madagascar!


Rainbow Lorikeets – A concept which Woburn Safari Park and Edinburgh also use however at Bristol the birds had an outside enclosure which was novel! It was fantastic to see these brightly coloured, good natured birds perched in trees outside.  For a small fee (£1 for 2 pots) you could opt to buy Nectar which is the Lorikeets natural food source.  Although a bit of a gimmick we did buy some, and were very glad we did.  The birds came down very carefully and gently sat on our hands to drink their lunch.  The keepers who seemed to be volunteers in here, as in the other walkthroughs, were brilliant and knew a lot about the birds.


Monkeys Islands – Some primate species are on little islands, with a moat around and although some of them are very hard to spot it is well worth it.  This is how primates should be kept.  The Gorillas had a lovely island outside which made up for their slightly small indoor enclosure, that said a massive Silverback Gorilla can make any enclosure look small!


Seal & Penguin Coats – We really felt like we were on holiday at the seaside here!  It was a lovely atmosphere, the pools were so clean and the enviornment was really natural looking.  Rather than just having a pool for the aquatics, it was much more haphazard, which must make the animals much happier and more enriched.  There was also a underwater viewing area which was excellent despite all the animals being out of the water on this occassion!  We were lucky enough to see a 3 week old Seal Pup too, we couldn't have had a better view of him!


The disappointments for us were:


Aye Ayes – Not being on show


Red Pandas – Again not being on show, and no obvious reason why


There are plenty of toilets dotted around, lots of garden areas for the older visitors to sit and enjoy, although there was only one cafe it's food selection and prices were really very good for a zoo.  There were also lots of drinks, chocolate and ice cream machines which really was helpful on a hot summers day when you don't fancy queing.  The shop was well stocked, good prices and we all found something to buy.  The car park charged £2 which is a lot considering some zoos you don't pay for parking at all, however on a positive side the car park was right next to the zoo entrance and there was attendents to help find a parking space.  The guidebook price was very low, was only £1 which we thought was a mistake to start with!  For this you get a 45 page guidebook full of information on the animals, conservation and Bristol Zoo itself, a car sticker and a map of the zoo, this is really a bargin and is a great souviner to take away for the day.  There were plenty of childrens play areas too which is excellent.


In additon, for people who love photography, the enclosure design meant many of the animals could be photographed without bars or wires in the way, the exception here was in the Twilight World where I'd have loved a photo of the Loris and Owl Monkeys but as its a dark enviornment this was impossible. 


Before going to Bristol we'd had low expectations as its such a small zoo however we found it to be one of the best zoos in the UK, it makes best use of the land, is in a beautiful setting, with unique species and just a lovely atmosphere.  Great value for money.

Review August 2005 by Dan Thorne

I am a regular visitor to Bristol Zoo and think it is very good considering it is enclosed in the city and is small compared to others. They have an improved Asiatic lion enclosure which is rather large, giving plenty of room to the lions. They have a large amount of primates with the monkey house which has red ruffed lemurs, Howler monkeys, Javan langurs, and gentle lemurs. On the lake they have islands which have Squirrel monkeys, ring tailed lemurs, saki monkeys and titi monkeys living on them. The biggest island is inhabited by the family of gorillas and is a massive natural environment for them. They have a section called zona brazil, which is a new home for the tapirs and capybaras. They share this space with Black lion tamerins and Aracaris. Another fantastic place in the zoo is seal and penguin coasts, which has a tunnel going right through both there pools for a great look at them underwater. One of the highlights of Bristol Zoo is Twilight World, which is a place where you can see nocturnal animals awake and moving around there well designed enclosures, such as beautiful sand cats and aye ayes inside. Other mammals at the zoo included hippos, okapis, meerkats and cute red pandas. There is a large reptile house and a aquarium. A great little zoo.

Review July 2005

Now there are no bears, gibbons, Giraffes, leaf monkeys, tigers or concrete enclosures. What it does have are a beautifully designed and large gorilla island, the lake on which natural enclosures house Ring-tailed lemurs, Titi, Saki, Goeldi and squirrel monkeys, an award winning Seal and Penguin coast exhibit, a newly revamped Asiatic lion enclosure, Okapis, red pandas, Aye Ayes, rare Mongoose Lemurs and lots more besides. There are also many other primate species. Its conservation and education programmes are second to none. Granted, there may be a few bits and bobs that need revamping, but overall the Zoo should remain in its high position of one of Englands best zoo.

Review posted by Mark Steer, July 2000

I am very impressed by the general standard of the comments that I find on your website.  However, I have noticed that the review for Bristol zoo is a good few years out of date.  Bristol is the one zoo that I know well, and over the past few years they have made some very impressive alterations.  Including the building of Cold Coasts, an enclosure for Penguins (Jackass, Humbolt and King) and South American Fur Seals, which has brought widespread acclaim.
My other point about the zoo is the money that they are investing in conservation in other countries, including Cameroon and the Philippines. Large amounts of effort are being made at Bristol to fund in situ conservation efforts.  Again, I cannot compare this with other zoos, but It seems to be laudable from my position.

I appreciate that it isn't an ideal zoo, but feel that your reveiw is maybe a touch harsh.

GoodZoos.com Reviews

The Bristol, Clifton, and West of England Zoological Society was founded on September 18th 1835 by an eminent West Country physician, anatomist, philosopher, and one-time grave robber, Dr Henry Riley. Riley was a collector of fossils who clearly had a yearning to collect living specimens as well.

Together with fellow members of the Bristol Institution, a learned society of the day that included such luminaries as Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the Frys, he established a Zoological Society. Its aims, as he put it, were to 'promote the diffusion of useful knowledge by facilitating observation of the habits, form, and structure of the animal kingdom; as well as affording rational amusement and recreation to the visitors of the neighbourhood.'

Two hundred and twenty 'proprietors' were each persuaded to become shareholders in the new venture, in exchange for which they were later allowed free admission to the gardens. A sum of £3,574.4s 8d. was spent buying twelve acres of farmland from a former mayor of Bristol, and a further £3,384.18s.8d. was spent upon landscaping, building and road making for the new Zoological Gardens. The man responsible for the design was Mr Richard Forrest, a greatly admired landscape gardener who also created the gardens for the Duke of Westminster at Eaton Hall. Forrest's designs for the gardens, the large central lake, the expansive lawns, and the siting of enclosures around a perimeter wall all remain very largely unchanged to the present day, and a century and a half later, visitors would almost certainly recognise the zoo from nineteenth century plans.

On Monday July 11th 1836, the public were admitted to the gardens for the first time, a decade before the London Zoo was to open its gates to paying visitors. The 'Clifton Zoological Gardens' as they were then known, soon became known simply as the 'Clifton Zoo', and thus the word 'zoo' found its way into the English Language. Besides being a place where the citizens of Bristol could see exotic creatures for the first time ever, the zoo also became a centre for fashionable recreation. By the end of the century the Society was earning more than half its income from I amusements', and a list of these reads like a carnival poster. There were, at various times, elephant and camel rides, boat trips, hot air balloons, flower shows, musical concerts, penny-farthing races, mock battles and gymnastic displays. There was tennis, croquet, archery, and even golf. At times there were firework displays, agricultural shows and fetes. Altogether it was a recipe for success that was destined to establish the zoo firmly as an essential part of Victorian society.

For a century and a half, Bristol has had a zoo with an enviable reputation. Many notable firsts were achieved here. The first chimpanzee ever conceived and born in captivity made his appearance in 1934. The first black rhinoceros ever to be born in Britain (and the first of five to be born at Bristol) arrived in 1958, the first okapi in 1963, and the first lowland gorilla in 197 1. The zoo has achieved a string of successes with primates, and now regularly breeds lion-tailed macaques, Diana, de Brazza, and colobus monkeys. Success too came in the field of public relations, and for years the zoo featured regularly in television's 'Animal Magic' which made animals like Dotty the ring-tailed lemur famous throughout the country.

Bristol Zoo no longer offers the carnival atmosphere that made it so popular in Victorian times, but the zoo is still popular with its regular visitors. Newcomers, however, might find the zoo rather disappointing in view of its larger than life reputation. Twelve acres, unfortunately, may no longer be sufficient for the educated and discerning public of the nineteen nineties, and Bristol Zoo now suffers from the legacy of design left by Richard Forrest of Acton. Very few of the zoo's acres are actually given over to animals at all, with the majority taken up by the gardens, lawns, and lake. There is a feeling of pleasant urban parkland about the place, very much like a walled park or arboretum. Trees are very much in favour and are well labelled. There are limes, sweet chestnut, rowan, Corsican pines, and tall deodar cedars among many others.

The animals are largely distributed in houses around the walls. The first you might encounter are the big cats, in cages rather too small. The Ape House is no more encouraging. Outside the apes have an artificial rocky slope, and indoors glass-fronted dens with concrete moulded trees and steps. The gorillas and orangs look invariably bored in this rather sterile concrete environment.

The Reptile House is better. Built in 1980, it is dedicated to Reginald Greed who was director of the zoo for forty five years until 1974, and who was the father of the present director. It is an imaginative house, housing huge pythons and Nile crocodiles.

The new 'World of Water' opened in 1989 is a welcome addition to the zoo. It brings the concept of the aquarium very much up to date, combining five large 'landscaped' tanks with a 'walk-through' coral reef tank and a number of smaller tanks.

One of Bristol's highlights is the nocturnal house, said to be the first ever opened at any zoo. It shows quite a variety of night time animals including African fruit bats in a realistically designed cave.

The monkey house is perhaps the best feature of Bristol Zoo. Although fairly small in area, it holds only a few species, but holds them well, in twenty foot high well branched outdoor enclosures, in family groups. The monkeys include the extremely endangered lion-tailed macaques, rarely seen entellus langurs, and lovely silvery leaf monkeys. Next door is a run of mannoset cages with some rarely seen species.

Probably the one feature at the zoo that has attracted more than its fair share of adverse publicity, was the polar bear pit. Bears have bred here, but the pit itself was just that; a pit. The last two polar bears at Bristol, Misha and Nina, were put down in January 1992. The zoo has no plans to replace them. Two further pits have now been filled in, and the new sandy enclosure that results holds endangered Arabian gazelles.

For many years Bristol Zoo was known best for its okapis. The Society has now relinquished their control of these animals in the best interests of a cooperative breeding programme involving other zoos, but there are still okapis at Bristol in a short hardstanding. Pygmy hippos also have a long association with the zoo, and they occupy a 'designer' compound with a small concrete pond and a periphery pool. The elephant house is adequate, although the compound is entirely concrete. The house is shared with giraffe, which have a successful history at Bristol.

The seal pool looks as if it was once designed for shows, but now holds a group of endearing southern fur seals. There are small paddocks with tapirs, zebras and kangaroos, and several aviaries including one rather effective circular aviary home to several birds of prey.

One of the most curious enclosures at Bristol is the Monkey Temple, built in 1928 when monkeys were associated in the popular mind with Kipling's ruined temples. A concrete temple stands on top of an octagon of six high concrete steps, and the whole is sunk into a circular walled pit around which visitors can congregate. The temple holds a group of around thirty crab-eating macaques in an active, if bizarre troupe. It has been suggested that all the monkeys in the pit have lost the very tips of their tails. It is a consequence, apparently, of the flip-flap doors of the temple which occasionally catch the end of the tail as a monkey nips through. If true, it may give some reason for second thoughts about the monkey temple.

A building in the centre of the park houses the main offices, and a tropical bird hall. Outside there is a small children's area with guinea pigs, rabbits, sheep, goats and calves – but not to touch.

There is a small penguin pool, with a variety of species, and a curious compound which holds penguins, marmots, and mara. The final exhibits at the zoo, if you proceed clockwise around the park, are the grey gibbons and black and white Eastern colobus in splendid high enclosures, and an attractive new lemur house which in glass fronted runs features both black and brown lemurs, mongoose lemurs, and red and white fronted lemurs.

The newest enclosures at Bristol are a series of islands set in the large central lake. The £250,000 islands are home to ring tailed lemurs and marmosets, and they also hold new aviaries. A new gibbon enclosure is also on the islands.

Altogether Bristol Zoo is a slightly uncomfortable survivor from the Victorian age. It has been a great pioneer in animal management techniques, and there has been a great history of success. The Society seems to take seriously its conservation obligations, and the gardens are attractive and well tended. But somehow this is not quite enough. In 1966 the Society purchased a large estate eight miles north of Bristol, The Hollywood Tower Estate, and the intention was to use it as a new country site for the zoo. For various reasons the plans floundered, and Bristol Zoo remains in Clifton. How much better might it have been for the reputation of the zoo however, if a bold decision had been made, and the zoo had been moved. In 1990 a twenty-year plan was announced for the zoo to gradually move away from keeping larger animals. The perimeter exhibits will all be linked with a covered walkway, making them more accessible during the winter months; the monkey temple is to be redeveloped as an enclosure for Sumatran tigers. This should in time help to preserve the reputation of the zoo. Nevertheless, Bristol still remains popular with a huge number of annual visitors, it contributes soundly to species management schemes, and recent additions to the zoo, like the reptile house, the monkey house, and the splendid aquarium, mean that it will probably continue to attract visitors just as it has now for 160 years.


[Find and Read a Review of the zoo you want to visit ] [Buy Books on Zoos and Wildlife[Zoo Animals] Home ] Up ]
[ About Zoos ]  [ News ]  [Conservation in Zoos ]   [Zoos and Education ]  [Zoos and Recreation ] [Zoos and Research ] [Are Zoos Cruel?]  [Sign our Visitor's Book]

Become an Internet Zoo Critic and contribute to a worldwide databank of knowledge on mammal and bird conservation. Click Here.

Editor: Jon Clarke    Research: John and Sue Ironmonger, Ray Heaton, and the readers of goodzoos.com   Illustrations by G.L.Grandy. Thanks to John Ironmonger for the original idea of GoodZoos.com.

Send mail to [email protected] with questions or comments about this web site.
Site monitored by Website Monitor
Last modified: