Wednesday, 5 December 2012

High Impact Award for the Second Year Running

Volunteer Sarah with Head Keeper Mike and
Conservation and Research Officer, Adam
The Education Team at Dartmoor Zoo are celebrating again following confirmation that for the second year running they have won the Global Entrepreneurship Week, High Impact Award.

Organised by Youth Business International, Global Entrepreneurship Week celebrates entrepreneurship as a force for good through a wide range of activities.

The "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.

Since its inception, Global Entrepreneurship Week has spread to 115 countries, with nearly 24,000 organisations planning more than 37,000 activities. In 2011 over 213,000 people attended 2,305 events, run by over 900 organisations as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week in the UK alone.

The award was granted to DZP for their Enterprise Challenge. Launched in 2011, the challenge is a unique activity developed by the education team designed to meet and exceed a range of educational goals in a challenging and engaging manner. It sees small teams of students assuming the role of a Zoo Development Team for an entire day.

"We're very proud of the Enterprise Challenge," explains operations manager, George Hyde. "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-long challenge the teams are required to present their plans to a panel of professional judges comprised of senior zoo management which sometimes includes zoo director, Benjamin Mee.

"The feedback we get from students and staff is amazing," says Benjamin. "We've even run Enterprise Challenge 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 major 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 into its second year with new students already expressing an interest in enrolling next year.

The zoo’s 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 Well-being 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 George. "The whole team here have worked really hard to produce something of real value and this award shows that we achieved exactly that."

Educators in the region can see first-hand what the Enterprise Challenge is all about at an open evening at the zoo in January. It’s one of a number of events held throughout the year which provides teachers and youth group workers with an opportunity to see what the DZP Education Team has to offer and assist them in developing further activities.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Free Educators' Open Evening

In January, our education team will be welcoming educators and kids group organisers to view our latest range of education facilities and programmes.

For those of you who haven’t been to one of our teacher evenings, this is your chance to meet our team of staff and volunteers and see why DZP is the best place to bring your students for a wide variety of curriculum friendly educational experiences.

More importantly, it’s your chance to tell us how we can best meet your needs. Conversations at previous teacher evenings have given rise to some of our best offerings, so our door is always open to new suggestions from enthusiastic educators looking for exciting ways to hit curriculum targets.

Following a brief introduction and refreshments, the evening will include: 

  • An introduction to our new prospectus
  • A fascinating demonstration of our unique Dissection Theatre
  • Bushcraft demonstration with links to STEM
  • A chance to get up-close and hands-on with our Key Stage specific Close Encounters 
  • A guided Tour of the zoo looking at all the highlights 

We’ll round off the evening with a lively Q and A session where you and your colleagues will get the opportunity to see just how far we’re willing to go to create the best educational experiences for your students.

Additional subjects up for discussion will include new Key Stage specific workshops, cross curricula programmes and bespoke visits and education sessions.

All delegates will be provided with a free information pack and a voucher for 10% discount on all bookings made before 30th January 2012.

Places are limited so please contact the education team now to book in advance.

Thursday 17th January 5:00pm to 7:00pm 
Booking/Information: Education Team - 01752 837 645

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Living in Cold Blood

Andy with Maddie the 8ft Dumeril's Boa
On the 25th of November 2012 Dartmoor Zoo will be entertaining some unusual visitors as Dartmoor Reptiles take to the stage. 

Dartmoor Reptiles are a small family team with a passion for educating others about the magic and beauty of snakes, lizards, spiders and other creepy crawlies. 

Andy, their lead handler, will be available throughout the day giving fun, educational talks about a selection of fascinating creatures such as, Spot and Stripe the Ball Pythons. 

Visitors will have the opportunity to get up-close and personal with a range of animals, learn where they live in the wild, how they catch their prey and how they escape predators. 

Throughout the day there’ll be plenty of opportunities to to feel the many legs of Millie the Giant African Millipede and see the weird and wonderful Tailless Whip Scorpion (as seen in Harry Potter).

Other special guests in show will include:

Western Hognose
Pink Toe Tarantula
Indian Sand Boa
Royal / Ball Pythons x 2
Young Corn snake
Baby Asian Forest Scorpions
Columbian Rainbow Boa
Crested Gecko
Leopard Gecko
Ackie Monitor
Chile Rose Tarantula

Then there’s Dartmoor Reptiles’ impressive star of the show Maddie, the 16 year old, very placid, 8foot long Dumeril’s Boa. 

All the sessions are interactive so questions and discussion are very welcome. But don’t worry if you just want to watch from a distance, that’s perfectly OK too!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Bushcraft Challenge

Craig eyeing up ingredients for sedge cake
On the 15th and 16th of September 2012 staff members at Dartmoor Zoo will be taking part in their first ever Bushcraft Challenge. For three days and two nights the team of five, including Zoo Director, Benjamin Mee, will be living off the land within the zoo, guided by Bushcraft expert Craig Grant.

Since re-opening in 2007 staff at Dartmoor Zoological Park have worked hard to treat the entire zoo and not just the animal exhibits, as a conservation project. Wherever possible wild spaces within the park have been managed to encourage local wildlife. Director, Benjamin Mee sees the Bushcraft Challenge as an opportunity to showcase the abundance of different life supported by the park’s grounds and is keen to take on the challenge set by Craig.

“It’s more than just an exercise in learning survival skills,” explains Ben. “Much of the on site conservation work we do is largely invisible to the uninformed visitor so we wanted to come up with a way of illustrating the fact that the spaces outside the enclosures are all part of broad conservation project.”

The team will be assisted in the challenge by, Craig Grant, an outdoor education specialist, artist and bushcraft practitioner with over 20 years experience. Born in Plymouth, his passion for bushcraft began on the moors of Dartmoor National Park and has since taken him around the world. Back on home soil Craig passes on his knowledge and skills to people of all ages using his experience to give them an enhanced understanding of themselves and the world around them.

“Dartmoor Zoo is a fantastic site,” says Craig. “I was expecting a well manicured park with tarmac pathways, devoid of wildlife other than the animals in the collection. It was a real pleasure to see the diversity of flora and fauna and the sheer volume of conservation areas.”

Shortly after his visit Craig suggested the challenge as an alternative way for the staff and visitors to experience the zoo.

The challenge will see staff using natural materials found in the zoo to build their own overnight shelter and supplement their basic ration of staple food. They will have to learn which plants can be eaten and which are to be avoided. They will discover the fascinating utility of things like stinging nettles as sources of food and material for making various items essential to their survival and comfort during the challenge. As they do this, they will be creating a ‘living enclosure’ to highlight the importance of the natural environment.

“The challenge fits very well with our overall aim here at DZP,” says Ben. “The chance to see endangered exotic animals is what attracts people, but we want a visit here to be a broader experience of nature. We want people to go away with an enhanced appreciation for conservation in all its forms.”

The event also fulfils the zoo’s obligations as an educational establishment. Operations manager, George Hyde, sees the challenge as a platform for expanding the zoo’s increasingly diverse offering to local schools and colleges.

“Education outside the classroom is an increasingly important aspect of schooling today,” says George. “The skills and experience kids get from this kind of activity meets a comprehensive range of learning objectives in a fun and engaging way which is why the schools we already work with are expressing an interest. Our relationship with Craig means we can present educators with new ways to meet their teaching goals.”

The challenge is also designed to be a public exhibit for the weekend. Visitors will be able to see the shelter being built as well as take part in various demonstrations of bushcraft skills. Kids can learn how to make basic utensils and have fun creating camouflage head-dresses.

Activities will run throughout the weekend and visitors will be able to follow the team’s exploits via Dartmoor Zoo’s Twitter and Facebook profiles throughout this unique 48 hour event.

You can see photos of the event on our Facebook page.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

More Amazing Stoat Action

One thing we are really proud of here at DZP is the wealth of animal life outside the enclosures. The natural woodland setting is home to a huge variety of animals including a range of pretty impressive small mammals.

As our recent story of the Amazing Stoat Rescue demonstrated, these fierce little predators are a firm favourite with staff and visitors alike.

Whilst our video was impressive, we thought you'd appreciate this footage from BBC Wildlife. It shows a wider variety of stoat behaviour, all of which has been witnessed by staff and visitors here at DZP - including the very dramatic rabbit hunt (WARNING: It doesn't end well for the rabbit).

Next time you visit, keep an eye out for our stoats, particularly in the walk-through exhibit. You might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of mother nature in action.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Murder at the Zoo!

On the 25th of August we'll be hosting a Murder Mystery event here at the zoo.

For a limited number of guests there will be a drinks reception followed by a tour of the zoo and a two course meal in the Jaguar restaurant.

The setting is a movie premier after show party. As the evening unfolds things will get heated, there will be threats made between some of the guests leading to the discovery of a body!

At the end of the evening the killer will be revealed. Will you have your wits about you? Will you be able to spot all the clues? Will you be able to point the finger at the guilty party?

Will you be a Sherlock Holmes or an Inspector Clouseau?

Tickets are £45 per person including drinks reception, zoo tour and two course meal. Save £20 for groups of four people!

Tickets are available from our Restaurant Manager, Sabeena but be quick - only a limited number are available. 

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Happy Birthday DZP

It’s July 7th and we’re celebrating our Fifth Birthday so we thought it might be interesting to briefly reflect on how many ways DZP is just like a typical 5 year old...

We’re growing Fast - the output of our research department has recently more than quadrupled. We now conduct research projects at all academic levels across a broad range of subjects and we have fantastic relationships with a growing number of respected educational institutions. Our education department has also more than doubled its involvement with local schools and colleges offering an increasingly diverse range of tailor-made educational programmes including our award-winning Enterprise Challenge. And our collection has grown to include lechwe and waterbuck antelope, ostrich, Dartmoor ponies, white naped cranes, Bennett’s and Palma wallabies and not forgetting our most recent arrival, Luta the baby tapir. Developments are also underway to add zebra before the end of this year.

We’re resilient - Like any five year old we’ve seen our share of bumps and scrapes – perhaps more so than most. We’ve had to bounce back from some of the wettest summers on record, most of which damage more than just visitor numbers (even today the rain has reduced visitor numbers to a trickle of brave souls and wreaked several thousand pounds worth of damage). We've had catastrophic fresh water and electrical system failures and unexpected vital veterinary interventions that put major stress on available funds. And of course, like any other small business, we’ve been knocked around by the volatile economy, but we’re still on our feet.

We’re making new friends - Well we’ve been doing that since we started, but now we can say that we have a really strong group of reliable friends. A growing number of local companies have stepped up to provide much needed support over the years and we’re proud to number them among our friends. Also, we were recently confirmed as full members of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA). With full membership we are now a fully participating member of the wider zoological community.

We have big dreams - With a wish-list that includes a radically redesigned visitor access route, a nocturnal house and indoor kids play area, giraffe and elephant exhibits (but don’t tell the local authority), and a whole new research centre, our dreams are always big. But like any five year old we’re also expecting to continue to deal with the occasional nightmare.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Amazing Stoat Rescue

As many of our visitors have come to appreciate, one of Dartmoor Zoo's best assets is its wonderful, woodland setting. We do our best to keep is as natural as possible to encourage local wildlife. Recently our efforts were rewarded when we managed to capture on film a fascinating example of nature at work.

Two baby stoats had managed to find themselves exposed and without parental protection right in the middle of our walk-through enclosure.

At the time we were getting some footage for our Behind the Scenes DVD with Dominic from ViewhearAs our curator, Colin Northcott explains, we were incredibly luck to witness the events at all, let alone catch them on film.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

A Dream Night to Remember

We’re proud to announce our first Dream Night at the Zoo event which will be held on Friday 15th June 2012.

Dream Night at the Zoo is a Dutch based global charity that encourages Zoo’s worldwide to open up free of charge, to children with profound illnesses and/or disabilities.

On Friday 15th June we will open the doors to DZP to some specially invited kids along with their families to be treated as VIP’s for the night.

The Dream Night project started in Rotterdam Zoo in 1996, and has since been taken up around the world and now almost 250 zoos set aside one day a year in the name of the charity.

Dartmoor Zoo became a partner earlier this year and we set about recruiting partners to help deliver a night to remember. The following local companies and institutions generously agreed to give their time:

The Devon, Cornwall and Somerset emergency services
Plymouth Wow Balls
Musician Mike Jelly

Together, they’re helping us to provide a wide range of activities and entertainment on the night, including face painting, magic, falconry, dancing and live music. And nobody will go hungry thanks to catering supplies company 3663 who have generously agreed to provide all the food and drink.

Our special guests for the evening will be coming from the Dame Hannah Trust in Ivybridge, Little Harbour Children’s Hospice in St. Austell, and A4e Independent Living Service in Plymouth, and asked them to invite children on our behalf to the event. All have expressed great interest and excitement, and we hope to have 150 people on the night.

All DZP staff have very kindly offered to volunteer their services on the night, we’ll be doing our best to give these children a night to remember.

(You can find out more about Dream Night at the Zoo at

The Dream Night was a grea\t success! Many thanks to all that helped to make it happen. Here's a selection of photographs from the night:

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Beaver Fever

Head Keeper Mike saying farewell
It was about 10am on a Sunday morning when we got a call from a local farmer asking if we'd lost a beaver.

Well, we don't have beaver in our collection. A beaver is a bit of a specialist with some very particular talents, and containing them is no simple task. Like all our animals, we'd have to provide them with the most natural habitat in which to display a full range of natural behaviour and frankly we're all really attached to our trees.

Anyway, the beaver in question was found under a tractor in the farmer's yard not far from here. Not sure of how to proceed, the farmer did the right thing and called the RSPCA. But before the officer arrived the beaver decided to scurry off into a nearby barn and land himself in a whole lot of mess - cow poo.

Undeterred, the officer waded in and managed to contain him in a portable dog kennel. Keep in mind that the beaver is a very dense muscular beast with a fearsome set of teeth and attitude to match and you'll realise just how brave that officer was.

From there it was a short trip to DZP where our staff were on alert for the new arrival. Cleaning him up was a priority so that we could check him for any signs of injury. More importantly we had to make sure he didn't ingest any nasty bugs through personal grooming. Staff managed to do that very carefully, doing a thorough job whilst keeping him calm and not losing any fingers.

Once clean he appeared to be in good health, if a little grumpy. The next step was to get him into quarantine and keep a close eye on him. After a few essential modifications (steel plate on the door) a vacant stable was ideal for the task.

Throughout this process he was quite vocal in his disapproval and proving to be a bit of a feisty character keeping our keepers very much on their toes; all very good indicators of his health and well-being.

All this time we were wondering, "where did he come from?" - the beaver is not indigenous. They were hunted to extinction here around 400 years ago.

Because the beaver was once a part of the British landscape, experts have in recent years considered its reintroduction. A recent report on a reintroduction programme in Scotland has produced differing opinions on whether or not this is a good idea. More locally, Devon Wildlife Trust have been conducting a controlled experiment involving two beavers at a secret location in North Devon. But neither of these projects explained our new arrival.

In 2008, three beavers escaped from a farm in nearby Lifton. Two were recovered, but the third, a big male called Igor, managed to evade recapture. After a little head-scratching we decided that this was the most likely explanation; Igor's days as a fugitive were finally over. What a great story!

Unfortunately, we were able to write off that possibility fairly quickly simply by talking to Igor's keepers. Apparently he was a 35 kilo monster whilst our fella was about 20 at most - only a youngster. This didn't seem to bother some of the national press who didn't let that fact get in the way of a good story.

So, the question remains. It appears that our beaver is a youngster, around two years old. This is the age at which they'd be leaving the family group to strike out and find a territory of their own. If they stick to the river they can easily cover large distances undisturbed, but it seems this one was a little less conventional and decided to explore the farmer's yard.

Of course, if this is true then mum, dad and younger siblings must be somewhere nearby. But where?

We're happy to report that the young beaver has had a bit of help finding his new residence, back at the scene of the 2008 escape in Lifton. The team there were keen to help out and we're confident that they'll give him the best possible care.

So, if you're out and about in the wilds and waterways of Devon, keep an eye open for fallen trees - you might spot a long lost resident making himself at home again.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Zoo Peter!

Milo and Ella with Blue Peter presenter, Helen
We recently welcomed one of television's most prestigious programmes to DZP to capture the essence of our ever-increasing fame and popularity.

The programme in question was of course, Blue Peter, a feature of childhood for over 50 years! Excitement was rife here at DZP as we've all grown up with this legendary programme and we were honoured to welcome them.

Blue Peter's fondness of animals is a characteristic evident in every past presenter, regardless of the generation you're from. One of the presenters for this generation and one of the most recognisable women on British television, Helen Skelton, came to see what it's like being a part of DZP and spend the day with Milo and Ella Mee, along with the 200 animals that famously changed their lives.

TV crews and cameras are not a strange sight for Milo and Ella, who both agree that it feels "special" seeing yourself and your home on television. However this did not alter their excitement upon realising that the blonde haired woman walking towards them was Helen. Milo recalls saying "Is that Helen? Yes it is!". Ella's disbelief was much more subtle.

They were both quick to mention how enthusiastic they were about the prospect of meeting Helen and appearing on Blue Peter, "I used to watch it all the time before our TV broke!" says Ella. One disappointment added by Ella was that during a meeting with the director on the day before the whole crew arrived, he said he'd be bringing the current Blue Peter dog, Barney, which Ella was very much looking forward to. Unfortunately Barney couldn't make it and Ella insists that it did not dampen the day.

The day commenced with Milo and Ella being woken up 10 minutes before the crew arrived! They were rushed through the morning routine and promptly met the Blue Peter crew near the bears' enclosure. Next, they accompanied the crew as they shot some behind the scenes footage of the keepers unpacking the fruit and veg for that day.

The day involved lots of walking around for the cameras with shots being taken again and again. "You had to do things more than once, which was kind of like being on a TV show" as an actress, as oppose to a guest. Similarly, when asked to talk through how he found the day with Blue Peter, Milo simply exclaimed "Out-takes!"

As the day progressed, the animals of the zoo were involved more. Helen, Milo and Ella were at the centre of public talks involving the Coati, Meerkats and Otters. The female Otter, Attitude, clearly didn't take kindly to sharing the limelight as she lived up to her name by screaming, prompting Ella to ask, with a hint of sarcasm "Can anybody guess which one is Attitude?".

The Coati were much more forgiving, and allowed all three into the enclosure, needless to say, food was exchanged with the Coati as a bribe. Inside the Coati enclosure, Helen conducted an interview with Milo and Ella. Milo found the experience to be enjoyable, as such close encounters with the animals are not often allowed, and the Coati are among his favourites. When questioned about spending the day with Helen, Ella replied "It was amazing, similar to the Matt Damon 'thing', very unusual but fun".

The day was nearly over but it wouldn't be right to come to DZP without paying a personal visit to our big cats; the largest selection in the South West. They made their way to the tiger enclosure occupied by Vlad, Blotch and Stripe and entered the tiger house where all three beasts were waiting for them... Soon after their safe escape, it was time to feed the tigers. Exactly what they'd be fed was unbeknown to Helen. As she grabbed the ambiguous meat, she turned to Ella inquisitively and asked "What is this?". Ella,  said nonchalantly "A horse's neck". Helen got to grips with this disturbing yet understandable concept and placed the meat in the enclosure, ready for the tigers to feast. With authorised clearance, there was a call over the radio system... "Release the tigers!" And with that they came out of their house and went straight for their food. Job done.

After a busy day in the shoes (or wellies!) of a DZP employee, they retired to the Jaguar Restaurant for refreshments. Shortly after arriving, Milo and Ella were presented with the illustrious prize of Blue Peter badges. "It felt good getting one," said Ella. "But I want a gold one!" Milo added "We only thought Dad would get one, but now we get to do free stuff!". Clearly the hot chocolate was reward in itself and perhaps the majesty of the sacred Blue Peter badge is best understood and appreciated by those who may not watch the show now, but certainly remember it fodnly for its influence during their own childhood.

A great time was had by all those involved, Helen even purchased a souvenir from the gift shop. When asked about her day at DZP she responded with characteristic elation and modesty, saying "It was amazing, what I do isn't really a 'job'". Thank you to Blue Peter for this experience, from everyone at DZP.

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