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The Devon Zoo soon to be a major motion picture.
Dartmoor Zoological Park (Plymouth)
Member Name: magenta23
Dartmoor Zoological Park (Plymouth)
Advantages: Lots to see, lovely location, staff that really care.
Disadvantages: None really
You may have heard about Dartmoor Zoo, through the programme 'Ben's Zoo' which aired on the BBC in 2007. It followed how Benjamin Mee and his family sold their family home and bought a run down Zoo on the edge of Dartmoor that was in desperate need on someone to give it a new lease of life.
The Mee family bought the Zoo in 2006 when there were only a handful of ex keepers spending their own money to feed and keep alive the remaining animals at the Zoo, including a number of big cats and wolves. The Mee family moved into the mansion on the site, that was also in desperate need of attention with little money to start with and considering the Zoo's weekly running costs being 4 figures it was a miracle they got anywhere. But with lots of help from some dedicated volunteers get there they did and after opening in 2007, the Zoo seems to have no desire to stop growing. They have many more new additions and are expanding all the time, Ben said in an article in The Guardian that elephants and giant tortoises were on his wish list for the future!
Great story huh? Could make a film out of that. Well Benjamin Mee wrote a book about the story of the Zoo entitled 'We bought a Zoo.' This sold all over the world and in 2009 Twentieth Century Fox bought the film rights. In 2010 the story of this dilapidated Zoo in Devon started being made into a Hollywood movie starring Matt Damon as Ben, due out at Christmas time.
Location of the Zoo
The Zoo is located on the edge of Dartmoor, just 5 miles from Plymouth. Car really is the easiest way to get here as it is a little in the middle of nowhere, however buses run hourly from Plymouth and the website states they are 'usually' reliable! The bus takes about half an hour from Plymouth but bear in mind is does not run on Sundays. The Zoo is sign posted from the main road and we found it without too much trouble.
Opening Times & prices
The Zoo is open every single day. During the summer months (April to November) the Zoo opens 10am - 6pm and during the Winter it's open 10am - 4pm.
Entry to the Zoo is charged at £10.95 for adults, £8.95 for children and under 5s are free. There is also an offer called 'Wet and Wild' where you can get a half price ticket to the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth if you visit both attractions.
We visited on a rainy Bank Holiday Monday and when we paid for our admission we were told if it doesn't brighten up and we don't see a lot we would get some free tickets to visit another time, which I thought was a nice touch. Luckily the sun did eventually show it's head and we had a good view of all the animals, so we didn't take him up on the offer.
It's easy to find your way around the zoo, and we were given a map at the ticket booth too help us and make sure we didn't miss anything.
As you walk up the drive from the ticket booth to the main part of the zoo you are met by Sika Deer, Capybara, Rheas and Tapirs. We were very lucky to see the mother Capybara and her babies right up close by the fence. Needless to say, I wanted one! The Rhea was also right by the road sitting there rather comfortably. It was only on the way back when it was still there, that we realised it was actually sitting on eggs. It even had a stretch to give us a view. After talking to it and calling it 'Mrs Rhea' I was informed by a rather smug boyfriend that is was in fact the male who incubates in eggs.
As you get to the top of the drive and pass the Lechwe (antelope type thing), guinea fowl and Pygmy Goats, you find the Jaguar Café on your left which is guarded by the Meerkats and you have a choice of two paths to take you around the Zoo. A rather inquisitive Ostrich watched us as we decided our plan of action and we went straight ahead in search of Bears.
As I mentioned it was quite drizzly and many of the animals were tucked up and as we passed the Coatis, raccoons and reindeer, and most disappointingly bears, we saw little more than huddled up balls of fur. We wandered round the Zoo a few times though and and later on they came out to say hello. We got some amazing views of the Brown Bears, a species I'd never seen before. They really put on a show, wandering around posing and even having a swim in the stream at the bottom of the enclosure, right by their adoring public. These bears I think were the highlight for me, and probably most people who visit Dartmoor Zoo. I just wanted to cuddle one however I was quite aware they would be more likely to eat me for breakfast than cuddle me back.
Onward past the cheeky Vervet Moneys and sleepy Silver Fox (or blob of grey fur) and we reached the Wolf and big Cat enclosures, another highlight. These guys really gave us our money's worth with the gorgeous Wolves running right past us and the Tigers, the stars of the show on that day, really pulling in the crowds. The Amur Tigers are in a fantastic enclosure, both for them and the public. The front of the enclosure has no wire so you can get a really great view and some great pictures of the tigers. (Don't worry, it's all safe, your kids won't be lunch!)
Next to the Tigers are the Lions who couldn't be more disinterested in us, until the Tigers were fed when they came up to the side to see why they weren't getting any! (They are fed on alternate day
s.) Opposite the Tigers is the home of Dartmoor Zoo's beautiful Cheetah, though don't expect this one to put on a show. It seems her favourite hobbies were hiding and sunbathing. Other big cats to see here are the Jaguar and Lynx.
We finished off going to see the otters, aviaries and chasing the pygmy goats around trying to get to stroke them, though they weren't having any of it!
Talks and Displays
We tried to catch as many of the talks as possible. The timetable of things going on throughout the day is designed so it's possible to get round and see everything that's going on. The big cat feed and talk is alternated between the tigers and lions everyday to avoid fat cats! We saw the tigers the day we went. The were being fed huge chunks of what we were told was horse meat. It was exciting to see them charge out and find the meat the keepers had placed around the enclosure, though once found they took it and hid with it so the view of them feeding was somewhat limited!
The otter feeding involved two girls that were on a keeper experience day and were given the job of throwing the food to the otters whilst we were given a talk by a Zoo keeper and volunteer, who seemed to do pretty much everything that day! It was funny to see the otters getting so excited, squealing away only to be complete unable to get the bits of fish due to the kids poor throwing skills, luckily after some failed attempts they got the hang of it!
Next to the restaurant is the education centre where they have animal encounter sessions. Yep, the same guy was doing that talk too! In this teeny little room there are a collection of reptiles and creepy crawlies. Each day they get a few of the residents out for the public to see up close and even hold some. The day we visited we got to see some huge stick insects and giant snails. You are still able to see the other animals whilst all this is going on and Kevin the Boa was a bit of a highlight as was the best named animal ever 'Kelloggs' Corn Snake.
The other show we saw was the falconry show. The show is done by an outsider this time, a professional falconer, who really looks the part! First up was a sweet baby owl who couldn't yet fly and hopped about between the kids sitting on the floor and generally being very naughty. Of course misbehaving animals is always great entertainment! After this we were treated to some flying displays and a very informative talk on the birds. In fact, all the talks and demonstrations were both enjoyable and very informative. The people here really know their stuff and clearly care very much about the place.
The Jaguar Café is the only place on site to get something to eat. This place really is about the animals and isn't in danger of becoming an amusement park with hot dog stands and ice cream everywhere. The café serves a selection of hot and cold drinks and snacks, however we decided to bring a picnic. There are picnic tables out the front of the café, with a brilliant view of the moor and that nosey Ostrich!
As we sat down to eat out picnic it rained. A lot. Well it wouldn't be a British Bank Holiday without a picnic in the rain surely? As we were reaching the end of our lunch we heard that the café had given permission to some others to eat their own food inside. Grrr!
We did pop inside later for a coffee and a rest and the drinks weren't badly priced. Though a little tip even if you intend to drink inside, order a take way drink because you get a bigger cup for the same price! In here is also a small gift shop area and the loos, which were basic but clean.
The Zoo as with all places now, offers a range of extra money spinners in the form of animal adoptions and experiences. Compared to other places we'd visited we all agreed these were quite steeply priced, from £49 for a child mini keeper (small animals) half day up to a whopping £299 to shadow a big cat keeper. For those into photography they also do photography tours with a professional photographer. I guess though Zoos like this need the money so I would begrudge the prices too much though I do think setting these experience prices too high could price some visitors out of doing them altogether.
Overall, we had a fantastic day at the Zoo, despite the weather in the morning. We spent the full day here, first ones in, last ones out and we managed to see pretty much all the animals. I will be visiting again, perhaps minus the picnic. I hope this Zoo goes from strength to strength as it's doing good work and I eagerly anticipate the film, and hopefully this will give the place an even bigger boost.
Official Site - www.dartmoorzoo.org
Wiki page - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dartmoor_Zoological_Park
Unoffical fan site - www.benszoo.co.uk
Summary: A Zoo with a real story to tell