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Paignton Zoo (Devon)
Member Name: sandemp
Paignton Zoo (Devon)
Advantages: The Gorillas, natural looking habitats, easy to get to on public transport
Disadvantages: Not the most wheelchair/buggy friendly
Paignton Zoo is situated right next to a large supermarket (Morrisons), which is extremely handy for buying snacks and even lunches, meaning that although there are various snack bars and eateries within Paignton Zoo, we did not use them and so I will not be commenting on them. The entrance to Paignton Zoo is well signposted and there is free car parking available for disabled visitors (other visitors can park in the supermarket car park at their own risk), while the bus stops less than five minutes walk from the entrance. The day before we visited Paignton Zoo there had been heavy downpours, meaning that while the Saturday we went was dry, everywhere was more than a little damp and muddy (this is relevant I promise). The majority of this review will now focus solely on our visit, although I will be adding some information about the animals we didn't see.
Entrance tickets can be purchased online, in which case you can enter through a fast track entrance, or on the day at the zoo. We visited on a damp Saturday at the beginning of October, and I must admit I was surprised at the length of the queue to pay. We were in this queue for at least ten minutes, with our general impatience not helped by the fact that only one out of a possible two cash desks were open. Credit and debit cards are accepted for payment along with cash and there was no quibble about accepting my Colchester Zoo Membership card for entry. As well as my two year old son, we were joined by my older daughter, who I did have to pay for. Entry to Paignton Zoo costs £14.45 for an adult, £10.29 for a child (3-15), £11.90 for a senior citizen or student, £45.40 for a family (two adults and two children) and children under the age of three are free. These prices include a donation to the zoo's conversation work and unlike many attractions are the same whether you pay on the day or in advance online.
Although Paignton Zoo opens at 10am each day that it is open (every day except Christmas Day), we arrived a little later than this, with it coming up to mid-day by the time we had made our way through the shop to a door leading to the zoo itself. The fact that this door was not automatic really should have alerted me to the fact that this zoo was going to be neither wheelchair or buggy friendly. With the zoo mainly being set in a wooded area, with some rather steep slopes, rather than being paved the majority of the paths are of the stone chip variety. While this would be perfectly acceptable during extended periods of dry weather, the downpours the previous day left these paths rather muddy and quite slippery in places as this mud combined with fallen leaves. I'll be the first to admit that I did struggle at several points pushing the stroller around the different exhibits and was grateful that two year old Freddy is no heavier than he is. I found that these paths also made it a little more difficult for me to allow Freddy time out of the stroller, he has difficulty in walking and the uneven surface meant that he struggled to keep his balance. Some of the exhibits were under cover, but the doors to these were of the manual variety, meaning that had I been on my own with Freddy then I would have had to struggle to get through them. There is, however, a decent amount of seating, in the form of wooden benches, dotted around the zoo, with many of these benches conveniently placed to observe different animals. Toilets are a completely different story, while there are a few dotted around the zoo, there are nowhere nearly enough and they are not very well sign-posted. In fact, I found the whole of the sign posting to be less than adequate and more than a little confusing.
As we are regular visitors to Colchester Zoo, we did concentrate on looking at animals that were not on display there, which means we missed many out. Some of those we missed out, we did actually want to see, but due to the less than adequate sign-posting we missed them out. Included in these were the elephants and giraffes, which was a little disappointing but I feel that Freddy would have been even more disappointed by the fact that, unlike at Colchester, you cannot feed either of these without paying a rather high supplement. There were many other animals that we missed, including kangaroos, cheetahs, camels and rhinoceros, but I really do think that we would have needed more than one visit to see everything. Paignton Zoo is split into a total of six habitats, desert, forest, tropics, wetlands, savannah, and Primley, with there being different types of animal housed in each area. I cannot comment on any of the animals in the savannah habitat as we didn't get that far, but I believe that we experienced at least some of the animals in each of the other habitats.
By far the most natural habitat would be the forest habitat, with the exhibits being displayed amongst the native Devon forest. Within this habitat there are a huge number of animals and birds to discover, but the highlights for monkey obsessed Freddy, were the Gorillas, Oran-Utans, Gibbons and various other monkeys. For me the gorillas were definitely the highlight of the day and I was very impressed with both their indoor quarters and outdoor enclosure. Within in the indoor quarters there were several of the smaller females, who were actually seeming to be enjoying the attention and even posing for photos. The outdoor enclosure appeared to be a forested island and the Silver Back was strolling around this area. The Oran-Utans have indoor quarters next to the gorillas and then have their own island, which has quite dense undergrowth. I had been warned that if the Oran-Utans were outside then I would be unlikely to be able to see them, but (possibly due to the horrendous weather the day before) they were inside and so we could see them. Also within the forest habitat are the Asiatic lions, which didn't look that much different to the African lions we regularly see at Colchester, except that there are a total of four cubs, who are extremely cute and we watched these feeding from their mother while we ate our lunch sitting on a convenient bench.
The wetlands habitat is where you will find many water birds, including geese, pelicans, ducks and flamingos. I have to be brutally honest and state that Freddy does not have the slightest interest in birds, so we passed through this area fairly quickly, but does include a walk-through aviary, that we did indeed walk through and if Freddy had been more interested then I'm sure we would have found lots to see.
While Freddy is obsessed with monkeys, my favourite animals by far are reptiles and the majority of these are to be found within the tropical habitat, which is an indoor area, that is both hot and very humid. While I have to say that the heat was welcome on that not so warm October afternoon, it did become a little oppressive after a while and I would imagine would be almost suffocating on a hot summer's day. Within this building there are several species of crocodile, including the smallest (Dwarf Caimen) and the most impressive, which is the Salt-water Crocodile. There are also several species of snake and lizards. Seeing as I love reptiles so much, I could have spent all day in here, as I was so impressed with all the animals and their enclosures and what impressed me even more was that among the information boards there were pictures describing the Makaton signs for the animals. This really did impress me, because Freddy is virtually non-verbal and we use Makaton signs with him.
The desert habitat was actually far more impressive than I thought it was going to be, somehow I got the impression that it would be little more than a few cacti. This habitat is actually a very large greenhouse, filled with a huge number of different plants, representing rocky ravine, dry plain and desert oasis environments. Yes there are lots of different cacti and succulents, some impressively tall and some tiny, but there are also lots of lush plants. There aren't that many animals within this habitat, but there are some guinea pigs hiding among rocks (very cute), tortoises and gila monsters in glass enclosures and a vast number of birds flying freely overhead. While neither Freddy nor I are usually impressed by birds, we did appreciate the feeding stations dotted around and the fact that the birds were not afraid of humans and allowed us right next to them.
The Primley habitat is the oldest part of the zoo and far easier to manoeuvre with a stroller or wheelchair than the rest. For monkey lover, Freddy, there were more monkeys to look at, including spider monkeys , but his favourite exhibit in this area had to be the baboon troop who lived on a man-made mountain (that looks similar to the one that used to house mountain goats at London Zoo). This was quite a large troop that included adults, juveniles and babies and it was a lot of fun to watch them all clambering about and interacting with each other. As with all the habitats, there are several information boards at each enclosure, giving information about the animals housed within, their natural habitats, status in the wild and what they eat, all in simple enough language for most children to understand.
As well as the animals there are a few other attractions at Paignton Zoo, but I do have to be honest and state that we did not sample any of them. There is an education centre for school visits, an indoor play area (Jungle Fun), outdoor play areas, a nature trail, miniature train ride and bird displays. There are also many plants around the zoo, including some rather impressive looking giant rhubarb, which is not an edible variety, but if it was one stalk would be enough to feed a family of six or more. There are also several keeper talks held throughout the day and it is possible to meet and feed certain animals at an extra cost, but I must say that I feel the prices for these experiences are a little on the steep side.
As far as eating goes, I really would recommend taking a picnic (or buying one at the supermarket next door) as they is plenty of seating where you can relax and enjoy a meal. If you would rather buy your food at the zoo, then there is the Island restaurant that serves hot and cold food, the Café Bar which serves alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and various snack bars dotted around the zoo. The gift shop is rather unusually placed, being passed through both on entering and leaving the zoo. There is a good amount of Paignton Zoo themed gifts available, with prices ranging from about £1 upwards along with generic zoo gifts and crafts. I bought Freddy a gorilla soft toy along with a postcard and keyring, with the gorilla being a little pricey at a touch under £12, but a much loved toy nonetheless.
As with the majority of Zoos today, Paignton Zoo is not just an attraction where we can see animals, but also somewhere that carries out conservation work, both in this country and abroad and research. In an ideal world there would be no place for zoos, but with so many species endangered and close to extinction, zoos such as Paignton provide an essential resource in both research and breeding.
I'm a little in two minds over Paignton Zoo, I have to admit that the way that they've transformed the native woodland into a habitat for so many different animals is fantastic. But this also makes it quite difficult to see many of those animals and it also makes much of the terrain a little tricky when pushing a wheelchair or stroller or if you have mobility difficulties. While I do genuinely appreciate the amount of thought that has gone into providing the animals as pleasant a home as possible, I do think that with a zoo a balance needs to be made between giving the animals a natural habitat and catering for the humans that have come to see them. As far as I'm concerned, Paignton Zoo has not quite got this balance right, with it being not quite as disabled/buggy friendly as it could be. Even so I am still recommending a visit if in the area, just be prepared for the hills and less than smooth pathways and be prepared to need to take regular breaks if pushing a stroller or wheelchair.
Summary: There's lots of monkeys and great apes at this zoo