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Lions and tigers and bears, oh my
Dartmoor Zoological Park (Plymouth)
Member Name: Mephit
Dartmoor Zoological Park (Plymouth)
Date: 18/04/11, updated on 18/04/11 (136 review reads)
Advantages: fair amount of animals, pretty setting
Disadvantages: bit run-down in some areas, petting zoo could do with supervision
Dartmoor Zoo is next to the village of Sparkwell, just off the A38 outside Plymouth. It's well-signposted from the A38, with brown wildlife park signs. The road there narrows to single-lane at times, (which is fine by me usually, but it was lined by rather solid looking walls that I didn't want to investigate in too close a detail. I prefer hedges!).
*** Going to the zoo, zoo, zoo ***
Finding the zoo car-park was no problem, and there was plenty of space to park on the day we went. (Disabled car-parking is up the hill beside the restaurant.) We went across the the kiosk and paid in. The three of us cost about £28. Currently the zoo is working in conjunction with the National Aquarium in Plymouth, so that if you pay at one you get half-price entry to the other within 15 days. The man at the kiosk had run out of maps of the zoo, so recommended we stop in at the restaurant to pick one up. He also let us know the big-cat feed was about to start, but as it was literally in moments and not having a map to find it, we decided not to rush up.
Walking up the path to the main par of the zoo, we walked past the enclosures of Sika deer and Capybara on the right. There was also Rhea, which we initially thought were emus, but were put straight by a sign on the fence. It's a fairly steep hill up. The path gives out onto the narrow road leading to the restaurant. On the left, more enclosures opened up to our view, with ostriches (which we were able to identify for ourselves!) On the right were African pygmy goats playing.
The zoo is in an attractive wooded setting, with lots of shady paths. Once up at the main part of the zoo, any slopes are far less steep and most of the paths seemed accessible for wheel-chair users.
Outside the restaurant, was a perspex-walled area in which the Meercats live. There were two up and about, with their characteristic standing pose. The children were delighted with them and we spent quite some time staring in.
I popped into the restaurant to pick up a map of the zoo and buy a bottle of water (£2). One of the tills was down temporarily, while the other could only take cash. The restaurant itself looked very clean and tidy, with a lovely mural on the wall and lots of neat tables. In the corner by the toilets was a small gift shop, with DZP (Dartmoor Zoological Park) merchandise such as plastic cups, coasters, magnets and key-rings, as well as soft toys and postcards. The prices seemed about comparable to what you'd expect to pay at other zoos. They'd run out of meercat pens, which I think would have been my children's choice out of the price range I'm willing to pay (up to £2. I'm a meanie). As it was, we didn't buy anything, much to the kids' disapproval. The toilets were a bit shabby, but clean.
Heading out armed with a colourful glossy A4 sheet map of the park, we admired the wire sculpture elephant before deciding to visit the reindeer. Where animals are is well-signposted, although I think a large scale map or two on information boards would have been useful as well. It's a relatively small zoo, however, so pretty easy to navigate.
Information on the animals is a board on each enclosure, with some information about the particular animal such as its name and habits, as well as details about its species in general. I was a bit disappointed that we weren't given a leaflet or more of a guide to the zoo than the simple map. I don't think we learned an awful lot about the animals in the end. There was an Easter trail for children, where the children had to find egg signs around DZP which had letters on them to form an animal's name, to win an Easter egg. It was £3, and partly because that seemed a bit steep and partly because the Boy is allergic to dairy, we didn't bother with it. Around the park occasionally there were warning signs not to put hands into enclosures. We felt these were too graphic, having a picture of a hand with part of a finger bitten off and a bit of blood! The children thought this was a bit much, saying littler kids might be frightened by it.
It was a hot and sunny day, so the reindeer were cooling off in their shed, but we could see them in the door-ways. The coati and raccoons were harder to spot, sleeping in their houses while we peered in through the glass like peeping toms.
The brown bear did not disappoint however, as it patrolled its enclosure. It even had a wade in its pool for our viewing pleasure.
As we went past the raccoons again, one appeared at its window and started rubbing up against it. It appeared to be doing a dance, which the children found very amusing and was the sort of thing you'd see on 'You've Been Framed' (and might well, as I took a phone video of it!). I did wonder 'though if it's a habit out of boredom, rather like weaving in stabled horses, which took the fun out of it for me.
We went on, seeing various animals and then coming to the open area for picnicking. There was a pool with those inflatable balls (zorbs?). The children were very excited to have a go, so I coughed up £3 each, and they were soon rolling around inside madly. I think this was a temporary attraction, but it was really good fun for them. There were a good number of picnic tables in the area, and it was an attractive place to sit with peacocks wandering across.
Next we looked at the lions and tigers. One of the tigers was fast asleep near the fence, so we were able to get a really good look at it.
After walking around the enclosures, we went into the petting zoo which was inhabited by chickens and pygmy goats, primarily. This was fun for the children who got to stroke the goats. I was a bit perturbed by the behaviour of some children in the area, chasing the goats. I felt the petting zoo could have done with supervision by staff, since some parents obviously couldn't be bothered to get their children to treat animals properly (yet would no doubt have complained had their child got butted). The walk across to the petting zoo is criss-crossed by water channels and has no dedicated path: I saw a couple of parents struggling with pushchairs. Unless there's another way into it that I didn't see, I wouldn't consider it accessible to wheel-chair users.
We got to see the majority of the animals at the zoo, most of whom were dozing languidly in the sunshine. It was a beautiful day for the visit. There were a number of events throughout the day, like feeding times or falconry displays, but we didn't manage to time it right for any of them.
We popped back into the restaurant on the way back to use the toilets and buy an ice-lolly. I overheard a man asking staff where his hot food was, and service did seem quite slow to me, despite there being relatively few people in the restaurant. I waited a couple of minutes at a till for the waiter to return. The ice-lollies were reasonably priced, which was a plus.
*** Final thoughts ***
I think my favourite animals were the lynx and the otters, the Girl's were "the coati and raccoon, cos it was doing a funny dance" and the Boy's "the capybara and badger." (We didn't see a badger, he meant the raccoon).
All in all, we had a very nice time. DZP isn't the most glamorous or biggest zoo, and some of it looks a bit run-down and shabby, but it was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon.
The Boy says, "it was brilliantic. Seeing the animals, no, going in the balls was the best bit."
The Girl says, "Awesome. The best bit was the inflatable balls, they were fun."
They were actually very interested in all the animals as well!
*** Anything else? ***
DZP is the subject of a book by relatively new owner Ben Mee, 'We Bought a Zoo'. This book is the basis of a soon-to-be-released film, starring Matt Damon. The zoo has been relocated to the US for the film's purposes.
***Opening hours and Entry prices (as available from DZP website):***
"The zoo is open every single day of the year, rain or shine.
Summer (April to November): 10am - 6pm
Winter (November to April): 10am - 4pm
Admissions from 1st April 2011
Adult: Single: £10.95 Group (min 15): £9.95 (Concession- Single: £9.95 Group: £8.95)
Child (5 to 15yrs) Single: £8.95 Group (min 15): £7.95
Under 5's: Free!
Family (4 persons, max 2 adults) £35.00"
Summary: Nice zoo, worth a stop if you're in the area
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