Here at Dartmoor Zoo we are unashamedly ambitious in our aspirations for the future - which will have a global impact. We are extremely pleased to have completed the conversion into a charity which will secure the future of the zoo as a centre of excellence for education, conservation and research. As well as developing our international conservation and education programmes, we aim to establish a world class research centre in animal cognition, exploring animal consciousness to promote the rights and welfare of animals everywhere. But our project is also about regenerating people, using the platform of the zoo to encourage volunteering, training and education, from pre-school to postgraduate and beyond. Here you can learn about just some of the projects that are underway, and that we aim to begin in the near future.
Projects already underway
Our Conservation and Research department is incredibly active, covering a variety of research themes all with the aim of improving conservation, researching and finding ways to help animal numbers and habitats, helping to protect the environment, and also looking into the ways in which humans and nature can interact to create better health and well-being. Within this area we also try and communicate these messages to the public to increase understanding of the issues we face as a society and what can be done about them.
We have strong links with several universities and other higher education institutions which enable us to conduct research into cognition, behaviour, conservation and animal welfare. The projects undertaken to date have led to Dartmoor Zoo becoming well respected within the academic community.
Iberian wolf conservation
2013 marked the beginning of the first in-situ conservation project for Dartmoor Zoo. The project involves working with an organisation in Portugal and providing support through placement students to aid with research and tracking of Iberian wolves in Portugal to monitor population dynamics and to observe the predator-prey relations.
The Iberian wolf inhabits Northern Spain and Portugal, and until the early 1970s was considered a pest by Spanish authorities, who often paid for dead wolves. This, along with urbanisation meant their population numbers at their worst fell to possibly around 400.
Unfortunately the wolves do have an enemy in some farmers, whose livestock are under threat of being eaten by them, and in Portugal 45% of wolves are killed by human activity, including illegal hunting. For the work being done to increase numbers to be successful, public support is vital, and so the students placed with the organisation in Portugal also aid with public engagement on the ground to try and change local attitudes. By changing attitudes on the ground, we can help increase numbers and hopefully lower the number of wolves being killed illegally.
We also aim to expand on the project in the future by implementing a breeding programme with our 3 males, Gregorio, Raul and Carlos and some females, and also by implementing a breeding programme for goats and Estrela mountain dogs. This may sound peculiar! But this will help win the farmers over, by giving them dogs to look after their livestock, and by increasing the numbers of goats in the wild, the wolves will have another prey to hunt. Eva, the first Estrela mountain dog has already arrived at the zoo and is settling in nicely!
Palm oil awareness
Here at Dartmoor Zoo we are striving to become "palm oil free" and to spread the word about the devastating environmental effects that its production is having around the world.
So what is palm oil, why is it bad, and what do Orangutans have to do with it?!
Palm oil comes from the fruit of the oil palm plant and is used in cooking (sometimes called vegetable oil), cosmetics, cleaning products and even biofuel. Its production is of environmental concern because of issues such as deforestation, biodiversity, and soil degradation.
Huge areas of the natural habitat of the Orangutan has been destroyed. The Sumatran Orangutan is now classified as critically endangered and, unless a sustainable production method is found, time is running out for these amazing creatures.
Dartmoor Zoo's Head of Research is on the Committee that has been set up to address these concerns. Campaigns include the fight for better labelling so that people can choose not to buy products that contain palm oil.
Benjamin is also on the BIAZA (British Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Communications and Development Committee and is working with them to try and implement a BIAZA wide policy and awareness campaign.
Grow 4 Good South West
Grow 4 Good South West is an incredible charity run by the fantastic Dave Sharp that Benjamin is extremely proud to support by providing the group with a piece of land at Dartmoor Zoo, and by purchasing their produce through the restaurant.
Grow 4 Good supports young individuals at risk of exclusion by helping them overcome barriers to integration. They provide opportunities for people at risk of social exclusion to learn about and engage with organic gardening and nursery stock production.
Its unique location within a Zoo environment, with close proximity to a range of wild animals with conservation as the highest priority, offers extraordinary learning opportunities unavailable elsewhere. The project helps improve their personal, social and life skills, providing a
sense of identity by being a member of a working community. They gain skills,confidence, self-sufficiency and self-esteem, some becoming ready for training or work, enabling them to participate more fully within society and within their own communities.
Grow 4 Good is going from strength to strength, gaining recognition for the benefits that engaging with the project is providing by schools, social services and GPs, and they now are taking referrals.
From a research perspective, Benjamin is keen to work with projects such as this that prove the link between the interaction with nature and improved health and well-being, and along these lines, as well as Grow 4 Good, the Zoo also works with former services personnel to aid with their re-establishing of their connection with society, and is also working with Plymouth University on a study into the impact of nature on recovery times and mental well-being and morale within the healthcare system.
Here you can see a video about Grow 4 Good and its relationship with the Zoo.
Dartmoor Zoo's Education department conducts outreach sessions for the community and for schools, including some in disadvantaged areas. This gives people the chance to experience the Zoo without having to pay to visit, and it gives us a chance to educate the people that attend the sessions on conservation issues.
As part of the Dartmoor Pony Welfare Rescue Programme led by the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association, Dartmoor Zoo is committed to helping preserve the Dartmoor pony population by working with multiple agencies to help maintain a market for them. Without an adequate market ponies are culled and this has consequences for the ecology of the moor as well as on tourism and the pony population.
We have many plans for future projects here at Dartmoor Zoo, here are a few to give you a flavour...
The environment is something that is very close to our hearts, and we are keen to convert to using a biomass boiler for our heating and electricity needs. It's a great solution for us here, and as well as being better for the environment than fossil fuel systems, because we are sited in woodland we would effectively have our own power source, which would also make it more economical. It only requires one or two trees to keep us going all year, and due to the fact we occasionally are required to fell a tree for safety reasons, this would have the added benefit of reduced unnecessary felling.
Animal intelligence has long been a key item of interest for Benjamin, and along with the research team at the zoo, the future plan is to conduct research into the intelligence of animals on site at the zoo.
The dream for Benjamin has always been to have elephants on site as the central hub of a new research building. Currently we are looking into the possibility of having some Asian elephants.
Why elephants? Well, they are incredibly intelligent social animals, and have been known to play tricks on each other. This suggests the capacity for humour, something that is currently only considered to belong to humans. By researching this and observing these magnificent animals we hope to prove that animals are intelligent and have a capacity for feeling and suffering not previously considered. We hope that this will pave the way towards better treatment of animals, and also a greater consideration of the environmental and habitat destruction caused by humans. Also with this aim we hope to increase our primate collection to include macaques amongst others.
The effect on the environment of greenhouse gases is devastating, and we are already noticing, and will increasingly notice the effects within our lifetime. Something has to change before the damage passes the point of no return. It's already evident in the crazy weather with hail in July, catastrophic flooding, hotter summers and wetter and colder winters.
Agriculture contributes to global warming with 15% of all emissions. Livestock accounts for half of this, and with the population set to rise by another 2 billion by 2050, the amount of water and grain needed to feed the cattle is a huge concern. Beef is the worst culprit and has a far greater environmental impact than poultry and pork for example.
A rather controversial idea to help reduce carbon emissions is to eat less red meat. And what is a more efficient way to get our protein and reduce our carbon emissions at the same time?! Eating bugs!
The infographic to the left gives a small glimpse of the figures.
Believe it or not, 80% of the world already eats bugs, however we have yet to quite come to terms with the idea! And it's the same across much of Europe and the US. However, with the predicted increase in population and the amount of food required to feed them, a more efficient way of producing food and protein is needed, and bugs could just be the answer. Bugs give you much more nutrition per calorie, take up way less space, and would leave a lot more grain and water for us. And according to many they are extremely tasty. In fact Jennifer Holland for the National Geographic wets the appetite with the following...
So, here at Dartmoor Zoo we'd like to grow edible bugs and our aim is to get people interested (and encourage them to become entomophagous - i.e. bug eaters), thus lowering carbon emissions, helping the environment, and helping avert the potential food crisis to come. Simple!
So these are just a few projects at Dartmoor Zoo! You can learn more about the research themes here.