Friday, 30 April 2010

The Truth is Out There

Recent news has suggested that the question of 'beasts' on Dartmoor has been definitively answered in the negative. But not everyone agrees.

Posted in May 2008, this piece of video has caught the attention of an American TV production company, Base Productions.

They've put together a six-person team, led by former FBI special agent Ben Hansen who'll be visiting DZP to interview staff for opinions of this and other sightings. They'll also be gathering physical evidence such as big cat prints, faeces and fur, to take into the field to aid their investigations.

The team of investigators will be accompanied by Danny Bamping, founder of the British Big Cats Society.

The BBCS published the results of a survey in 2004 which collected data from The NFU, several police forces and wildlife organisations from across the country. It ranked the South West very highly for big cat sightings and stongly suggested that the government take the phenomenon more seriously.

The general opinion among those that know here at DZP is that there is little question that in the past, big cats of one kind or another have found their way into the wilds of Britain. However, whether they have been able to survive and, more importantly, breed healthy offspring is a much harder question to answer.

However slim the chances of a healthy population of big cats on the moor, it's worth taking these sightings seriously. If there are big cats out there today, then it's a population that's survived against incredible odds and therefore deserving of study and support.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Rare Beetle Sighting

Head Keeper Colin Northcott is getting somewhat of a reputation for spotting rare wildlife around DZP. Hot on the heels of his recent spotting of a red kite, today he found what we're pretty sure is an Oil Beetle.

Otherwise known as a Blister Beetle, thanks to an oil secreted from its joints which can cause a variety of skin irritations, the Oil Beetle is part of a family that share a fascinating life-cycle. The larvae are parasitic upon some types of bees and grasshoppers. When hatched, they climb a flower stem and wait for a bee. Then, hitching a ride on the bee they gain entry to the hive where they feed on bee's eggs, pollen and nectar. The larvae then pupate in the bees nest, leaving to seek a mate once mature.

The species, meloe proscarabaeus is bluish black in colour with a long swollen abdomen. We believe the one pictured here is male since the abdomen in the female is particularly pronounced. We are able to make this comparison because we actually found two in the same area.

As far as we are able to establish, the status of the beetle is 'vulnerable' numbers having declined drastically in recent years. One of the causes is thought to be the decline in bee population.

We'll be keeping a sharp eye out for the Oil Beetle in future. In the interests of their future welfare we suggest you do likewise.


Having educated all key staff on the status of the Oil Beetle, we just released this male back into the wild. Astonishingly the female we spotted yesterday was still around. They looked very happy together...

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Red Kites Over Zoo

Its official. A Red Kite was seen today soaring over the zoo.

This wonderful majestic bird gave zoo staff a visit this morning. Believed to be a female, she was circling overhead at low level. A beautiful sunny day showing off her colours in the sunlight. A first for most zoo staff.

Although Red Kites have been seen in the area before it has been many years since the last sighting. Their decline has meant that sightings are extremely rare now. This Kite is the first for many years and we hope that this may be the start of many more visits for this region.

This magnificent bird of prey is unmistakable with its reddish brown body, angled wings and forked tail.

At one time confined to Wales, a long running protection program has successfully re-introduced Red Kites to England and Scotland. The nearest areas of re-introduction to Devon are Central Wales and Central England so for Kites to be seen in Devon must mean that they are successfully spreading throughout the country.

Have you seen Red Kites near you?

Or if you know the best places to see Red Kites?

Comment here.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Big Cats on Dartmoor!

According to Plymouth Herald: Britains environment watchdog has ruled out the existence of big cats in the wilds of the Westcountry, despite countless sighting claims by members of the public.
Natural England said it was "confident that there is no breeding population of big cats" in the UK after releasing a list of the exotic species reported to it by the public.

As an animal keeper for many years, it is innevitable that i have run into this debate before. Whilst working in the midlands i was called upon by local police forces, on several occassions, to help with reports of "big cat" sightings. I would accompany them to the scene of the sighting and check for evidence. I have found spoor, (feaces), scratch marks, foot prints and fur on many of the sites but i cannot confirm that any of the evidence found came from a big cat.

Before the 1970's the law on keeping a big cat, such as Lion or Tiger, was very relaxed. Anyone could keep a Lion in their garden as long as it was caged! My partners family lived just around the corner from such an owner who kept his Lion on the front lawn! The local children would walk past it on their way to school.

Since then the law has changed dramatically. The Dangerous Wild Animal Act, (DWA), was introduced in the early 70's to stop the trend of keeping big cats as pets and forced owners to house their cats, and other dangerous animals, properly. Proper, safe enclosures were needed with adequate room and a licence was needed to own such an animal.

This new law prompted an influx of animals being given away to zoo's, but worst of all, some of those that couldn't afford to comply with the new regulations would release their animals into "the wild". Exmoor was the first place to have a "big cat" sighting. A black Panther, (Leopard). Thought to be an illegally released cat in the 70's. Since then hundreds of sightings came in to various police forces all across the country. Dartmoor being one of them. Over the past 30 years many sightings have been reported across Dartmoor, Bodmin moor and Exmoor. Each area boasting their own "beast of"

While the original cats of the seventies will all be dead now, is it possible that some crossed eachothers paths and produced offspring? We cannot discount this, but, in my personal opinion, i think unlikely. Many sightings are fake, many just mis-identified. Yet the sightings still come. Are they the offspring, escapee's, illegally bred releases? Reports across Britain still come in from time to time but Natural England say there is no breeding population of big cats in the UK. Where have they come from? Where is the evidence? Who knows for sure?

What do you think?

Are there big cats roaming Dartmoor? Have you seen what you believe to be a big cat? Let us know you views.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Its Springtime at the Zoo.

Spring is arriving at the zoo and the natural flora and fauna is in full swing.

Dartmoor zoo is a haven for animals and birds that are free to come and go. Over 30 species of wild bird have been recorded at the zoo from the tiny Goldcrest to the huge Buzzard and Raven. The Jackdaws are nest building around the main house and the wrens have taken up residence just outside the office window. The wild bird chorus in the morning and evening at this time of year is a cacophany of sound as they compete for the best territories. Look around the trees as you wander through the zoo at the nest boxes placed throughout. The Blue Tits are nesting everywhere. We eagerly await the imminent arrival of the Swallows that will soon be ducking and weaving in our large open, soon to be African paddock, opposite the restaurant. The male birds are in full colour now trying to catch the eye of the females, and our resident Peacocks are in full tail too, fanning their spectacular plumage to everything that'll take a look. Woodpeckers are drumming in the new season and the Tree Creepers are busy scurrying up and down the giant oak trees.

The flora is in full cycle with the changing colours throughout spring. The snowdrops are just finishing their flourish and are making way for the crocuses and daffodils. Soon it will be the turn of the bluebells and the rhododendron. We also have many rarer plants like the Australian fern, lime trees, eucolyptus and evergreen oak.

As you walk up the main drive you will see our large pond used by our Capybara. Take a closer look at the waters edge and you will see that the frogs have spawned leaving huge clumps of jellied eggs. The pond will be alive with tadpoles before long. At the top of the drive, behind the eucalyptus tree, another small pond is home to several newts and dragonfly will soon adorn the reeds later in the spring.

Whatever time of year you come, keep a sharp eye out. As well as our exhibit animals there is a world of natural beauty around you. So you can be sure of a natural spectacle. Look beyond the enclosures.

There's more to Dartmoor zoo than just a zoo, if you just take another look around.

Wildlife Art Competition and Exhibition

In advance of the first DZP Wildlife Art Competition and Exhibition, we thought we'd give you a sample of the standard we can expect.

Here's a selection of web sites from a few of the applicants.

Applications are still open - deadline is 8th May 2010.

For more information, see the events section of our Facebook page and follow us on Twittter.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Kids go FREE in March

Every Saturday and Sunday in March Kids go FREE at DZP!

Yes, as long as they're accompanied by at least one full paying adult and you consider a no-obligation donation to our Monkey Mayhem fundraiser kids go free every weekend in March.

So - bring your little monkeys to help out our little monkeys!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Tweet Yourself to a Keeper for a Day

We've donated over £1000 in prizes, including Keeper for a Day experiences for adults and juniors, to the Plymouth Twestival.

Twestival™ (or Twitter Festival) is a global charity event which uses social media for social good. On Thursday 25 March 2010, people in hundreds of cities around the world will come together offline to raise money and create awareness for Concern Worldwide.

All of the local events are organized 100% by volunteers and 100% of all ticket sales and donations go direct to projects. The Plymouth Twestival will be hosted by Plymouth Argyle and will feature a number of bands including, Francis and the Drakes, Kitty and the Lost Boys and The Delahays.

You can keep up-to-date with developments at the Plymouth Twestival web site. If you feel like getting right into the social media spirit you can follow the organisers on twitter, as well as become a fan on facebook.

And don't forget, you can also follow DZP on twitter and become a fan on our Facebook page.

So get yourself some Twestival tickets, have a bunch of fun, do some good for charity and maybe even get yourself a Keeper for a Day into the bargain.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Monkey Developments

Development of our new monkey enclosure is well under way.

As I'm sure many of you know we have been raising funds for our new Vervet monkey enclosure to give them a bigger and better home. Work is well under way, the house is already built and in position, the posts and mesh are on order and most of the outside furnishing is done. We are aiming for the opening at Easter. We have almost reached our target but still need a bit more money.

Bill & Ted's excellent adventure

Our two male baby pygmy goats are now a week old and exploring their enclosure under the watchful eye of their mum Vanilla. The two energetic kids have been tackling the obstacles with ease, their favourite being the big oak tree.

The bigger of the two is called Bill (he has more black on him) and the smaller is Ted.
They also got to meet their dad, Elvis, today as when they were born he was too boisterous and had to be removed. They seem to be getting on well so far.

Friday, 29 January 2010

A sparring log for Sovereign

Today we have been busy in the jaguar enclosure, which is of course home to Sovereign. We wanted to give him some large new logs to scratch and clamber on. One of these in particular was very heavy indeed and so a good size for this big cat. We also wanted to secure a hanging log that Sov would be able to tussle and spar with. We hoped that the movement of such a large, strong object would provide much stimulation and activity.

As you can see from the photos, we secured a rope between the two trees (easier said than done!) and then used a small length of chain to attach the log to that. The log had long eye bolts screwed into it to allow the chain to be connected.

Sovereign's response wasn't as quite as dramatic as we'd imagined but, as you can see from the short video, he eventually got the idea of it! We hope he will use it much more in the future and have already had a few thoughts on how we can make it more appealing, such as wrapping it in horse fur. We had altered his enclosure a fair bit, so it's understandable because Sov did have lots of other things to investigate and, of course, scent mark!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Kiruna goes crazy for hanging enrichment

At Dartmoor Zoo we have a carefully designed enrichment programme which means that our animals receive a variety of different types of enrichment on a regular basis. We monitor and record their response to the items we provide so that we know what is successful with each species or individual, and what we need to change or withdraw altogether. A few weeks ago one of our keepers had the idea of hanging up a pelt for some of our small carnivores. They would normally have skin and fur present on their meat, but on its own, and hanging from a branch it encouraged a great deal of activity both from our female red fox Bramble and our female Siberian lynx Kiruna. Kiruna can be seen with this enrichment in the short video clip below.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Keepers' Snowy Week

This week at Dartmoor Zoo we have not escaped the heavy snowfall, icy roads and freezing conditions that have plagued the country. On Wednesday morning the treacherous driving conditions meant that many staff were unable to even get to the zoo. Hundreds of schools and offices in Devon have been shut for the last few days, but when animals are involved, life must go on as normal. They of course still need to be fed, watered, cleaned out and cared for, the same as every other day. Most of the keeping staff have made it in every day so far to do just this. Zoo keeping is hard work at the best of times, but this week that has been an understatement!

Water bowls have been freezing so hard that in some cases, keepers have been able to stand on them. As soon as we have broken the ice in every water bowl, they start to freeze up again. Although some of our animals, like the tigers and lynx are well adapted to these wintry conditions, many are not. For these species we have been providing extra large straw beds and heat lamps. Some, like the tapir, are being kept in overnight as well.

The biggest and least desired job every morning at the moment is breaking the ice on the Tiger Rock and Jaguar moats. In case you don't know, the moats are used instead of fencing on one side of each enclosure. Every day the ice gets thicker so we need to break it up first thing before we let the cats out. Normally the cats are out 24/7, but obviously this is not the best idea in these circumstances!

The keepers' favourite weapon is a long metal pole with a large bar on the end. It is very heavy and you can always tell who's done the cat round because they are collapsed over the table at break time!

Today is the first time since Tuesday that the van has been able to get to the main road (via the fallow field)! The drive is too slippery for any cars, which is one of the reasons why we are presently closed. As you can see from the video, it did need some help from the dumper on the way back, but we were running quite low on fruit and vegetables for our animals and so it was important to make the journey. The weather forecast for the weekend is more snow so we felt we had to take the opportunity to get some supplies in. Please telephone the zoo before you visit, to make sure we are open.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Putting the Art into Dartmoor

For those of you with an eye for art Dartmoor Zoo may be just the place. Following recent discussions with the well respected wildlife artist, Pip McGarry, we will be holding a wildlife art competition and exhibition here at the Zoo in May.

Pip McGarry, Chairman of the Marwell International Wildlife Art Society, describes himself as a self- taught artist but attributes his natural talent to his artistic family background. Working mainly in oils, his originals are extremely popular. His success has enabled him to raise thousands of pounds for a variety of conservation projects including the Dambari Field Research Station for Black Rhinos in Zimbabwe, the Epulu Okapi Game Reserve Appeal in Zaire, and Save the Tiger. He has hosted several art exhibitions across the country and is keen to make use of the excellent facilities here at DZP.

The competition will cover five categories; World Mammals, Birds, British Wildlife, Animals in Action and All Other Wildlife. Pip, who has also judged the BBC Wildlife Art Competition, will head a panel of three judges for the competition which will be open to anyone over 17 years of age.

Entry deadline is the 8th May and artists’ submissions must be delivered to the zoo on Sunday 23rd May. The top 50 pictures will be chosen and exhibited at DZP for a private viewing on Friday 28th May. The exhibition will then be open to the public on the 29th May for 7 days during which visitors will have the opportunity to purchase an original work for themselves.

We intend this to be the first of many exhibitions which will include photographic and sculptural works. The zoo is the perfect setting for such events, and Pip’s track record as an artist and event organiser make this one a must-see. Works from Pip’s previous exhibitions are rated among the best in the country.

If you feel inspired to take part why not use our animals as subjects? Our excellent open-front enclosures are ideal for anyone trying to capture images of wildlife at its best.

For competition entry details please contact George Hyde. For more information about Pip McGarry and a sample of his excellent work visit:

Friday, 1 January 2010

Christmas Trees Wanted!

If you are thinking of taking down your Christmas tree down in the next few days and taking it to the tip, please don't! We would be grateful for any trees as we can use these for enrichment in our animal enclosures. Thank you.