Monday, 11 May 2015

The arrival of Chincha the Jaguar

Chincha looking very sophisticated
It's always an exciting time when we welcome a new animal to Dartmoor Zoo, and the arrival of Chincha the Jaguar was no different!

After the very sad passing of Sovereign - Dartmoor Zoo's infamous escapee - everyone at the zoo was keen to ensure that his memory lived on, and that we continued to support the incredibly important conservation of the Jaguar.

Jaguars are classified as Near Threatened, and can still be found in the wild in the southern parts of the Americas, where their numbers are unfortunately in decline. Their decrease in numbers is mainly due to the loss and fragmentation of their habitat, as well as a significant number being killed by humans. 

As an animal protected by the CITES agreement (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which was drawn up to ensure that international trade in plants and animals doesn't threaten their survival, trade in Jaguars or their parts is prohibited, but they are seen as a threat by some farmers and ranchers who take matters into their own hands.

In an effort to improve numbers there are breeding programmes in place at various zoos in conjunction with education and release projects. Chincha will hopefully become part of one of these programmes in the future as we work towards becoming a member of EAZA - the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria.

Chincha is a 2 and a half year old male and came to us from Le Parc Des Felins in France. After much planning he finally arrived with us on 22nd April. You can see a video of the arrival here:

He was understandably a little bit shy for the first week or so as he got used to his new surroundings, but he's well over that now and he's been very adventurous as he explores his enclosure. Although Jaguars are built for swimming, Sovereign hated the water, but Chincha loves it and was testing out the pool for the first time when we captured the below footage:
So, we are all thrilled to welcome Chincha and are extremely excited about what the future will hold for him. 

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

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


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.