Bristol Zoo's new wildlife park will open in July - despite lack of funding
BRISTOL Zoo plans to open a new wildlife park on the edge of the city this summer.
The zoo is pushing ahead with its ambitious plans despite failing to find the finance needed for the £70 million project.
Zebras and antelopes will be among the first occupants of the park, which the zoo hopes to open by July.
Planning permission to open an "eco-zoo" on part of a 136-acre site near Cribbs Causeway has been in place for three years and the Bristol, Clifton and West of England Zoological Society has owned the land for nearly 50. Plans for the country's first national wildlife conservation park at the Hollywood Tower Estate were first announced in 1999 and it was originally intended to open it in 2002.
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But after several years of attempting to get investors involved failed to bring the backing needed to launch with the large-scale park originally planned, the zoo changed tack. The plan now is to start with a smaller version of the scheme and then slowly build up the size of the attraction as visitor numbers and the profile of the park grow.
Staff have been talking to focus groups about the plans and are now ready to push ahead with work which will see the site open in time for the school summer holidays.
The early version will include a Madagascar experience, complete with lemurs and a replica of the East African Savannah, with zebra and eland, a kind of antelope, roaming in the grassland.
The new centre has been called Wild Place and the plan is to eventually make it one of the biggest tourist attractions in the South West.
There will also be a visitor centre and cafe, along with a play centre and woodland walks in the countryside around the centre.
A zoo spokesperson said: "Since the granting of planning consent for the National Wildlife Conservation Park in 2010, we have been seeking ways in which we can begin development towards this spectacular, world-class visitor attraction.
"Wild Place will be the first step towards creating the ultimate NWCP vision. We have not been able to raise the necessary funding for the whole of the project but the aim is to attract visitors and then increase the size of the site as the interest grows."
The eventual plan is to create a series of ecosystems, including a Congo and Sumatra rainforest, Georgia wetlands, Tanzania savannah and Nepal grasslands.
A Costa Rican swamp and Indian Ocean coral reef will also be created, to enable captive animals to live in a setting as close as possible to their natural habitat.
The aim is to let the various animals, including wolves and brown bears, roam in open spaces, even though they will be enclosed with a variety of safety devices such as moats and ditches.
The plans also include elevated and covered walkways, aviaries and a tiger tunnel, along with ranger stations and education facilities.
Last year the zoo had just over 383,000 visitors and raised more than £5.5 million in revenue but has struggled to attract investors in the park, partly because of the recession.
Presentations were held in the City for potential investors and there was also a high profile event in the House of Commons.
The site includes the Hollywood Tower estate and Mansion House, which the zoo has owned since 1966 and has now been refurbished. The aim is to open the historic property to the public.
The zoo has successfully defeated a legal challenge to its proposals from Almondsbury Parish Council, which argued that a consent issued 40 years earlier should be revoked because the zoo had failed to proceed with its plans to keep animals on the site.
The council also raised concerns about the likelihood of serious congestion around the park when it opens for business.