Dartmoor Zoological Park

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Dartmoor Zoological Park
The house at the DZP in 2010.
Date opened 1968 (1968)
Location Dartmoor, Devon, England
Coordinates 50°24′25″N 3°59′49″W / 50.407°N 3.997°W / 50.407; -3.997Coordinates: 50°24′25″N 3°59′49″W / 50.407°N 3.997°W / 50.407; -3.997
Land area 30 acres (12 ha) [1]
Annual visitors 120,000 (2012)
Memberships BIAZA[2]
Website dartmoorzoo.org

Dartmoor Zoological Park (originally Dartmoor Wildlife Park) is a 30-acre (12 ha)[1][3] zoological garden located near the village of Sparkwell, on the south-west edge of Dartmoor, in the county of Devon in the South West of England.

It is the subject of the book and film We Bought a Zoo.


The zoo was opened as Dartmoor Wildlife Park by Ellis Daw in 1968 on farmland his family bought in 1948.[3][4]

Dartmoor Wildlife Park became the subject of local debate after a 2001 report by the Captive Animals Protection Society raised questions about the welfare of the animals and the conditions in which they were kept.[5][6] The group criticised the living conditions for the animals and the safety barriers, calling for the zoo's license to be revoked.[7] Ellis Daw denied the allegations, pointing to the lack of accidents in the zoo's 33-year history.[7] The council were reluctant to revoke the zoo's licence, due to concerns over the future of the animals,[7] but did charge Ellis Daw with 16 offenses after the zoo was investigated.[8] All but one of these charges were dropped, but Ellis Daw was found guilty of breeding Siberian tigers outside of an organised breeding programme, and of keeping them in poor conditions.[8] For this, Daw received a £200 fine and a conditional discharge, and the tigers were sent to a wildlife centre in the Netherlands.[8][9]

The zoo was forced to close to the public on 23 April 2006.[4] In August 2006, it was bought for £1.1m[1] by the Mee family consisting of Benjamin Mee, his wife, Katharine, son Milo and daughter Ella.[10] Four days after the family moved in, the jaguar, Sovereign escaped due to an error by one of the inherited junior keepers. He was later anaesthetised and captured after leaping into the nearby tiger enclosure. The following February the zoo obtained the £500,000 needed and so began the major refurbishment of the site. The zoo reopened as the rebranded Dartmoor Zoological Park on 7 July 2007.

Next to the house is a large block of granite on which is inscribed:

ELLIS BOWEN DAW - Born 15th September 1928 - FOUNDER OF DARTMOOR WILDLIFE PARK 29 JUNE 1968 - Here's to those who wish me well and those who don't can go to hell!


Big Cats: The zoo is home to the largest collection of big cats in the region with three Amur Tigers, an African Lioness, a pair of Siberian Lynx, and a South African Cheetah. The park previously held Serval, Northern Lynx and Puma, along with several more tigers, lions and jaguars who have since died or moved on to other collections.

Other Mammals at the zoo include a troop of two Vervet monkeys, a pack of three Iberian wolves, a Red fox, two European Brown Bears, Brazilian Tapirs, Lechwe, Dartmoor Ponies, Palma wallabies, Bennett's wallabies, Capybara, Asian-short clawed otters, Raccoon, Meerkats, Agouti, Coatis, Sugar Gliders, and European Reindeer.

Birds at the zoo include Ostrich, White-naped crane, Blue-and-Yellow Macaw, Owls, rheas, White-cheeked Turaco, Striated Caracara, Golden Pheasants, Temminck's Trapogan, Ducks and Chickens, and Falcons.

Reptiles and Amphibians: Red-tailed boa, Corn snake, King snakes, Milk snake, Leopard gecko, Tortoises, Terrapins, a Florida Soft-shelled Turtle, African bullfrog, and Black and Green Poison Dart Frogs.

Invertebrates include East African Snail, Madagascan Hissing Cockroach, Chilean Rose Tarantula, Imperial Scorpion, pink footed Millipedes and Stick Insects. [11]

Future plans[edit]

Plans for the future of the park were unveiled in March 2013. In 2013 the park will become a charity, and following on from this a planned £6 million investment project will over the next five years, see the park develop an on-site research centre, and elephant and orangutan exhibits. The park is already developing a reputation as a research facility, working with 10 universities including Plymouth and Exeter.

Other plans include the construction of a new reptile house as well as hopes for a redesigned visitor access route, nocturnal house, indoor play area and a giraffe enclosure.

In the media[edit]

Ben's Zoo[edit]

In 2006, the story was the subject of a four-part television documentary, entitled Ben's Zoo, which followed owner Benjamin Mee and his staff as they revamped the park for the 21st century. It was shown on BBC Two in November and December of that year.

Although Ben's Zoo was followed by a second series, it was aired in several overseas locations and repeated several times on Nat Geo Wild throughout 2010 and 2011. There are no plans for a DVD release of the series.

We Bought a Zoo[edit]

Benjamin Mee, a former DIY columnist for The Guardian, wrote a book about his experience refurbishing and living at the zoo: We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Change Their Lives. It was published in 2008.[12]

In 2009, 20th Century Fox purchased the film rights to Mee's book and filming on We Bought a Zoo began in January 2011 under the direction of Cameron Crowe following a rewrite of the original adaptation written by Aline Brosh McKenna. The film, starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, was released in the U.S. and other major territories on 23 December 2011, and in the UK on 16 March 2012.

In the movie, the zoo is called Rosemoor Wildlife Park, and is situated in the United States, instead of Dartmoor Zoological Park in England. The story also differs in that Benjamin Mee buys the zoo after the death of his wife,[13] whereas in fact she died aged 40 of a brain tumour several months after the purchase.[10][14]

In June 2011, We Bought a Zoo was released in unabridged compact disc and audiobook format.

From the Lamb to the Tiger[edit]

Also in 2011, Ellis Daw published his autobiography, From the Lamb to the Tiger, in which he recorded the history of the zoo during the time that he owned it.[12]


  1. ^ a b c Morris, Jonathan (6 July 2007). "Break-out zoo is being reopened". BBC News South West. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  2. ^ "BIAZA Zoos and Aquariums". biaza.org.uk. BIAZA. Retrieved 12 March 2011. 
  3. ^ a b "Dartmoor Wildlife Park sale completes" (Press release). Knight Frank. 2006-11-03. Retrieved 2008-03-10. [dead link]
  4. ^ a b "Wildlife park ends public access". BBC News South West. 22 April 2006. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  5. ^ "Welfare group calls for zoo closure". BBC News South West. 7 November 2001. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  6. ^ "Report on visit to Dartmoor Wildlife Park, Sparkwell, Devon". Captive Animals Protection Society. 6 November 2001. Archived from the original on 2011-02-23. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  7. ^ a b c "Zoo's anger over closure call". BBC News South West. 7 November 2001. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  8. ^ a b c "Zoo boss guilty of illegally breeding animals". Captive Animals Protection Society. 10 July 2002. Archived from the original on 2010-11-12. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  9. ^ "Devon wildlife park up for sale". BBC News South West. 16 February 2005. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  10. ^ a b Morris, Meagan. "Meet the family behind We Bought a Zoo". Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  11. ^ "What's Here". dartmoorzoo.org. Dartmoor Zoological Park. Retrieved 20 October 2012. 
  12. ^ a b "Bibliography - British & Irish Zoos (Specific)". The Bartlett Society. Retrieved 2012-12-14. 
  13. ^ We Bought a Zoo at the Internet Movie Database
  14. ^ "Hollywood star playing me was 'beyond surreal'". This is North Devon. 19 July 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-14. 

External links[edit]