The sad 50 year decline of Glasgow’s ill-fated zoo

The sad 50 year decline of Glasgow’s ill-fated zoo
The sad 50 year decline of Glasgow’s ill-fated zoo

Opened in July 1947, Glasgow Zoo (or Calderpark Zoo) operated for almost exactly 56 years before it closed down in August 2003, with a debt of around £3.5 million.

Established by the Zoological Society of Glasgow and West of Scotland, the zoo was located on the old Calderpark Estate in Baillieston.

During its peak, the zoo housed more than 600 animals and attracted around 140,000 visitors per year.

In the end, however, the organisation found itself running out of money, with its facilities falling into disrepair and the safety of its animals being called into question.

A promising start

Bellahouston Park (to the south west of Glasgow city centre) was the first proposed site for the new Glasgow Zoo in 1938, but this was rejected by project funders.

No suitable site within the city centre was found, and by 1939 the Zoological Society had purchased Calderpark Estate, around 10 miles from Glasgow.

Lions were a big draw for visitors to the zoo in the early days (Photo: TSPL)
Lions were a big draw for visitors to the zoo in the early days (Photo: TSPL)

 

Because of World War Two, the zoo did not open until 1947, and many of its enclosures were built from war materials, such as concrete roadblocks and former air raid shelters.

Many of Glasgow Zoo’s original animal residents were donated from other zoos and sanctuaries, including Soay sheep from St Kilda, and lions from Dublin and London.

Some visitors even brought along their own exotic pets to add to the zoo’s collection, such as parrots and monkeys.

From pigs to polar bears

Interestingly, Glasgow Zoo was spread over 99 acres of land, compared to the longer lasting Edinburgh Zoo’s 82 acres.

In this space, the Glasgow wildlife park housed a range of mammals, birds, reptiles and farm animals.

Bears in their enclosure(Photo: TSPL)
Bears in their enclosure(Photo: TSPL)

 

African lions, golden eagles, white rhinoceri, basking sharks, Indian peacocks, Capuchin monkeys, Asian black bears, several snakes and a polar bear were just some of the exotic animals that brought in many visitors over the years.

The beginning of the end

By the late 1990s, money had begun to dry up as visitor numbers dwindled and public funding tailed off.

To combat this, the zoo unsuccessfully attempted to sell off its unused land, as well as hiring out some of its animals – a move which was criticised by animal welfare campaigners.

Children feed the elephants in 1963 (Photo: TSPL)
Children feed the elephants in 1963 (Photo: TSPL)

 

Animal rights groups became more interested in Glasgow Zoo, and a report from Advocates for Animals (now OneKind) made claims of animal cruelty and reported substantial annual losses.

At the time, Samantha Scott (an animal behaviourist at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh), said that the zoo’s white rhino showed “signs of possible stereotypic behaviour (circling), which is normally associated with difficulties in coping with captive life, or frustrated territorial patrolling.”

Several break-ins saw the theft of two non-poisonous snakes and a parrot in 2002.

Saying goodbye

Ultimately, Glasgow Zoo closed in August 2003 – earlier than planned, largely due to the organisation’s large debts.

The zoo’s animals were relocated, and claims from the Zoological Society that the space may re-open never came to fruition.

Keepers and the zoo vet discuss the living conditions of animals (Photo: TSPL)
Keepers and the zoo vet discuss the living conditions of animals (Photo: TSPL)

 

The old zoo site remained untouched for many years, and its enclosures and buildings were vandalised and burned, until the land was cleared to make way for new homes.

Today, there are very few reminders of Glasgow Zoo left, despite the large number of animals it once exhibited and high volume of visitors it once had.