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Bristol , United Kingdom
I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Sunday, 20 February 2022

A goodbye to Bristol Zoo

What with the announcement of the closing date and Son the Younger's imminent move north, we decided to go to Bristol Zoo one last time, not out of enduring regret - it's high time, after all - but because it played such a big part in our respective childhoods.

Despite its familiar entrance, the Zoo is a very different place from in the 60s, which is when my earliest memories of it date from. Back then, Johnny Morris filmed weekly segments for Animal Magic there, and there were two elephants, Wendy and Christina, giraffes, Bactrian camels, black rhinos, zebras and okapi, wolves, kangaroos, lions, tigers, white tigers, leopards, panthers, gorillas, chimps, orang-utans, polar bears, a bear pit with black bears, a monkey temple with red-bottomed monkeys - oh, so many inappropriate animals for a small urban site. Our arrival through the Guthrie Road entrance, with its free on-street parking, was usually timed to coincide with feeding time for the seal lions and nearby penguins.

Walking around, I found time collapsing as memories from my childhood visits clashed with those from my children's childhoods, and I struggled to get my bearings amid the shifting attractions. It turns out even the new 'immersive' Seal and Penguin coasts are over 20 years old now. 

South American fur seals

Snakelocks anemones

Rain on the surface of the seals' pool

Some things haven't changed at all since my kids were small. The Greater Flamingoes still flamboyant the dreary lake by the main entrance ... 

... and the giant tortoises live so long that 30 years is a blink of an eye to them. 

The reptile house, which I always had to steel myself to go in, as I didn't want to transfer my fear of snakes to my children, is also unchanged. 

Emerald tree monitor lizards

African pancake tortoise

Juvenile blue tree monitor lizards

Utila spiny-tailed iguana

pygmy crocodile

much of the goodbye-ing was to familiar buildings, even if neither generation of our family rose to meals at the cafe or restaurant, the prices being rather expensive for our modest pockets. The wisteria-covered front of the Art Deco cafe used to be obscured by a huge canopy when the kids were small; now, there's an extension.

The Clifton Pavillion, which used to be the really posh restaurant and now hosts weddings, looked a bit drab yesterday (but the weather was terrible).

The giraffe house, now home to the gorillas

The monkey temple

Looking across the Lawn of Many Picnics to where the souvenir shop was

The Top Terrace

Bronze sculpture of mute swan, by David Wynne, 1971

Where eagles and vultures and owls were kept

Back in the day, the aquarium was a round display you descended into via steps, with a circular steel handrail you could skim around as if you were on a roundabout. It was extended years ago, to incorporate the old bear pit, which for some reason had a sculpture of an eagle on top. This walkway underneath one of the tanks has been there since my children were small.

American paddlefish

Yesterday, in the rain, the zoo certainly felt like a place that's on the brink of closure. I would guess most of its visitors between now and September will be there for nostalgic reasons. I was sad not to see the sand cats and the naked mole-rats in the  nocturnal house, and the Victorian house exhibit, with rats and mice, and a black widow spider in the toilet.

Bubbletip anemone with clown fish and slate-pencil urchin

While the islands on the lake are empty of monkeys, there are still some in the monkey houses. This inmate was giving as good as he gets from visitors.

Spider monkey eating red pepper

A golden-headed lion tamarin

Ring-tailed lemurs

Gorilla Island was empty too, but only because the Zoo's group of eight were sensibly sitting out the rain indoors. 

In homage to my mother, whose memories - rides on Rosie the elephant, chimps tea parties - I was also shouldering, we paused to pay homage at the bust of Alfred the Gorilla, who was stuffed and put on display at the City Museum long before my time. (Though actually, I suspect my mother would have been more upset about Marks & Spencer in Broadmead closing than the zoo.)

We finished our visit with a walk through the butterfly tunnel, where we were buzzed by blue morpho butterflies, one of which is pictured on the fruit with its wings shut ... 

... and, since it had stopped raining, a return to the red panda and lion compounds, which had been deserted earlier.

All things must pass, and not before time. 

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