Friday, 1 July 2011

Zoo Review: Exmoor

Tamandua tetradactyla
  Last weekend was the Severn Counties annual summer coach trip. We often visit zoos, and this year we decided to try Exmoor Zoo in north Devon. A fairly small zoo, only set up in its current incarnation 8 years ago, it is situated down one of the typical narrow Devon lanes. An accident on the main road forced our coach to take a longer way round than usual, so the trip down took longer than expected.

Tayra Eira barbara
That however was the only downside of the day. The weather was excellent and although Exmoor zoo is fairly small, I was very impressed with the collection. Often these small private zoos (it is not a charitable foundation) have a fairly standard animal collection with no real surprises, but Exmoor has made a USP out of having animals and birds you are very unlikely to see elsewhere. The reptile and invertebrate collection is a token really, although they do have Rhinoceros Iguanas (some of the youngsters Bristol bred I think), but the mammal and bird collection is outstanding.
Sri Lanka Giant squirrel Ratufa sp.

Among mammals on show are the first Tayra I had ever seen, a splendid Tamandua, Hairy Armadillo, and what I believe are the only Sri Lankan Giant Squirrels in the country. There is not much in the way of larger mammals, but they have 2 Sitatunga (both males according to ISIS) which I presume are spare males from the coordinated breeding programme. Primates include Lar Gibbon and Diana monkey, and Ring tail and Black lemurs (the latter with a small baby). There are at least 6 different callitrichids, and most of the groups appeared to have young either being carried or independent.

Silvery marmoset Mico argentatus
Birds include Bare-Faced Curassow (which they have bred) and White-browed Coucal (for which they had the first UK breeding). There is a major collection of cranes, including Florida Sandhill and Sarus. There is also a breeding group of Yellow-Billed storks and (a new addition) three Striated Herons currently moulting into adult plumage. There are also several pigeon species, including Wonga and Crested, which I have not often seen at other collections.

Bare-faced Currasow Crax faciolata
The zoo itself is situated in a valley, which makes for steep paths in places. The only road access is at the top, so all lavatories and the cafeteria are by the entrance, but the size of the zoo makes getting their not too onerous.. The cafeteria is very reasonably priced and the food was good.

Striated Heron Butorides striata
All zoos run on a shoestring, and Exmoor does not have many sources of funds outside gate receipts at present. Nonetheless, they have a commitment to education, and the keeper talks were well designed and informative. Some of the exhibits and their interior furnishings looked as if they were made by local builders compared to the (overdone?) designs at some other zoos, but were well designed from the animals point of view – for example the squirrels had access to a wire mesh run threaded through the branches of a tree, giving them cover while protecting the tree from being gnawed to death. They have a small group of Humboldt penguins in a freshwater lake in the center of the zoo. Generally sea birds do not do very well in this sort of situation, as they are often prone to water borne diseases if the water has a high bacterial count, but the lake is fed direct from a spring, giving a constant supply of chilled, clean water through their exhibit. There was some waterfowl on the lake, but even these were not the usual ones – Comb Duck and Andean Goose were present and posed well for visitors.

Comb Duck Sarkidiornis melanotos
My only real criticism is the zoos website, which badly needs updating with current news and information. If any web designer wants to assist, I suspect they would be gratefully received.

To sum up, this is a zoo that is the animal equivalent of those specialist nurseries that keen gardeners visit instead of garden centres, and is one I will certainly visit again. If anyone in that part of the world has animal-mad kids or an interest in zoology, they should certainly go.

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