Bristol Zoo accused of 'misleading public' over closure as campaign launched

  • Watch Richard Payne's report

Bristol Zoo has been accused of 'misleading the public' on the case for its closure.

The world's fifth oldest zoo shut in September after 186 years. Bosses argued that its Clifton home was losing both money and visitors.

They decided the zoo could only expand its conservation work at its larger property in South Gloucestershire.

But campaigners 'Save Bristol Zoo Gardens' have published a report claiming visitor numbers and zoo finances were not as bad as suggested and that the zoo could have remained open in some form.

The prime 12-acre site in Clifton, beside the historic Downs, is being proposed for development with 196 homes replacing animals much-loved for generations.

"I think the zoo misled all of us for their case for closure," campaigner Tom Jones told ITV News West Country.

"They have their ties in Bristol, they have their history in Bristol, it's the people of Bristol that gives them their money, they have a responsibility to all of us, it's our zoo, to find a way to keep it in Bristol."

Mr Jones says he spent months analysing the zoo's data and speaking to experts, including zoo staff who he claims told him they were unhappy with the sale.

Tom Jones says Bristol Zoo can still continue with the right investment Credit: ITV News

"I think it's really important for people to understand they're not moving a zoo, they're closing a zoo," he added.

"The site is second only to Clifton Suspension Bridge in my eyes. Would we say 'ok then, go ahead' if they proposed building on land next to that and replacing the bridge? We will fight this all the way."

The charity which runs the Zoo argues only the multi-million pounds it will receive from the sale can finance the work at its Wild Place base.

Brian Zimmerman, the Zoo's Director of Conservation & Science, said: "For four of the last six years we were not earning a profit and that was obviously a key decision and not just (because of) the pandemic.

"It was an overall trend that we weren't receiving as much income from visitors because numbers were dropping.

"I think our proposal is the strongest in safeguarding the society's future but also to meet our ambition of conservation."

The lions are some of the last remaining animals left on site at Bristol Zoo Credit: ITV News

Author and businessman Alastair Sawday is one of nearly 3,000 signatories to a petition calling for the rethink.

"It's just too much to think the zoo is going to be added to this long list of errors by Bristol," he argued.

"We can't let one more mistake just happen. It's up to us to try to stop it. I sympathise with the zoo in many ways but they've got a narrow focus, we've got a wider focus."

Council planners will hear the case for the housing development early next year.