Dartmoor Zoological Park
The house at the DZP in 2010.
|Location||Dartmoor, Devon, England|
|Land area||30 acres (12 ha) |
|Annual visitors||120,000 (2012)|
Dartmoor Zoological Park (originally Dartmoor Wildlife Park) is a 30-acre (12 ha) 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.
Big cats: The zoo is home to the largest collection of big cats in the region with a pair of Amur tigers, two African lions, a pair of Eurasian lynx, a male jaguar called Chincha and a South African cheetah. The park previously held serval, northern lynx and cougar, 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 pair of common marmosets, a pack of three Iberian wolves, a red fox, two Eurasian brown bears, Brazilian tapirs, lechwe, Dartmoor ponies, Parma wallabies, red-necked wallabies, capybaras, Oriental small-clawed otters, raccoons, meerkats, agouti, coatis, sugar gliders, and reindeer.
Birds at the zoo include ostriches, white-naped crane, blue-and-yellow macaw, owls, rheas, white-cheeked turaco, striated caracara, golden pheasants, Temminck's tragopan, ducks, chickens, and falcons.
Reptiles and amphibians: red-tailed boa, corn snake, kingsnakes, milk snake, western hog-nosed snake, leopard gecko, tortoises, terrapins, a Florida softshell turtle, African bullfrog, and green and black poison dart frogs.
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. The group criticised the living conditions for the animals and the safety barriers, calling for the zoo's license to be revoked. Ellis Daw denied the allegations, pointing to the lack of accidents in the zoo's 33-year history. The council were reluctant to revoke the zoo's licence, due to concerns over the future of the animals, but did charge Ellis Daw with 16 offenses after the zoo was investigated. 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. For this, Daw received a £200 fine and a conditional discharge, and the tigers were sent to a wildlife centre in the Netherlands.
The zoo was forced to close to the public on 23 April 2006. In August 2006, it was bought for £1.1m by the Mee family consisting of Benjamin Mee, his wife, Katharine, son Milo and daughter Ella. 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!
In film and Television
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.
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, whereas in fact she died aged 40 of a brain tumour several months after the purchase.
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.
In June 2011, We Bought a Zoo was released in unabridged compact disc and audiobook format.
From the Lamb to the Tiger
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.
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