Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Jay the Vervet with another enrichment example

Vervet enrichment goes viral!


At Dartmoor Zoo we are always trying to come up with new ways to provide enrichment for the animals that live here. Enrichment is fantastic to stimulate the animals, and promotes the use of natural behaviours and problem solving.

Most people have seen the viral video of the dog playing with a bottle that spins, and when upside-down a treat is released. If you haven't it's one to watch!
Image from www.dogloverstoday.com

It's a great example of a DIY toy that keeps dogs entertained for hours!

One day one of our fantastic volunteers came into the zoo with a modified version made by his dad, and we just had to try it out!


Here's the video of what happened when Kiki and Jay, DZP's resident Vervet monkeys got their hands on it!


Curator Colin Northcott filmed their reaction. They right away knew that there was a problem to be solved and they absolutely loved it. Kiki went straight up to it and immediately started spinning it. It has left Colin wondering who is smarter, Kiki or Jay? Jay watched Kiki, copied her a little, but mostly waited for her to do the work and he took the spoils!

We're really pleased to say that the video has gone viral, and zoos all around the world have contacted Colin saying that they're going to give it a go with their animals, including zoos in Toronto, Denmark, Florida and Hungary! A great example of how social media and the internet help zoo professionals communicate and share ideas

We'll try it out with some of our other animals too, and keep you posted on how it goes...

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Tagging a Lechwe calf

Head Keeper Mike Downman tagging a Lechwe calf
Just like agricultural animals, zoo animals have to be identifiable. One method of identifying an animal is by tagging them with a brightly coloured ear tag. This is especially good for animals such as the Lechwe as they can easily be seen from a distance.

We've added a video which you can watch below to see the process. It is a very quick and painless procedure and also gives us an opportunity to give the calf a health check and determine its sex.

For safety reasons the Lechwe calf is first separated from its mother. You can hear it calling to her through the procedure, which only takes around 3 minutes so they aren't apart for long. The calf's natural response is to lay low, hoping to avoid being seen by any potential predators. This allows us to capture him very easily as he makes to attempt to avoid being captured. Their mothers will often leave them for hours, they lie in the overgrowth, hiding from predators, as it would be too dangerous for them to wander around in the open. At 10 days old they tend to join the main herd in the open when they are less vulnerable.

After we've caught him, and you need at least 2 people to do this, one will hold him while the tag is prepared by the other. In the video's case Curator Colin Northcott has this task. The tag itself is a two sided soft disc containing a unique number. Like an earring it has a pin on one side and a catch on the other and clicks shut when they come together. One in it won't fall out.

In the video you can see Colin checking the ear before inserting the tag. This is essential because the ear has 3 veins running through it which have to be avoided. Once happy at the location he quickly and firmly squeezes the applicator together. The animal is so young that he doesn't feel anything. The other ear is then done as a back-up in case at some pint the animal loses one. It might look large to you at this point, but as the animal grows it looks much more in proportion. 

The ears are checked for bleeding, then the animals is given a quick check and is sexed and it's time to release him to re-join mum. 3 minutes and all done.


Saturday, 20 December 2014

Farewell to Tasmin


Tasmin following her operation in 2011
It is with great sadness that we announce the loss of one of our most loved animals. Tasmin, one of our Amur Tigers, was put to sleep on Wednesday 3rd December following veterinary advice.

Born at Blackpool Zoo in January 1996 and arriving at Dartmoor Zoo in the summer of the same year, Tasmin was one of the two oldest Amur Tigers in the UK, along with her brother, Turlough who lives at Longleat Safari Park.

Despite her age she enjoyed very good health, surviving a major operation to correct an embedded claw in 2011, an injury which she would not have survived in the wild.

However, her health declined recently and vets called to the zoo diagnosed a severe abdominal condition. Unfortunately, given her age, another major operation was not advised.

“Her condition was severe, and it was clear that we had to act in her immediate best interests,” explains zoo director, Benjamin Mee. “However, we had to weigh her current welfare against the expected quality of life should she survive a major operation. Sadly, it was clear that an operation really wasn’t an option.”

Known for her aggressive demeanour, Tasmin was well loved by staff and visitors alike. During her time at Dartmoor Zoo, Tasmin gave birth to three cubs which have since joined breeding programmes in the Netherlands and Asia.

The news is particularly hard since it comes so soon after the recent loss of Blotch, another Amur Tiger, and niece to Tasmin, who was diagnosed with cancer in July this year.

However our ongoing conservation mission received a boost recently when the zoo was accepted into several international breeding programmes for big cats.

“We have a fantastic facility here for big cats,” says Mee. “Many zoos are jealous of the enclosures and the opportunities they present for important conservation work. This is now officially recognised by the bodies that manage the breeding programmes and plans are already underway for the introduction of a number of cat species to Dartmoor.”

“Our aspirations for the future are unashamedly ambitions,” says Mee. “As a charity, Dartmoor Zoo will become a centre of excellence for conservation, education and research and our involvement with big cat breeding programmes is central to that mission.”

Sunday, 9 November 2014

#CrowdfundDartmoorZoo

It's amazing what we can do
if we all come together
On the 17th of November, Dartmoor Zoo will embark on a bold new chapter in the story that began in 2006.

We'll be launching a crowdfunding campaign which will help us convert fully to charitable status and secure the future of the zoo as a centre of excellence for education, conservation and research.

In 2006 the Mee family bought Dartmoor Zoo to prevent the majority of the animals from being destroyed.

Since then, despite the release of the Hollywood film 'We Bought a Zoo' which was based on the bestselling book by Benjamin Mee, the threat to the zoo remains. Two global recessions and five of the wettest English summers on record have shown that this zoo needs to shift its centre of gravity from dependence on seasonal tourists towards becoming a charity focusing on research and education. This process is already well underway.

Our aspirations for the future are unashamedly ambitious - and will have a global impact. As well as developing our international conservation and education programmes, we aim to establish a world class research centre in animal cognition, exploring animal consciousness to promote the rights and welfare of animals everywhere. But our project is also about regenerating people, using the platform of the zoo to encourage volunteering, training and education, from pre-school to postgraduate and beyond. People from around the world have been inspired by this story of hope. Now everyone can actively participate in keeping this hope alive.

The crowdfunding campaign kicks off on the 17th November with a launch event at Plymouth University featuring a Q&A with Benjamin Mee and a showing of the movie, We Bought a Zoo. Unfortunately, seats for the event were snapped up in record time but you can help in the meantime. Our Thunderclap campaign is already underway and you can 'pledge' your social media following to ensure we get the message out to the widest possible audience. It's really simple, takes a few clicks and it's absolutely free.

You can add your voice to the Thunderclap campaign using the widget on the right.

There will be some special events during the campaign so be sure to keep up-to-date via our Twitter and Facebook profiles and keep an eye out for the hashtag #CrowdfundDartmoorZoo.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Top Ten Tips for the Perfect Wedding

Ben & Claudia tied the knot in 2013

2014 has proven to be a popular year for weddings at Dartmoor Zoo with over twenty couples saying, "I do" at the zoo in the company of over 2000 guests.


We started the year with Sarah and David who tied the knot on a surprisingly sunny March afternoon. They had a selection of their closest friends celebrate their special day using the Manor House as the backdrop for their ceremony and the restaurant for their reception.

In August with much better weather, Matt and Gail had their ceremony outside the Manor House allowing their guests to top up their tan in the open air. The celebration continued in the marquee situated in the heart of the zoo amongst the tigers, cheetah and monkeys. 

Our two remaining weddings are in October, but there’s no time to rest with the calendar for 2015 already looking much busier! What have we learnt from the experiences of 2014?

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Many of our wedding couples across the years have thought planning a wedding was easy, until it came to their special day. Planning a wedding is like a military operation, everything must be planned to perfection, and when I say everything, I mean everything. Here are our top tips when planning your wedding:

  1. Know the date: It sounds obvious but be sure when contacting a venue that you know the exact date you are looking for. Good venues fill up very fast and their prices depend specifically on the day and date you are looking for. The venue won't be able to give you an accurate idea of costs without a date.
    • TIP: Weekdays outside of school holidays tend to be cheaper.
  2.        Know your numbers: Make sure you have written your guest list well in advance of your big day. The worst thing in the world is not knowing how many guests to expect weeks before the wedding and again, this is essential if you want an accurate idea of costs from the venue. 
    •  TIP: Give guests a strict deadline; normally venues will say 6 weeks prior to the wedding so tell your guests you need to know eight weeks before your big day. At the end of the day you are paying for it, so don’t be afraid to push!
  3. Choose the food you want: Don’t be tempted to think too much about other people's preferences when it comes to the food. It is your wedding, pick what you want. Think about this carefully when looking at venues too, sometimes they can be quite pushy and insist on you having their menu. If you aren’t happy with it, don’t have it. That venue obviously isn’t the place for you. Like most venues, we offer a selection of menus, but we don't insist that our couples stick to them. Many choose BBQ’s, hog roasts or if they do choose a 3 course meal they choose what they want; sometimes a Mexican theme, and sometimes a roast dinner. It is your special day, remember that. 
  4. Claire & Paul tied the knot in 2014
    •  TIP: keeps costs and complications to a minimum, only offer your guests one option for their main meal.
  5.  Chair covers: Chair covers can make a huge difference to your special day. However don't order them online and dress them yourselves. You might think you are saving money but do you really want to be dressing your chairs minutes before the most important event of your life? Let the supplier or venue take care of that - it's their job.
    •   TIP: Shop around with companies, sometimes they throw in table runners or sweet carts which can really improve the ambiance of your wedding. Your venue should have good contacts and will normally offer a reduced rate.
  6. Seating Plan: It doesn’t matter how low key or casual your wedding is going to be, always have a seating plan. This makes it easier for your guests and for the venue.
    • TIP: Ask the venue if they have an easel or something similar. This will save you a few quid and will make the room look much more sophisticated.
  7. Photographers: Do you want to remember your special day for the rest of your life? Do you want to reminisce with your children and grandchildren in years to come? Then book well in advance.  Good photographers book up very quickly. Make sure you shop around for the right kind of photographer, see samples of their work, the quality of their prints etc. Make sure you like their style and book them quickly. 
    • TIP: Ask the venue if they have an in-house photographer. Chances are they do and this photographer knows the venue inside out. They know where the best photo opportunities are and chances are they are given more freedom than someone the staff don’t know, meaning your photos will be that little bit more special.
  8. Extras: Do you want your wedding guests to be bored? Your day will be full - make sure its the same for your guests. Little extras like candy carts, photo booths and even a bouncy castle, really make your special day that much more special for your guests.
  9. Sadie and Chris met Vlad on their special day in 2014
    •   TIP: As above shop around and use your contacts. There must be a friend out there who knows a sweet shop. Use them, you’ll save bundles. But remember, make sure you let the venue know well in advance, they will need the boring, necessary stuff like Public Liability Insurance.
  10. Ceremony: Do not overlook your ceremony. Really, the amount of times we see couples just rock up to their wedding ceremony clueless is staggering. Trust us; you do not know what you are doing.
    • TIP. Arrange a ceremony rehearsal a few days before the wedding or if this isn’t possible, practice at home. Make all your mistakes before the big day!
  11. Signs: Do all your guests live locally? Signs might not seem significant but if half your guests don’t arrive because they are lost, it will soon become a big thing.
    • TIP: Ask the venue in advance if they have signs to use around their venue. If not jump on EBay, ‘Wedding ceremony this way’ signs can be as cheap as £3.
  12. Itinerary: Put together a comprehensive itinerary, one for the guests and one for the venue. The guest’s itinerary can be a bit general such as “Gather in marquee for food”. Whereas the venue's one needs to be much more comprehensive e.g. “Guests will arrive in the marquee for food. Ensure staff are ready to welcome guests and assist with the seating plan.” Include every tiny detail, your venue host will thank you for it.
    • TIP. Make sure you plan your itinerary with your guests in mind – leaving a big gap between the ceremony and the food is not a good idea, throw in a bouncy castle or a photo booth here, and trust us it works!
Finally, help the venue as much as possible: At the end of the day the venue are the people making sure your wedding goes exactly as you planned. If you don’t tell them what you’ve planned, how are they going to ensure it happens? 

So follow the above steps to ensure your wedding runs smoothly and that all your guests leave with memories as cherished as yours.

For more handy tips follow @DZPEvents on twitter.