Thursday, 30 July 2009

Holiday Fun

The summer holidays are finally here, and despite the rain we have been keeping the kids entertained with face painting! There are a number of different animal styles available, from jaguar to ladybird; and badge making so children can design their very own badge or colour in one of our designs.
We have also created a Carnivore Trail and Crossword to celebrate the EAZA "Year of the European Carnivore". We are raising both money and awareness to help with a number of projects which BIAZA are conducting throughout Europe.
The Education classroom, home to our bugs and reptiles, is open throughout the day. People are welcome to come in and look at our animals and ask our staff any questions they may have about them. We have a number of daily talks and feed times, so visitors can watch the animals being fed and learn a bit about them all...

Friday, 24 July 2009

An early Christmas present

In a previous blog we talked about our newly arrived reindeer, Blitzen, Comet and Donna. The troublesome trio have outgrown their head collars as they have got older, leading to the collars becoming tight in some places and loose in others. This makes it very uncomfortable for the reindeer when we walk them around the zoo. Fortunately, local business, Libby's in Plympton sell horse tack and have very kindly donated three brand new head collars which fit the reindeer far better. This means it is much more comfortable for them and has also vastly improved their training.

Since we first got them back in March, their training has improved with leaps and bounds (quite literally sometimes). When we first got them it took all of our effort to try to calm them down when we went into their enclosure. Now, they come to us eagerly for their daily walks and will allow public to slowly come up and meet them. Even Comet, the most nervous out of the three, has allowed public to stroke her. As such, we felt it was time to introduce Blitzen, Comet and Donna to a new experience. We are now offering a 'meet and greet' a couple of days a week where visitors get the chance to have an 'up close and personal' experience with them. We take them into a fenced off area with some of their favourite browse and public can come in two or three at a time and meet the reindeer.

Our aim is to have the reindeer comfortable around people, so at Christmas children will be able to come and have their photo taken with santa and his reindeer at his grotto. This is a rare experience and we are working hard to make it a success.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Monkey Business

The keepers and myself have been busy over the last few days sprucing up our monkey enclosure. We have a troop of 4 Vervet monkeys here at the zoo; Jay who is our only male and is in charge of the group and the females; Kiki, Kala and Ayanna.

Vervet monkeys being a common species throughout Eastern and Southern Africa are not regularly seen in zoos in England. They are a medium sized monkey with the males getting up to about 7.5 kg and females about 5.5 kg. Throughout Africa they are regularly seen as pests due to their inquisitive nature with often leads them into trouble. Vervets are a terrestrial species of monkey, spending a lot of time on the ground foraging for food. Their diet in the wild as well as at the zoo is mainly made up of fruit. In the wild they will also eat small rodents, insects, a variety of leaves and have even been know to destroy crops. At the zoo along with the fruit they get chicks, the occasional invertebrate as well as a specialized monkey concentrate food.

We have planted lots of different plants and small trees to give the Vervets a more natural looking enclosure, all the logs and substrate have been replaced, a new rope bridge is in place as well as new enrichment items added to keep the little guys active.

The enclosure they are currently in is now looking a bit dated and is not a favorite with the keepers. The management at the zoo are aware of this problem and with input from the keepers are coming up with plans to build our monkeys a brand new enclosure with a bigger house, loads more ground space as well as fully grown trees to climb around in. Until this is built though, the keepers will constantly be rearranging, adding and taking away items and enriching the lives of our monkeys to the best of their abilities.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Introducing Comet, Donna and Blitzen

Three young reindeer arrived earlier in the year and are now on view to the public for the first time. The two females, Donna and Comet, and their male companion, Blitzen, are now around a year old. When the animals first came to Dartmoor they were very nervous of people. They were kept in an off show enclosure to allow keepers time to build a trusting relationship with them. After many long patient hours, the reindeer began to hand feed and started allowing keepers to attach lead ropes to their head collars. Donna had always been the most comfortable around humans and soon she was being taken for walks in an empty field. Blitzen, and then Comet, later joined her on these excursions and keepers gradually began introducing the animals to the sights, smells and sounds of the zoo environment.

The reindeer have become much more confident around humans and are no longer spooked by most new experiences. Now that they have settled in, the keepers wanted to place them on public view, although the new reindeer complex is not yet finished. The tapir enclosure is home to Roger and Chana. It is composed of two stables, two hardstanding areas and one large paddock. As one of these stables and hardstanding areas is not currently in use, it was decided that Donna, Comet and Blitzen should temporarily move in . The tapir are shut into their hardstanding area for a few hours during the day so that the reindeer can use the paddock for a little while. Until mid afternoon, Roger and Chana are always asleep in their house, so they are not missing out.

The reindeer are still taken for a walk around the zoo every day and they continue to improve. They are in training for Christmas when we hope they will be firm favourites with our visitors. So, if you visit Dartmoor Zoo you will be able to see the trio and if you're lucky enough you may even meet one close up on a walk!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!

As it has been so hot over the past few days we have been thinking of ways to keep our animals cool.
A favourite with most of them is frozen fruit. We either freeze fruit such as melons, pineapples, apples and pear or blend up the fruit, mixing it with water and freezing it so it ends up like a fruit ice lolly.

The bears have a moat with water in and we often see them going for a paddle on hot days. To add to their enjoyment we throw some of the frozen fruit into the water so they have to fish about for it.

For some of our omnivores, such as the meerkat and mongoose, we freeze bugs into ice cubes which they really enjoy. It takes them a while to lick through the ice before getting to the treat inside.

The cats love blood bergs which we give them occasionally. These consist of blood or bits of meat mixed in with water which is then frozen. Sometimes when the weather is really hot the tigers decide to go for a swim in their moat. As tigers love water it is ideal for them to have this in their enclosure. An alternative to the moat is when we squirt water with the hose into their enclosure. The tigers start playing around with the jets of water, chasing after it and trying to bite the water.