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Dartmoor Zoological Park

Coordinates: 50°24′25″N 3°59′49″W / 50.407°N 3.997°W / 50.407; -3.997
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Dartmoor Zoological Park
50°24′25″N 3°59′49″W / 50.407°N 3.997°W / 50.407; -3.997
Date opened1968 (1968)
LocationDartmoor, England
Land area33 acres (13 ha)
Annual visitors80,000 (2016)

Dartmoor Zoological Park (originally Dartmoor Wildlife Park) is a 30-acre (12 ha)[2][3] zoo just north of the village of Sparkwell, on the south-west edge of Dartmoor, in the county of Devon in the South West of England. It was opened in 1968 by Ellis Daw who ran it until its licence was revoked and it was forced to close in 2006. The zoo was bought in August 2006 by Benjamin Mee, who reopened the zoo in July 2007, later writing a book about his experiences called We Bought a Zoo (2008). A 2011 film of the same title was loosely based on the book.



The zoo was opened as Dartmoor Wildlife Park by Ellis Daw in 1968 on the Goodamoor Estate that his family had bought in 1948.[3][4] Goodamoor House was built in the 17th century by Paul Ourry Treby of the Treby family in the parish of Plymton St Mary. The Treby family lived on the estate until the late 19th century.

In the following years Daw acquired many species to add to his collection, including lions and tigers, jaguars and pumas. He was also instrumental in the design and construction of many of the buildings and enclosures around the park.

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 licence 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 offences after the zoo was investigated.[8] All but one of these charges were dropped, but 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]

Goodamoor House in the zoo grounds

The zoo closed to the public on 23 April 2006.[4] Ellis Daw's autobiography, From the Lamb to the Tiger, in which he recorded the history of the zoo during the time that he owned it, was published in 2011.[10] 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 August 2006, the Wildlife Park was bought for £1.1 million[2] by the Mee family consisting of the matriarch Amelia Mee, four out of five of her children, including Benjamin Mee. [11] Four days after the family moved in, the jaguar escaped. He was later anaesthetised and captured after leaping into the nearby tiger enclosure. The following February the zoo obtained the £500,000 it needed for refurbishment of the site[2] and reopened as the rebranded Dartmoor Zoological Park on 7 July 2007.

The zoo has been a member of BIAZA (the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums) since 2011 and as a result is able to obtain animals from other BIAZA collections, as well as move certain animals on to other collections in order to become part of breeding programmes. In 2011 the zoo was awarded Eden's Top Wildlife Attraction of the year[12] and a Global Enterprise award.[citation needed]

In December 2014 the zoo became a charity after raising £340,000 by crowdfunding.[13]

In July 2016 a lynx escaped from the zoo and was free in the Devon countryside for more than three weeks before being recaptured.[14]

We Bought A Zoo


A four part television documentary entitled Ben's Zoo was broadcast in 2006. It followed the story of Mee and his staff as they worked to rebuild the park. In 2008 Benjamin Mee published a book titled We Bought a Zoo, about his and his family's experiences within the zoo.

The book was loosely adapted into a 2011 film, We Bought a Zoo. It was directed by Cameron Crowe following a rewrite of the original adaptation written by Aline Brosh McKenna. The film, starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones, was released in the U.S. and other major territories on 23 December 2011, and in the UK on 16 March 2012. In the film adaptation the zoo is called Rosemoor Wildlife Park, and is situated in the United States. The story also differs in that Mee buys the zoo after the death of his wife,[15] whereas she died aged 40 of a brain tumour several months after the purchase.[11][16] Mee and his children have cameo roles within the film.

Animal collection


Dartmoor Zoological Park has over 70[citation needed] different animal species, including some endangered and critically endangered species. The zoo has a breeding programme with tapir, Asian Short-clawed otters, and wallaby.

Tanzanian electric blue gecko at Dartmoor Zoo


  1. ^ "BIAZA Zoos and Aquariums". biaza.org.uk. BIAZA. Retrieved 12 March 2011.
  2. ^ a b c Morris, Jonathan (6 July 2016). "Break-out zoo is being reopened". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Dartmoor Wildlife Park sale completes" (Press release). Knight Frank. 3 November 2006. Archived from the original on 10 January 2009. Retrieved 10 March 2008.
  4. ^ a b "Wildlife park ends public access". BBC News South West. 22 April 2006. Retrieved 10 March 2008.
  5. ^ "Welfare group calls for zoo closure". BBC News South West. 7 November 2001. Retrieved 10 March 2008.
  6. ^ "Report on visit to Dartmoor Wildlife Park, Sparkwell, Devon". Captive Animals Protection Society. 6 November 2001. Archived from the original on 23 February 2011. Retrieved 2008-03-10.
  7. ^ a b c "Zoo's anger over closure call". BBC News South West. 7 November 2001. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  8. ^ a b c "Zoo boss guilty of illegally breeding animals". Captive Animals Protection Society. 10 July 2002. Archived from the original on 20 November 2010. Retrieved 2008-03-10.
  9. ^ "Devon wildlife park up for sale". BBC News South West. 16 February 2005. Retrieved 10 March 2008.
  10. ^ "Bibliography - British & Irish Zoos (Specific)". The Bartlett Society. Archived from the original on 22 April 2019. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
  11. ^ a b Morris, Meagan. "Meet the family behind We Bought a Zoo". Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  12. ^ Eden TV. "Eden's Top Wildlife Attraction of the Year 2011". m.facebook.com. Retrieved 3 February 2024.
  13. ^ "Dartmoor Zoo 'gains charity status' after crowdfunding bid". bbc.co.uk. 22 December 2014. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  14. ^ Stubbs, Hannah (31 July 2016). "Dartmoor lynx recaptured after three weeks on the run from zoo". The Independent. INM. ISSN 0951-9467. OCLC 185201487. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  15. ^ We Bought a Zoo at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  16. ^ "Hollywood star playing me was 'beyond surreal'". This is North Devon. 19 July 2012. Archived from the original on 16 February 2013. Retrieved 14 December 2012.