Dartmoor Zoo March Newsletter

Friday 3rd March 2017 at 4:39pm by Rachel Franklin

   DZP newsletter. March issue.


   CEO’s Update:

Visitors and staff alike have been marvelling at the amazing new Attenborough Room, which also contains the smaller, curvaceous Durrell Room. For nearly a decade this has been a mud floored barn, full of “potential.” Over the last two years, the dynamic and tenacious Coral Jonas has realised this potential, transforming the space into a glorious venue for meetings and public engagement. With exhibits from the museum of Plymouth on display, and Pascal the Panther Chameleon holding court, it is now a much needed indoor exhibit, and a great place for meetings too.

And it could not have happened without the excellent contribution from City College Plymouth - who sponsor this newsletter - and also provided decorating students to carry out a vital part of the transformation work. So students gained real world experience towards a qualification, while performing useful work in the community. Thank you City College Plymouth.

What a month. The new cheetah are mesmerising us all, and also, interestingly, mesmerised by the lions, just like Sita before them. Expect more studies on this soon.

Speaking of studies, the research department is as busy as ever, with a visiting academic wanting to develop one of our studies further (see below).

And there have already been two weddings at the zoo, both very lucky with the weather, and both giving excellent feedback about Sab and her team.

What a great place to work. Thanks everybody.



This month Dr Liz Duncan came to visit from Leeds university to see her two students on placement here, James and Alice. Zoologist James is looking at the Biofence as a conservation tool. In practice, this means putting poo from large carnivores in strategic places to stop other carnivores from eating your sheep. If wolves are sufficiently scared of tiger poo, it could be a very useful way to reduce conflict between shepherds and wolves in Portugal, for instance. And James has managed to get some great poo samples from our tigers screened (so it’s clean poo) to put in with our Iberian wolves. We are eagerly awaiting the results. Alice has been working on the meerkat study, which is being brushed up for publication at the moment. This is the one that showed that hand reared meerkats aren’t very good at sentry duty, but they still stand up for a few seconds and look confused. This is actually hugely significant as it shows that the behaviour of standing up in the first place must be entirely genetic. Dr Liz, as a geneticist, was extremely interested in this, and has asked for a sample of neural tissue to look for the actual genes responsible - when one of them dies of natural causes, obviously.  

Look out for a future paper on this. 

In other news, the introduction of the male and female Lynxes, Willow and Flaviu, hyped up for Valentine’s day, could have resulted in anything from extreme violence to mating. It actually ended in mutual indifference. There was a moment when Flav tiptoed into Willow’s hiding place and lay down near her, looking awkward. The lynx group is due to clock up 30 hours of observation in the coming weeks, gathering another 1100 data points. “Looking Awkward” may feature as a specific behaviour on the ethogram. 



    Animal Acquisitions:

Towards the end of 2016 we had to put in place bio-security measures due to the outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) otherwise known as Bird Flu. This particular strain, H5N8, is potentially quite nasty, and so it was a fairly easy decision to implement bio-security measures straight away, to protect our own birds. The precautions we have had to take include installing disinfectant foot baths outside all of the bird aviaries, as well as areas that have birds in them such as the African Paddock, South American Paddock and our Walk through enclosure.  Initially we were told the preventative measures would be in place until January 6th, but that was then extended to February 28th. At the time of writing we are still expecting to be able to lift restrictions on that date, but obviously with something like HPAI things can change very quickly, and we need to be ready to adapt our policies to deal with such situations.

The first two months of 2017 have been quite eventful for the Animal Department, with arrivals, departures, and, quite apt for February, some romance. The arrivals were 2 male Cheetah that arrived from Landau Zoo in Germany, and have settled really well into their enclosure. They can often be seen on top of the soil mound in the enclosure, casting a beady eye over their surroundings. The departure was our second group of Meerkats, which have gone to Bicton College near Exeter, where they will help students who are doing Animal Management courses gain experience of exotic animal husbandry. The romance has recently happened when we mixed our pair of Carpathian Lynx for the first time. The male Lynx is the infamous Flaviu, who made headline news around the world when he went missing for 3 weeks last year, and the female is Willow, who arrived in November. They have been in adjoining enclosures since then, partly for quarantine purposes but also to allow them time to get used to each other, before a full introduction took place. That introduction took place on February 15th, and we are pleased to say that it went well. Flaviu is playing it really cool at the moment, but we are fairly sure that he will soon get that twinkle in his eye as he gets used to being with the lovely Willow. Watch this space!

Elsewhere on the Animal Department we are starting to get ready for the new season ahead, and we are busy formulating new plans and ideas for the summer, and beyond. Plans include a new primate species, a large walk through aviary, a new hoofstock species to go near the entrance to the Zoo, a possible nocturnal house and renovating some of the enclosures.  


   Discovery and Learning Team:

Discovery and Learning have been really busy this month preparing for half term. We have had a brilliant time welcoming our visitors to the zoo and to our brand new Attenborough Classroom. This is a fully interactive room with close encounters animals including ‘Pascal’ our very popular Panther Chameleon.

Our first snazzy guidebook will be on sale next week at the entrance gate and in our shop. This has been a big project outlining our journey so far at Dartmoor Zoo. Copies will be £3.50 with lots of lovely pictures and information about our residents too.

 It’s that time of year again when we are starting the recruitment of our Level 2 and 3 courses in animal management which we deliver here on site to post 16 students. We work in conjunction with Cornwall College and deliver most of the material in our bespoke classrooms on site. With these courses students also get the unique opportunity to have their work placement with our very experienced keepers and presenters on site, giving them a great start to their future careers in zoos. So if you are wondering what to do after your GCSEs then check out our courses on our website or on the Cornwall College site.

 Spaces for our Zoo Conservation Academy courses are quickly booking up. There are only a few spaces left for Rangers and Rangers Academy for the Easter and Summer Holidays! Please get in touch with us soon to book your space if you are interested in joining us for the holiday periods. We have started to welcome our cadets that will be joining us in the summer holidays. If your children are keen to learn more about animals and enhance their public engagement skills then this is a great opportunity for them.


   Restaurant & Events News:

February has proven to be a busy month indeed for the Catering, Retail & Events Department with a Wedding and 2 day conference to prepare for in addition to gearing up for our first busy week of the year, February Half-Term.

Congratulations to Catherine & Ian who tied the knot at Dartmoor Zoo on the 10th February and even managed to arrange for their huge wooden guest-board to be signed by Benjamin Mee himself.

As we are preparing for a busy year ahead with our increased Marketing efforts, Educational Programs and Events hosted, we are currently recruiting for Catering, Retail & Events Assistants. If you would like to apply or know someone who would love to be part of the DZP team, please email CV’s and covering letter to events@dartmoorzoo.co.uk.  

We have some exciting projects and Events underway including renovating our Ice Cream Kiosk, hosting our first ever Open Air Cinema event on the 15th April (which is looking set to sell out!) and opening the Playbus for operation in time for Easter.

The next few weeks is going to be very busy, but we are looking forward to seeing the end results!   



With the Cheetah boys settled in and enjoying their new home, the Maintenance Team have turned their attention back to housekeeping this month!

As well as new projects we have a 33 acre site to care for, including some very old buildings. We recently removed a damaged slate roof from one of Goodamore House’s outbuildings with the help of our wonderful volunteers – the site is safe for now but we are still mulling over what to do with the original feature walls and derelict dove cotes... Otherwise it has been paths, fences, locking systems, and maintaining drainage!

Finally a big thanks to our legendary volunteer tree surgeons Orchard Tree Services who have been in and renovated our monkey enclosure furniture which is now all natural sisal ropework and looking great!



All animals are born with instincts. Knowing how to survive is ingrained in their very beings. Fish, amphibians and reptiles are able to live completely independently when born - they know how to find food and escape predators without being taught how. Mammals, particularly prey like antelope, can run within hours of being born and when sea turtles hatch, they instinctively run towards the water. But human beings are unique in that we never stop learning how to live.

We have a large capacity to learn and grow and at City College Plymouth, we are dedicated to giving student the right skills to make it out there in the big wide world. The College helps to make learning relevant by providing real working environments where young people can learn and train. We build work experience into all our learning programmes and involve employers in shaping the curriculum, to ensure that the skills our students develop are the ones needed by our local industries.

The College’s Apprenticeship programme has been recognised by Ofsted as ‘Outstanding’, and our apprentice success rates are 16% above the national average. Apprenticeships offer the opportunity to go directly into the workplace whilst studying; young people gain the relevant skills and knowledge needed to progress up the career ladder quickly and get paid at the same time! 

For anyone interested in an Apprenticeship, or any of the full-time or part-time study options, the College is holding a course information drop-in on Wednesday 8 March, 4.30pm - 6.30pm, at Kings Road.

Visit our website, cityplym.ac.uk, for more information