Bristol Zoo closure: How do you move a zoo? The operation to find homes for 10,000 animals

  • Watch: The huge operation to move Bristol Zoo

Bristol Zoo will close its doors for the final time this weekend after 186 years at its Clifton site.

Staff at the iconic zoo say they are now "ready to go into overdrive" as they look to re-home its 10,000 animals.

The zoo - which is the fifth oldest in the world - will close for good at 5.30pm on September 3.

While some of its 250 species have already been moved to new homes - some will spend another 18 months living in their Clifton enclosures.

The Bristol Zoo site in Clifton is eventually set to be transformed into housing, while new enclosures will be built at the Wild Place Project in South Gloucestershire ready for it to be turned into the new Bristol Zoo in 2024.

"It's all hands on deck," said animal registrar Laura Graham.

"Everyone is going to work really hard, all the team we have here - the vets, the keepers, the curators, just to make sure we get these animals moved onto their new homes as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

"We've been part of a lot of endangered species programmes for many years so we've always moved animals. As soon as we found out the zoo was closing, so for over a year now, our curators have been working very hard finding new homes for the animals, calling up other zoos."

A few calls from the public to take on the care of some animals have been politely refused.

Helen the giant tortoise will be moving to Jersey Zoo Credit: ITV News

Computers teaming with spreadsheets, even Facebook-style profile pages, have been set up to pair the right animal with the right destination.

The gorillas, led by silverback Jock, will be transferred to the Wild Place Project alongside the lemurs and red pandas. Black rhinos will also live at the new zoo.

But the new zoo will focus on conservation and preserving endangered species - so there is not room for all of its current animals.

The giant tortoises are going to Jersey Zoo, its flamingoes will have a new home in Yorkshire and the Visayan Warty pigs, Elvis and Polly, are heading to Edinburgh Zoo.

The aye-ayes, will go to Dublin while various fish will be heading to London Sealife and Chester Zoo.

Others are heading overseas - including Rhinoceros Iguana, Alice - once her post-Brexit paperwork has been completed.

Rhinoceros Iguana Alice is off to Hungary - once the paperwork is sorted Credit: ITV News

All animals need pre-departure health checks. In the case of the pigs, that means sedation and even blindfolds and earplugs to allow the vets to check them over.

Head of veterinary services Dr Michelle Barrows has operated on everything from gorillas to crayfish in a cramped upstairs theatre in a corner of the Clifton site.

"Obviously I'll be sad to see animals go," she said. "We know they're going to very good homes but it is sad."

But she said it's "exciting" that the new zoo will include a purpose-built vet hospital with a bit more space to deal with the larger animals.