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.