Sunday, 27 December 2009

Boxing Day Photos

I did create a lovely slideshow for this but have experienced the usual technical problems with blogger! Anyway, as you can see our animals enjoyed their festive enrichment.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Santa's Living Forest

We've given Santa a new spin this year at Derrys Department Store in Plymouth.

Instead of the usual plastic elves and snowmen the management at Derrys wanted something unique for Santa's Grotto this year and we were happy to oblige. The result is “Santa's Living Forest.”

We've basically moved half of our education department – animals, staff and all – to the grotto on the second floor where visitors can see the likes of snakes, giant spiny stick insects, chipmunks, gerbils and bearded dragons (as well as the big bloke with the white beard of course).

We've been open for a few weeks now and it's been an overwhelming success with both kids and adults alike loving the novelty of it all.

You can even pick up that unique Christmas gift for the animal lover in your life. Gift certificates for our “Keeper for a day” programmes, family memberships and tours are available from our staff at the grotto at great prices for Christmas. There's no time limit on the certificates so if you're quick you can beat the price rise next year.

So, if you're in town braving the Christmas crush then why not pop in to see us? Admission is free and you don't even need to bring the kids (Santa won't mind).

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Boxing Day Bash!

Boxing Day is always a hightlight of the DZP calender. For those of you yet to visit on 26th December, the day is full of festive fun for our animals. We always receive lots of positive comments from our visitors who enjoy watching the animals' experience of Christmas. Well, this year is no exception and we have an exciting programme of events for the day.

11.00 The vervet monkeys have their Christmas party with crackers and presents

12.00 The bears enjoy their Christmas Dinner

2.00 The lions open their stockings
Followed by the tigers unwrapping their Christmas presents

2.45 A chance to meet and greet our reindeer: Donna, Comet and Blitzen

3.15 The otters recieve their Christmas gifts

With the exception of the reindeer meet and greet, each activity will be accompanied by a talk from a member of our education department. We hope you will be able to come and join us.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Josie's Birthday Video

It has only taken a little over two months! Finally I've been able to upload this onto the blog. I hope it is worth the wait.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Craig Busch Visit

Some months ago DZP was approached by representatives of Craig Busch, formerly of Zion Wildlife Gardens in NZ, asking if he could visit us, along with several other UK zoos, as part of a fundraising tour to meet his extensive UK fan base. After careful consideration, we agreed.

We were aware that Mr. Busch is a controversial character, and the huge popularity of his Lion Man series has meant that the debate around him has been fuelled by the oxygen of intense publicity, which is rarely useful in establishing the actual facts.

Our own careful research revealed that no serious allegations made against him had yet been substantiated, and on the principle of innocent until proven guilty, we stood by our original decision.

However, we have since been advised by BIAZA, which is effectively our governing body, not to play a part Mr Busch’s tour, and so we have withdrawn our support.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Watch the Meerkats

We've recently install these great new web cameras so you can now drop in and see the meerkats 24hrs a day.

This is the main enclosure. We'll be moving the camera around from time to time so you get to see the whole show.

This is where you'll find Sue and Timon tucked up at night in their temperature controlled house.

They've been getting down to the business of starting a family recently so make sure you keep a close eye on developments.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

New male for 'Tabitha' the Tragopan

This week we had an exciting new addition to the collection, a male Temminck's Tragopan from Paignton Zoo. Sadly our last male, nicknamed 'Terence' by the keepers, passed away from old age about a fortnight ago. He was one of the friendliest birds in the collection and would come up to the keepers to take food before we were really ready! 'Terence' and our female (nicknamed 'Tabitha'), who has been at the zoo since 2007 successfully reared a female chick last year. This bird has since been rehomed but we are keen to continue breeding this species. The birds can live alone or in a pair but we fortunately found a companion for our female in no time at all.

Temminck's tragopan are found in forested habitat in Northeasten India, Southern and Central Asia and Central China. As you can see from the photograph, our new male has not yet got the majority of his colourful adult plumage, he will be fully mature at two years old. At this time we will be hoping to achieve breeding success once again.

Lone Flamingo Finds New Family

On Wednesday our lone Chilean flamingo was collected by Paignton Zoo to join a flock of 47 birds. Flamingos are social and live together in large colonies of a few dozen to tens of thousands. Originally one of a small group, this one male was left when, in recent years, the other birds passed away. He is around 30 years old which may sound like alot but, in captivity flamingos can live into their 40s, so he has plenty more years to look forward to in his new home.

Chilean flamingos have mainly white plumage with a faint pink tinge. To conserve body heat, they often stand on one leg and bring the other close to their body. They also tuck their head under a wing for this reason. Like other flamingos, they spend up to 30% of their time preening and feed on invertebrates which live in mud. They also eat some blue-green algae, insect larvae, small worms, and other organisms found in alkaline water. Most zoos feed a specially formulated flamingo pellet soaked in water. In the wild, Chilean flamingos are classified as vulnerable. They are at risk from illegal egg-collecting and habitat loss.

Our flamingo, having always lived in the walk-in enclosure is very used to people, especially keepers, being within a few feet of him. This meant that it was very easy to simply pick him up and carry him to a travel crate in Paignton Zoo's van. He put up no resistance; the event was stress free for animal and keepers!

Friday, 25 September 2009


As mentioned not long ago, our male reindeer Blitzen had started losing his velvet off his antlers. Well it took a few days but it all fell off and he started to get quite aggressive towards the keepers. He kept trying to stab us when we went into his stable and the only way we could go in there with him was with a shield we bought a while ago (an ex riot shield). This meant that he couldn't get moved into their day paddock so he was left behind while the girls spent the day without him. He was not impressed with this and you would hear him grunting and running around wanting to be with the girls. We decided that it would be best for both him and us if we cut his antlers off, so although he would still be grumpy at least he couldn't stab us and we could still walk him to continue his training. This wouldn't hurt him as once all the velvet has fallen off they have no feeling in their antlers.

To do this we needed our vet, Steve, to come in with his cheese wire. First of all we sedated Blitzen and when he was fast asleep set about cutting them off. Below are a couple of videos which show how we did it:

Once it was over he was left in his stable to recover. The keepers think he quite enjoyed this as he is lazy and it was an excuse for him to stay in bed most of the day! When he was fully awake we walked the girls back to him where Comet greeted him by rearing up as if to say 'now you can't hurt us!!'.

Blitzen is now taken for his walk daily with the girls and spends his day in the paddock. He still shows signs of wanting to stab us but at least we now know that he can't hurt us. The stumps that are left will drop off around Novemeber, when male's usually lose their antlers and next year they will still grow normally as this hasn't affected their growth.

Prickly Pair to Porfell

Our two African Crested Porcupines have recently been transferred to a new home. We took the decision to rehome the male and female for several reasons. Firstly, as the animals are nocturnal, visitors were often unable to see them. The zoo is not currently in a position to build facilities which would improve viewing (for instance by constructing a nocturnal house). Also, although the enclosure had been extended in the last two years, it was very old and we felt no longer suitable for housing the rodents.

Our curator Will managed to find a home for the pair at Porfell Wildlife Park and Sanctuary near Liskeard in Cornwall. In return we will be collecting a small number of young wallabies from this collection during the next month. We are planning to keep the new arrivals with our African pygmy goats in their walk through exhibit.

Porcupines defend themselves using their long, sharp quills. They can be very dangerous and will charge backwards towards a predator so that the quills become embedded, often in the muzzle, of the animal. As you can imagine, keepers were a little wary when the day came to crate them up! However, they were smoothly ushered into their transport crate through their house using only a broom and a keepers rather loud voice!

As you can see from the photo below we have now demolished their old home. The porcupines had been quite destructive, so much so, that repairing the enclosure for another animal was not really viable. We will let you know when our wallabies arrive.

Monkey Update

The fundraising here at the zoo has been going a little slow to begin with but is now starting to pick up. The keepers and education team have been baking cake, doing lots of talks and are in the middle of sorting out a raffle with some great prizes. We have also been selling in our shop monkey merchandise where all the profits made from these go directly into the monkey fund. The site has been cleared for the new enclosure by our maintenance team. The old lynx enclosure has been taken down as well as all the bushes, weeds and other low lying foliage in preparation for the new enclosure to be built.

The main fundraising activities will take place during the October half term but we are selling cakes and goodies every weekend up until then. The aim is to raise at least £4500, so far we have only managed a few hundred. We are all very determined to raise the amount as we want to give these monkeys the enclosure they deserve. The plans for their new accommodation will include a heated house, which is at least 8 times the size of their existing one as well as a natural looking enclosure which in volume will be hundreds of times bigger than what they have now.

Please help by donating what you can or by buying lots of our home made cakes!!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Stripe and Blotch enjoy the simple things in life

Well, it's taken so long to get videos onto the blog and now in one afternoon three have been accepted! The clips below show Stripe, one of our 8 year old Amur tigers, playing with a large cardboard tube covered in strong smelling spices. Stripe, her twin sister Blotch, and their younger brother Vladimir love anything they can rip up and destroy! For this reason we have to carefully consider enrichment we give them so they do not come to any harm.

We frequently use olfactory enrichment with the cats (enrichment which stimulates the sense of smell) because this sense is really important to them. In the wild, tigers would spend a lot of their time patrolling their territory and scent marking. In order to encourage this natural behaviour we put various scents in the enclosures and on enrichment items. Some of their favourites are catnip, curry powder, mixed spice and cumin. We also use herbs and perfumes. These give the animals something different to analyse and they then cover up the foreign smell with their own odour, either by rubbing themselves all over it or, of course, by spraying!

The videos were taken a few weeks ago, but these photos of Blotch and the new hanging boomer ball were taken on Thursday. This time four straps of fire hose were used as a sling and it was hung from a tree by a long chain. When the lions had it recently, it only had two straps and Solomon managed to pop the ball out and it rolled down the hill! Hopefully this won’t happen with the tigers because it will end up in the moat if it does, and the keepers do not enjoy trying to retrieve it from there!

Thursday was a feed day so we put the ball up while the tigers were in their houses. Vlad came out and got his food, sat down and ate it. Stripe came out and got her food, sat down and ate it. Blotch however, came out and played with the Boomer ball! We had to call her away to make sure she got her food and one of the others didn’t eat it.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Video update

You may remember in an earlier blog I explained that we were having some difficulties uploading videos onto this site. As it turns out, Blogger has been experiencing technical problems and the only answer seems to be plenty of patience and persistance! Unfortunately I am still unable to upload Josie's Birthday Party video but the service has begun to accept some of our other enrichment videos. These will be posted whenever possible! The first is below and shows Tazmin, our 13 year old Amur tigress. When she lived at Tiger Rock, Taz would often cool off in the moat up there; however, since her move to Tiger Ridge a year ago, the keepers haven't seen her using the pool in this enclosure at all. In an attempt to encourage her into the water we made a raft, chained it to two breeze blocks at the bottom of the pool and placed some of her meat onto it when she was fed. For several weeks we would return later in the day to find the meat gone so hoped for the best; then the following footage was taken.

Unfortunately, as can be seen in the clip below, Tazmin cleverly manages to keep her paws largely dry as she stretches and swipes to reach her meat. We have since tried lowering the level of the water and the raft whenever we clean the pool but so far she always finds a way to get the food - even if we use many small peices instead! There is a large boulder in one corner which would allow Taz to step down into the pool gradually but she remains unconvinced. Having said that, it is only quite recently that Vlad, Blotch and Stripe have started using the moat at Tiger Rock, and of course they moved at the same time as Tazmin. Perhaps she just needs a little more time...

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Update on the animals

We thought it was about time to given you an update on some of the earlier blogs.

The fallow deer had 5 babies which are now growing into healthy youngsters. We named one Mischief as she kept hiding from the keepers every day and it would take forever to find her. She was always in the most awkward of places!

The meerkat have settled in nicely to their new home. As soon as we put them in there they started mating but as of yet we haven’t seen any signs of young. All the keepers are keeping their fingers crossed that we get some babies soon! The meerkat have become a firm favourite with the keepers and the public as they are so entertaining, constantly doing something, even if it is falling asleep while sitting up.

Jemima, the runner duck, is doing well and she is growing lots. It’s now very hard to tell her apart from her parents. The guinea fowl are also sitting on some eggs and at last count it was 25 eggs so we are hoping that some of those will hatch soon.

Burrito and Chimicanga, our capybara babies have grown loads. When they were first born they wouldn’t come anywhere near us but as time went on they started eating things out of our hand, at first it was a green bean as they didn’t have to come too close for that but nowadays its bits of apple and pepper. They also let us scratch them on their head and they seem to enjoy it as they close their eyes and start to fall asleep. Their dad Taco loves nothing more than a good belly rub, he rolls over onto his side so we can give him a scratch so we think that the babies are going to be following in his footsteps.

Sita, the cheetah we had from Paignton Zoo has settled in great. She is such an easy cat to work with and very co operative. She loves to lie right on top of the mound in her enclosure so she can see everything. Although she is very co operative she is one of the fussiest cats we have on the park. Her food has to have no skin, feathers or fur on it and it has to be the freshest of meat otherwise she turns her nose up at it!

We mentioned that our rhea had been sitting on some eggs but unfortunalty due to the bad weather their nests got waterlogged and the rhea stopped sitting. Next year we are hoping for some better weather and then some will hatch.

Keep checking back on the blog as things are constantly being updated at the park and we will do our best to keep you up to date with what’s going on.

Friday, 11 September 2009

The Rut

Alot of the deer here at Dartmoor are starting to lose their velvet off their antlers, the sika deer have lost all their velvet now and the fallow and reindeer are starting to lose their's.

The growing antlers of deer are covered by skin and hair and is composed of cartilage with a rich blood supply, this makes them quite sensitive when they are touched. The antlers can grow up to an inch a day! The growth stage is called the 'velvet antler' because the skin and hair give it a velvet feel which is very soft. Once they have lost all their velvet the antlers calcify and become insensitve bone, breeding occurs around this time, which is known as 'the rut'. Around November to December time the male reindeer antlers drop off but the females keep their's until spring time once they have given birth. This is so that the females can defend the best grazing as they will hopefully have a baby on the way to feed.

Yesterday morning we moved our reindeer from their stable to their outside paddock and noticed that Blitzen our male had lost a few bits of velvet off his antlers but when we walked past early afternoon we saw that he had rubbed the majority of the velvet off. At this time of year the male's can become quite stubborn and now we will have to be very careful when we walk him around. At the moment he is fine with us walking him but we will monitor him daily and if he starts getting aggressive with us we will leave them in their night paddock and just take the girls for their walk every day.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Volunteers Wanted

Here at Dartmoor we are looking for some volunteers to help on the animal department. We are looking for people who are reliable, physically fit and able to be trusted to work on their own when needed. We need people who can work 8am - 5pm, it doesn't matter how many days a week you can work as long as it's a set day each week. The more days the better for us as it takes a while to train people up.

Duties will include:

  • Helping the keeping staff with their rounds such as feeding and cleaning the animals

  • Preparing feeds

  • Public talks

  • General tidying of the park

  • Helping the education department

At the present time we have one volunteer gardener, Mike, who comes in and works his way around the park tidying the flower beds, raking leaves and doing any gardening work he feels needs doing. We are very grateful to him for giving up his time and helping us, as the keepers are kept very busy with the animals and don't always have enough time to do these jobs. If anyone would like to help Mike we are sure he would welcome it as it's quite a big job he has to do! The days and hours are not as important as on the animal section so any free time people have to pop in would be great.

Please contact the zoo if you are interested in volunteering or email

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Monkey Mayhem

Here at Dartmoor Zoo our current Vervet Monkey enclosure is long overdue a major overhaul. The current enclosure is one of the oldest in the zoo and although the monkeys have plenty to do we would like to upgrade it and give them a larger home. Modern zoo standards have many more guidelines that zoo's have to adhere to these days. In order to comply we have proposed a new site just around the corner of their current enclosure, opposite the wolves. There is currently an empty enclosure in its place which will be removed and the new monkey enclosure will incorporate the whole wooded area. This will provide our troop with a much larger area to play, including three fully mature trees and a vast amount of natural enrichment for them.

In order to do this the keepers and education department are organising a fund raising week during the half term from Saturday 24th October - Sunday 1st November, this will include:
  • Cake sales, on an animal theme

  • Animal fancy dress

  • Face painting

  • Catch the monkey

  • Monkey quiz treasure hunt and trails

  • Raffles with great prizes

  • Monkey guy competitions for school
    and much more!

We have put next to our current monkey enclosure a board with some information about our proposed design and also a collection box as we need to raise at least £4500! Any donation, however small is gladly accepted and we hope you are able to visit us during Monkey Mayhem Week.

Reptilian Romance

At the beginning of July, we received two new additions to the classroom. A baby Herman Tortoise and a female Yemen Chameleon both of whom have been doing very well.

It has now come to the time for Temani, our Yemen Chameleon to breed. It is recommended that female Yemen Chameleons are given the opportunity to breed as fertile eggs are less likely to lead to a Chameleon becoming egg bound than infertile eggs. Becoming egg-bound can be very dangerous for Yemen Chameleons and is potentially fatal.

As we do not have a male Yemen Chameleon, we asked a local reptile shop if we could take Temani to their male for an afternoon. They were more than happy to help as they had a suitable male.

The meeting was successful and we hope that in 30 to 40 days she will lay some eggs.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Blotch tries to kill the Boomer ball

We thought you would like to see these photographs of one of our Amur tigers, Blotch, apparently attempting to drown and suffocate a large boomer ball! They were taken at lunchtime today. Tigers, unlike most other cats, enjoy water and Blotch was oblivious to the fact that she was also splashing guests in her excitement! We provide our animals with enrichment such as Boomer balls to challenge them and to encourage natural behaviours. Blotch appeared to be treating the ball like a prey animal and would not let her younger brother Vladimir, or her twin sister Stripe, too close to it! For a few minutes at a time Blotch would grapple with the ball and attempt to take it up onto the bank. If it slipped out of her grip she would reach out and pull it back in again and under control.

As mentioned in an earlier blog we hope to give the tigers a hanging boomer ball soon. They clearly provide a good workout, keeping the carnivores fit and mentally stimulated.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Solomon steals the limelight at Josie's party

On Saturday we celebrated our lioness Josie's 9th birthday. As explained in a previous blog we threw her a party with lots of enrichment. Josie and her father Solomon had their meat cut into small peices and hidden in hessian sacks with straw (one of which we hung from a tree). It was also concealed in birthday boxes and tubes, these are just cardboard but covered in colourful wrapping paper. We also gave them the hanging boomer ball and stuffed meat behind the fire hose straps (see previous blog for further details). Finally the lions had ginger, thyme, and Josie's personal favourite, catnip, scented in their enclosure.

Josie was quick to demolish the boxes and the hessian sack but Solomon amazed the watching crowd as he swung off the hanging sack and tore it down. He spent a lot of time getting the meat from the hanging boomer ball; using his great weight and strength he even managed to pop it out of the sling. He looked puzzled as it bounced down the enclosure, but was later seen rolling it around on the ground. This design will need adapting before it is given to our tigers next!

We have made a short video which we had hoped to include below, however numerous technical issues currently prevent this! We hope that in time videos will become regular features of the blog. Come back to the blog soon if you were unable to visit on Saturday, hopefully you will enjoy a few clips from the afternoon.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Coati enclosure gets a makeover

After completing the refurbishment of the vervet monkey enclosure recently, we set our sights on the coati pen. Our six ring-tailed, or brown-nosed, coati moved into their current enclosure back in January. Basil, a nine year old male, and Junior, a three year old female, produced four healthy babies in May last year. As a result they outgrew their previous home beside the monkeys. Their new enclosure used to house the serval cats, and is much higher and longer. When the youngsters were eight months old we decided it was time to move the family. This now included an additional male, Diego, and three more females, Fonzo, Julio and Zorro.

Coati are members of the raccoon family, unlike all other members of this family they are diurnal, which means they are active during the day and sleep at night. They live in forests across large areas of South America. Coati are omnivores, eating a wide variety of plant and animal matter, and they use their highly sensitive nose and excellent sense of smell to locate their food. They forage both on the ground and in the trees.

The species is well known for digging and shredding so we had to remember this when revamping their enclosure, hopefully then they wouldn't destroy everything we put in! First of all we took down the old ropes. Except for the fire hose hammock, the items now hanging from the roof are all new. These include new ropes and fire hoses to climb, a hanging tube, fire hose swing and a rope ladder. One of our keepers, Ben, designed a new enrichment object which we are all calling the hot air balloon for that is what it resembles! It is a hanging horizontal life buoy, covered in rope, from which hangs a small wooden box where we can place some of their food. The coati are often seen sitting in this, despite its unusual appearance it is a definite success with them!

As we worked our way down to the ground, dead plants and old logs were removed. Most of the larger climbing structures were left this time. We have spent time planting about a dozen or so new bushes and shrubs and have surrounded these with rocks in the hope it will increase their lifespan! We also tried to use plants that were less appealing to the coati, we used some grasses and ferns, but soon discovered these were irresistible to them! They have been replaced with hardier species.

The main enclosure refurbishment is now complete for the coati, but like all of the animals at the zoo they are given enrichment on a regular basis. Items such as puzzle feeders, fruitbergs, and feeder balls are popular. A fresh layer of bark chip is also added whenever we get a delivery; they forage through this and pick out all of the invertebrates.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Fire hose fun for Sovereign

Thanks to another large donation of fire hose from the fire brigade this week, the keepers have been very busy creating a variety of enrichment devices. Fire hose is used by lots of zoos, it is incredably durable and therefore safe to use with even the most destructive of our animals.

Sovereign, our ten year old male jaguar, was one of the first to benefit from the delivery. We decided to make a sling for a large boomer ball and to hang this up from a tree in his enclosure. Boomer balls are a firm favourite with the carnivores but by suspending one up high, the type of movement possible would obviously be very different. It was made so that peices of meat could be wedged between the straps and the ball, making food acquisition much more of a challenge! After a week or two, the object will be removed and hung in one of our other cat enclosures for a short time so that Sovereign doesn't become bored with it. The scent of other felines on the ball as it is rotated around the enclosures can only add interest.

Fire hose was also randomly woven between the other trees in the jaguar enclosure and loose ends left hanging down. We hope Sovereign will perhaps bat and pull on these, and we can also suspend food from them.

Our curator Will has made this browse holder and we will be making more in the near future. These will be given to many species including the vervet monkeys, coati, tapir and reindeer. We have plenty of other ideas for the fire hose including a hammock for the bears.