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.