Memories Of Bristol Zoo, Clifton

A Memory of Bristol

Clifton Zoo was founded in 1835 by a group of eminent local citizens and opened to the public in 1836. It is the fifth oldest in the world, and the oldest one that is not in a capital city. There were 220 shareholders who subscribed the capital to enable the land to be bought and the Zoo to be built. Some of the descendants of these original shareholders are still connected with the Zoo to this day, but their only benefit is free admission.

Alfred the Gorilla.

Alfred enjoys a unique position in the cultural history of Bristol. He was one of the first gorillas to be successfully kept in captivity. He became an international animal star, similar to Guy the gorilla and ChiChi the giant panda. In life he was an icon for the city through times of peace and war. His powerful persona and image have been etched on the collective memory of the city and have survived long after his death.

Alfred in Africa

He was found as a tiny baby and apparently suckled by a local woman in the Congo, West Africa. Alfred was sold in 1930 and brought to Europe and eventually purchased by Bristol Zoo.

Alfred at the Zoo

Alfred was an attraction because Bristolians had not seen a live Gorilla before. He was regularly taken on walks around the zoo at the end of a collar and chain and often dressed in woollen jumpers. Each year the date of his arrival in the zoo, 5 September, was celebrated as his birthday. One of his popular tricks was to make and throw snowballs. He was said to dislike bearded men, double decker buses and aeroplanes.

Alfred was a radio and newspaper star. The visiting American troops aided his international status sending back postcards and photographs to the families stateside. Twenty thousand images a year of the famous gorilla were being sold at one point. After the war his health deteriorated and in 1946 a thyroid deficiency was diagnosed and cured. However, on 10 March 1948 the Daily Mail announced to the world that: 'His pet hate got Alfred in the end. It was an aeroplane that killed him. As the machine flew over Clifton Zoo, Alfred became frightened, dived into his inner cage and collapsed.' In fact he had been ill for about a year with tuberculosis, a condition for which his keepers had done all they could.

A memory shared by Paul Townsend , on Dec 28th, 2009.

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