Friday, 25 November 2011

DZP Gets Full BIAZA Membership

Head Keeper Mike Downman gives the
good news to the Meerkats
We are pleased to announce that as of 16th November DZP is now a full member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA).

Right from the very start, achieving full BIAZA membership has been a crucial goal in the long journey towards establishing Dartmoor Zoological Park as a fully functional member of the wider zoological community.

Following three years of provisional membership status, we are thrilled to have achieved our goal of full membership.

Full BIAZA membership is recognition that we: 
  • inspire people to help conserve the natural world 
  • participate in effective, co-operative conservation programmes 
  • deliver the highest quality environmental education, training and research 
  • achieve the highest standards of animal care and welfare 
Over the last three years we have benefited greatly from the support of BIAZA and other established members. In particular, our good friends at Newquay Zoo have always been on hand to offer help, guidance and advice. We are extremely grateful for their generous support and friendship.

Friday, 11 November 2011

High Impact Award for our Education Team

Education Officer, Amy Collie with Curator Collin Northcott
and Presentation Supervisor, Adam Cook
Our education team received some well deserved recognition this week when the organisers of Global Entrepreneurship Week awarded "High Impact Status" to our innovative Enterprise Challenge.

Organised by Youth Business International, Global Entrepreneurship Week celebrates entrepreneurship as a force for good through a wide range of activities. Since its inception, it has spread to 115 countries, with nearly 24,000 organisations planning more than 37,000 activities. In 2010 over 207,200 people attended 2,577 events, run by 983 organisations as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week in the UK alone.

Their "High Impact Badge of Honour" is granted only to those activities which meet a range of criteria demonstrating the contribution the activity makes to the aims of the project.

Launched earlier this year, the DZP Enterprise Challenge is a unique activity developed by DZP Education Officer, Amy Collie. Designed to meet and exceed a range of educational goals in a challenging and engaging manner, it sees small teams of school children assuming the role of a Zoo Development Team for an entire day.

"We're very proud of the Enterprise Challenge," explains Amy. "It involves every department at the zoo from animal care through maintenance to marketing and customer service. It's a real crash-course in the demands of running a modern zoo."

The students' task, often in competition with teams from other schools, is to add a new species to the DZP animal collection. To complete the challenge, students must face and overcome a range of real-world development problems whilst keeping to a strict budget.

At the end of the day the teams are required to present their plans to a panel of professional judges which includes Benjamin Mee, owner of DZP.

"The feedback we get from students and staff is amazing," says Amy. "We've even run enterprise days as team-building exercises for teachers and university lecturers. They find it just as challenging and enjoyable as the kids."

The DZP Enterprise Challenge is just one of a number of recent developments within the zoo's education department which have captured the imagination and support of local educators. The new Extended Diploma in Animal Management, delivered in partnership with Bicton College, is now well under way with new students already expressing an interest in enrolling next year.

The fascinating Dissection Theatre, part of the Dartmoor Hill Pony conservation project, is also now very well established and attracting interest from educational establishments throughout the country.

The Enterprise Challenge is proving particularly popular with secondary school teachers who recognise that it exceeds the specified National Curriculum learning objectives for Economic Wellbeing and Financial Capability. It also gives higher ability students the opportunity to demonstrate and develop skills in teamwork, assessing needs, understanding risk, finance management and enterprise.

"We've known for quite some time now that the Enterprise Challenge was something special," explains DZP operations manager, George Hyde. "The whole team here have worked really hard to produce something of real value and this award shows that we achieved exactly that."

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Coming out on Top

Everyone had a hand in promoting the vote
Earlier this year we found ourselves in the running for Eden TV's Top Wildlife Attraction 2011. "Why not?" we thought. 

Then we saw the competition; Paignton Zoo, Flamingo Land, Isle of Wight Zoo, Woburn Safari Park, not to mention last year's run-away winners, Knowsley Safari Park. All in all, there were 20 well established attractions with decades of experiences and regular visitor numbers well in excess of our own. Images of David and Goliath came to mind.

Understandably, this gave us pause for thought.

Undaunted we soldiered on. The voting cards and promotional posters arrived and we got to work making sure that our visitors knew we were depending on their support to avoid total embarrassment at the hands of the country's top attractions.

Whilst we were very much encouraged by the enthusiastic support we received from our visitors, we didn't dare to think that we were in with a chance of winning. The mathematics were hard to ignore; even if a large percentage of our visitors chose to honour us with their vote, the sheer numbers of visitors to the other attractions would surely dwarf our own modest contribution.

Getting up-dates from the organisers of the event on how we were progressing wasn't easy. However, we quickly began to realise that, to borrow a well-worn cliche, winning wasn't everything. Once given the opportunity to express their support, the feedback we were getting from our visitors was extremely encouraging.

The majority of this feedback came via our newly established and undeniably fantastic team of (mostly volunteer) presenters, whilst hard at work on their customer engagement duties. This literally entails getting one-to-one with visitors talking about the animal collection, our education and conservation efforts and gathering feedback on their experience.

Social media played an important role. Our Facebook page and profile along with our Twitter account were put to good use directing supporters to the on-line voting facility, but again our impressive following in this realm is still very modest by comparison to some of the other attractions.

The large pile in the centre is the DZP vote
It wasn't until about half way through the summer holiday that we received the incredible news that we might actually be in with a chance when we received this photograph from the offices of the organisers, Mediator Ltd. It's from the desk of the poor person counting the votes:

It was proof positive that the competition had become a two horse race and, astonishingly, we were one of them.

As encouraging as this news was, we didn't let it go to our heads. There was still lots of time left before the closing date for votes and those unavoidable visitor numbers just wouldn't go away; surely the likes of Woburn Safari Park and Paignton Zoo would streak past us before the finish.

Towards the end of the summer holidays our visitors continued to provide lots of encouragement and our followers in the various social media were vocal in their support among their social networks. We even reached a stage when we were rapidly running out of voting cards at the zoo, such was the demand. And no amount of pleading with the organisers would convince them to replenish.

Then came the results.

It seems that we had seriously underestimated the power of our visitors. The groundswell of enthusiastic support had resulted in Dartmoor Zoo taking over 27 per cent of the entire vote placing us in a very comfortable first ahead of The Monkey Sanctuary with our friends at Paignton Zoo coming in third.

This wonderful news is still sinking in around here. It really is very heartwarming and quite humbling to see that the genuine support among our fairly modest visit numbers is sufficient to overwhelm that of our most serious competitors.

The staff and volunteers at DZP work extremely hard to ensure that the visitor experience is the best it can possibly be and this wonderful show of support demonstrates that for many, that's exactly what they've had.

We'd like to thank all our supporters for making this possible and we look forward to working even harder to live up to the title of, Top Wildlife Attraction 2011.

The DZP Newsletter

Friday, 16 September 2011

Mini Adventures at DZP

The ever curious ostrich
Over the past year, our African Savannah Exhibit has come on in leaps and bounds. A great deal of work and planning went into moving animals around within the collection, transferring some to other collections and welcoming new arrivals.

The end result is a spacious exhibit which now includes three ostrich, eight guinea fowl, three waterbuck and 11 lechwe antelope (which includes two spring babies). Future additions on the wish-list include zebra and giraffe.

Unfortunately, many of these developments are not immediately obvious to the visitor. Whilst the guinea fowl are easy to spot and the ostrich are very visible thanks to their seemingly tireless curiosity, the lechwe and waterbuck tend to keep their distance. This is largely because the lechwe come from a safari park background where close proximity to pedestrians is pretty rare. And, being the more recent addition, the waterbuck tend take their lead from the lechwe.

Whilst they have become increasingly brave over the months, often seen in the lower reaches of their expansive enclosure, with such a large open space they are still at quite a distance.

So, if Mohamed won’t go to the mountain...

Earlier this year, Ocean Mini of Plymouth teamed up with DZP and provided us with three minis from their range of five to meet our increasingly diverse transport needs. Thanks to our good friends at Alphabet Signs in Plymouth, you may well have spotted these distinctive vehicles out and about as we conduct education outreach visits, transport small animals and generally get on with the day-to-day business of the zoo around the region.

One of the vehicles is a four-wheel drive Mini Countryman. Picked for purpose, this versatile machine now enables us to conduct limited ‘mini safaris’ around the African Savannah Exhibit.

Over the past few months our curator, Colin has been ensuring that the safaris are safe for the public and the animals by taking the Countryman on slow trips around the exhibit, gradually spending more time and getting closer to the animals on each visit.

“It’s very important to ensure that the animals are happy with the vehicle,” explains Colin. “Being prey animals, they are constantly on the look-out for potential threats. The appearance of anything novel in their environment will put the whole herd on high alert until they can satisfy themselves that there is no threat.”

The main objective of this period of acclimatisation is to minimise the possibility of the animals becoming panicked. “The lechwe and waterbuck are very strong and very fast,” says Colin. “If they were to become spooked then they could hurt themselves hitting the perimeter fences.”

The task of driving a vehicle around an animal enclosure also entails a great deal of expertise. Speed must be kept low and constant and the driver must be fully familiar with the behavioural traits of the animals, able to spot any signs of unease long before they become problematic.

There are also hidden dangers. “Although the enclosure itself is very open and spacious,” says Colin. “There are lots of places where small animals, particularly newborns, may be hidden from view. A young antelope will remain perfectly still and hidden until the last possible moment and we wouldn’t want that to be too late.”

Trials of the Mini Safari have gone well so far and we’ll be making announcements about when these will be available to members of the public.

Watch this space for details of the launch of the new Mini Coupe here at DZP.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Return of the Blog?

OK - It's been a long while since we up-dated this blog which might give the impression that nothing much happens here. 

Presentation Team Supervisor, Adam.
(Not at his best)
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth; babies are born, new arrivals appear, enclosures get built... all the stuff you'd expect. We also have a whole new Presentation Team led by our new Supervisor, Adam wowing the general public with talks, animal feeds and activities for the kids.

Our new Education Officer, Amy is rewriting the book on zoo education coming up with a fantastic programme covering the whole curriculum. We've even built a new Education Centre where we'll be delivering a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Animal Management with Bicton College. And once that's underway we'll get cracking on a new reptile house.

And then of course there's We Bought a Zoo - the book and soon-to-be Hollywood movie starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johannson. To be honest it's difficult to know what to say about that because it all still seems a bit unreal. It's currently in post-production where director, Cameron Crowe is taking care of the finishing touches, not least of which is the soundtrack which like all Crowe movies promises to be a real gem in itself.

So, the reality is that so much happens here it's hard to find the time to write about it. Sometimes the most we can manage is a quick tweet or a photo and a quick status up-date on facebook. So, we were thinking - maybe we should just give ourselves a bit of a kick and make time to let you all know what's going on as and when it happens.

To get things rolling it would be great to know who's out there listening. The traffic stats for this blog are very modest at the moment, but enough to show that we do have some visitors. If you'd like to see more from this blog please let us know in the comments below. Just let us know what you want to hear about and we'll do our best to keep you informed.