Who we are
Bristol Zoological Society was founded in 1835 and Bristol Zoo Gardens opened to the public in 1836. It is the fifth-oldest zoo in the world, the oldest outside a capital city, and the first one recorded to be called a ‘zoo’. Bristol Zoo Gardens conceived and built the world’s first nocturnal house in 1953, was the first zoo in the UK to breed chimpanzees, gorillas and Sumatran orangutans, and built the UK’s first underwater tunnel in its Aquarium. In 2013 we opened our sister-site, Wild Place in South Gloucestershire, with a vision for it to be a national centre for wildlife and conservation.
We have a long and impressive history on which our new Strategic Plan will build, to ensure the continued success of this extraordinary Society.
Bristol Zoological Society cares for more than 350 species of animal, of which many are threatened in the wild. The species are diverse and include animals from a variety of taxonomic groups including mammals, fish, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians and birds. We are recognised as a leader in understanding and improving animal welfare among UK zoos. The species at our zoos exist within a rich and diverse landscape of plants and trees, which define the character and personality of both Bristol Zoo Gardens and Wild Place.
Bristol Zoological Society was a founder member of one of the first formalised collaborative conservation breeding programmes, started in the late 1960s with the formation of the Okapi Consortium. Today, we participate in 84 European Association of Zoos and Aquaria conservation breeding programmes, of which 15 are coordinated by Bristol Zoological Society staff.
We are actively growing the number of breeding programmes that use animals born or reared in captivity for restocking and re-establishing wild populations. These have included white-clawed crayfish and barberry carpet moths in the UK; Partula snails in French Polynesia; and African penguins in South Africa (using hand-reared wild birds). Other restocking projects that we are working on include pink pigeons in Mauritius and Desertas wolf spiders on Desertas Grande, a small island off Madeira.
Our field conservation and science
The Society established a research department in 2006, and this has grown significantly to become our Field Conservation & Science Department. We conduct evidence-based conservation and research across 14 projects in 10 countries on four continents, partnering with 31 local organisations to achieve shared outcomes. Our greatest focus is on sub-Saharan Africa and the Western Indian Ocean, as well as native species in southwest England.
Our scientific work is broad in scope and covers field conservation biology and ecology as well as many aspects of zoo biology, veterinary medicine and social science. We regularly host national and international conferences and between 2007 and 2017, we published 136 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals and books, averaging 12.4 papers per annum. This puts us into the top 10 zoos in Europe for peer-reviewed publications.
The Society has engaged many millions of visitors since opening, and across our two sites we remain one of the most popular zoos in the UK, attracting over 800,000 visits in 2019. Our visitors are our greatest potential source of conservation action, and in recent years we have joined forces with other organisations to lead targeted campaigns to change consumer perspectives on materials and food ingredients such as palm oil, charcoal, and fish.
Importantly, we also work proactively to create opportunities for those who are disadvantaged in some way to visit Bristol Zoo Gardens and Wild Place. Our Access to Nature bursary scheme is designed to provide community groups with an out-of-classroom learning experience and our Wellbeing programme is working with four Bristol charities to engage children and young adults who have mental health issues. We also seek to reach out and engage people beyond our two zoos. For example, our volunteers and staff deliver programmes to more than 50 community groups in Bristol each year.
The Society’s two zoos are often held up as exemplars of education in zoos, and we have won numerous awards for our education sessions. In 1999 the purpose-built Conservation Education Centre was opened to support the delivery of programmes for schoolchildren, and our Institute of Conservation Science and Learning opened in 2015 to enable the delivery of higher education programmes. Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic we engaged more than 35,000 schoolchildren each year in our education sessions at Bristol Zoo Gardens and 6,000 at Wild Place, over 3,000 schoolchildren off site, and more than 300 university students across six higher education degree courses in collaboration with the University of the West of England, Bristol, University of Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, and the University of Gloucestershire.
Our vets also provide exotic animal clinical and didactic teaching, electives and assessment to University of Bristol undergraduate veterinary students. In addition to teaching, our Field Conservation & Science staff also supervise a large number of undergraduate and post-graduate research projects, including PhDs.
At both Bristol Zoo Gardens and Wild Place, we are the fortunate custodians of much-valued built assets and historic landscapes, full of rich biodiversity that we must continue to cherish. We take this responsibility seriously and will ensure that the future of both sites safeguards this heritage and biodiversity, including the planned development of Bristol Zoo Gardens.
The success of the Society has only been possible due to our people. The Society is governed by 12 Trustees who freely give their time to ensure that we deliver our charitable objects. Each Trustee serves for up to nine years and as a result the Society has been overseen by several hundred people during its history.
Our Board of Trustees is supported by a number of sub-committees with Independent Members who provide a broader range of perspectives and experience to the Society. In particular our Conservation, Ethics and Sustainability Committee ensures our animal welfare, research and conservation work is carried out to the highest ethical standards.
Further to this, the support of our Royal Patron, The Earl of Wessex, ambassadors and shareholders, is invaluable in realising our mission.
The Society also has many volunteers, some of whom have supported us for more than 25 years and now number in excess of 350 in total. Our volunteers work with us in all areas of activity to enhance our programmes and in particular support our education, public engagement and outreach work.
As a complex organisation delivering a wide range of activities, we employ more than 200 staff. We work across two sites in the UK as well as 10 countries in the world. Our people are our greatest resource, and our future success depends on our investment in them.