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.

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