Look back at incredible archive footage of Bristol Zoo as it closes after 186 years

  • Watch the unique connection between zookeepers and their charges over the years

As Bristol Zoo closes after more than 180 years at its site in Clifton, here is a look back at the history of the iconic attraction.

The fifth oldest zoo in the world, Bristol Zoo Gardens welcomed its first visitors on 11 July 1836, a year after Henry Riley, a local physician, founded the Bristol, Clifton and West of England Zoological Society.

Dr Riley's aim was to achieve ‘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’. Isambard Kingdom Brunel himself was one of the shareholders.

Since opening its gates, the 12 acre site has been home to tens of thousands of animals, many of which have found a place in the hearts of the 90 million people who have visited over the years.

Alfred the gorilla arrived at Bristol Zoo in 1930 and became quite a celebrity. Credit: Bristol Zoo

Possibly the zoo's most famous inhabitant was Alfred the gorilla. He arrived in 1930 and soon became a celebrity - touring the zoo on a lead and even wearing a jumper at times. He was, at the time, the only gorilla in captivity in the country.

During the war, visiting soldiers took images and stories of Alfred back to their home countries. He died of TB in 1948 but his body has been preserved and can be seen at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Rosie the Asian elephant arrived in 1938 and was another popular resident - not least because of her rides. Credit: Bristol Zoo

It was not just the animals that were popular - even the zoo buildings have fans. In the 1900s, a new lion house was built while an aquarium was made in 1926 - and a polar bear enclosure in 1935.

Later innovations from the 1980s onward included Seal and Penguin Coast, Twilight World and of course Gorilla Island.

The Monkey Temple, which opened in 1928, was once home to dozens of Rhesus monkeys. Credit: Bristol Zoo / PA

The attraction may be closing but part of its history will survive on the famous site. Although part of it will be sold for housing, the gardens will open to the public for free, the entrance will become a cafe and conservation hub and various buildings, including the much loved Monkey Temple will remain.

It opened in 1928 but the monkeys moved out in the 1980s - to a more natural enclosure with trees, islands and lakes.

Comedian Ken Dodd baring his heavily insured teeth at a leopard, safe behind a glass window. Credit: PA

The zoo has made many innovations in the care of its animals. One of which was the introduction of glass cages in 1950 - just half an inch thick and able to withstand a leopard charging at 10 miles an hour, luckily for comedian Ken Dodd when he visited in 1957 and taunted the inhabitant.

Animal Magic star Johnny Morris returned to Bristol in 1997 to open a new elephant enclosure for Wendy. Credit: ITV West Country

Bristol Zoo really made the big time when the show Animal Magic hit the TV screens. BBC presenter Johnny Morris played a zookeeper, showing off the residents, giving them comedic voices and making stars of animals like Dotty the ringtailed lemur and Wendy the elephant.

The programme ran from 1962 to 1983 and purported to come from Bristol Zoo Gardens - although it was actually filmed at other sites too.

Johnny Morris returned to Clifton in 1997 to open a new enclosure for Wendy, who eventually died in 2002 and is still missed.

The zoo takes an annual census of its animals - which can prove taxing. Credit: PA

While in the past zoos have been considered entertainment, now the focus is more on conservation.

Bristol Zoological Society focuses on breeding endangered species, conservation and scientific education, and working to protect wildlife in their natural habitats in four continents.

Over the years it has helped save more than 175 species from extinction through breeding programmes, established over 30 field conservation and research projects all over the world.

Miracle baby Afia with her surrogate mum Romina on her first birthday in 2006. Credit: PA

One of its successes is its troop of Western Lowland Gorillas, which are critically endangered in the wild. As well as supporting work in the primates' native Cameroon, the zoo runs a captive breeding programme.

It made the headlines in 2016 when mother-to-be Kera developed pre-eclampsia and a doctor from Bristol's St Michael's Hospital was brought in to conduct an emergency Caesarian.

  • Watch the miracle birth of baby gorilla Afia

Afia is now six-years-old and thriving. She and the rest of the troop will be staying at Gorilla Island until their new home at Wild Place in South Gloucestershire is ready - a forest-like environment that they will share with monkeys and parrots.

The attraction's longest serving inhabitant is Biggie the Aldabra tortoise. He arrived on Christmas eve in 1975.

Biggie the giant tortoise joined the zoo in 1975 and is its longest serving inhabitant. Credit: PA

Keepers describe him as a gentle giant and say he is a favourite with visitors and that Bristol Zoo will not be the same without him. It will not - the zoo is closing and he and the other giant tortoises will be heading to a new life at Jersey Zoo.

Bristol Zoo Gardens has a rich history - it began as a menagerie in the 1800s and now, in the 21st century is world-renowned for its care and conservation. It has vastly outgrown its site and will look forward to making new memories at Easter Compton when it opens in 2024.