Dartmoor Zoo, Sparkwell, Devon

Couldn't resist the lions, tigers and bears oh my from the Wizard of Oz. This lion now sleeping peacefully was awake when I first saw him but before I could get a photo, he put his head down and went to sleep. His was the only noise I heard at the zoo except for the sound of many birds. He was making that chuffing sound but closer to a growl. I could never catch him in the act. There was a lioness sleeping nearby.  As for the Amur tigers, I  saw three. Vladimir was the largest one by himself. The other two were in a different area. They look larger than the male lion, beautiful faces and if hunting, would bite their prey on the neck to kill it. There has been only one documented escape from this zoo and that was the Carpathian lynx - a male who was gone for 24 days but after he killed four lambs was caught. They got him a girl friend named Willow who I saw later.

This is one of two Amur (Siberian) tigers in this particular enclosure. They were playing in a small pond of water with broken up pieces of cardboard floating in it. Probably a box that they tore apart like domestic cats like to do.  I watched him for a long time (or her, not sure). Vladimir was too far away to watch this closely. These tigers are smaller than Bengal tigers in India; the Siberian tigers used to roam Korea, China and what was known as Manchuria as well. There are approximately 2800 of these tigers in American zoos - being a poupular member of the big cat species. They are rarely man eaters and were historically not considered dangerous unless cornered but there have been attacks on humans in zoos and in breeding areas.  In 2007 at a San Francisco Zoo, an Amur tiger escaped and killed a visitor. The zoo was criticized for only having a 12.5 foot fence - fences should be 16 feet high to prevent escapes. I wondered about that when I was looking at the tigers at Dartmoor - the fences didn't look that high. In China, in three separate area zoos, Siberian tigers killed a zookeeper at each facility.

The bear seen here is probably Hayley rescued from a situation where she was malnourished and kept in a small cage. Most of her teeth are missing but I read that she has been trained to open her mouth to get treats. She was moving more slowly but I was fortunate enough to have most of the animals greet me - the zoo was practically deserted this time of year but it was a nice sunny and cool day. Hayley (there is another bear as well in her area) is a brown European bear. I almost ran right into one many years ago when I wasgt traveling through Turkey. I was walking along a street in Istanbul with my head down and noticed a golden brown furry creature that I thought was a dog. When I looked up there was a big bear around 6 feet tall with a leash around his or her neck walking with a swarthy looking man. Poor thing. They never have enough room to roam around like they should and are often malnourished like Hayley.

I tried to systematically go through the zoo, it isn't very big and I read that a movie was made about it, called "We Bought a Zoo." though in the movie, the location was in California and it is really in Devon. The failing zoo was purchased by Benjamin Mee, his wife and mother.  Mee's wife had recently been diagnosed with brain cancer and he wanted to raise his kids back in England. They were converting some barns in France but gave those up and sold a property in London as the zoo took far more money than the 150,000 they had pooled for a down payment. A couple of months after the purchase, his wife died when the tumor returned despite an additional two months of chemotherapy. The zoo had all kinds of problems financially, with the zookeepers feeding the animals out of their own pockets and they hadn't been paid for quite a while. Mee's first offer had been rejected but then he read that if the zoo wasn't purchased in 22 days all the animals would be put down. Mee had to make necesary repairs, get rid of the rat infestation (I spotted a big brown one yesterday when I was there) before the authorities would let him reopen the zoo to the public. He needs 60,000 visitors a year to break even.

The animals looked well cared for. Among the wallabys, there are three to four albino ones; one of the young zookeepers told me they have to make sure they don't get sunburned on their noses and ears. They need sunglasses. At first I thought it was a rabbit with short ears and a long tail or a big white rabbit. In a small zoo, the gene pool isn't that big so albinism may be a result. I liked walking around the zoo and seeing the animals, talking to them. They were nice enough to show themselves so I didn't have to go home without seeing them. The only animals I didn't see were the zebras.

A wallaby is similar to the kangaroo but is much smaller with the largest recorded being six feet high. None of the wallabys I saw at the zoo looked even close to that. The wallabys were in the same walk through enclosure as the two endangered white cranes and the African pygmy goats whose eyes are really strange. Their pupils look reptilian and are sideways black skinny almond shaped. And of course the peacock was lounging about on the fence with his long tail falling to the ground. The pea hens were squawking and he paid them no attention. Would have liked a feather but he wouldn't cooperate.

The smallness of the gene pool especially among the big cats wasn't carefully regulated by the previous owner and it is doubtful that the cats like the Carpathian lynx will be able to reproduce even though they are 2 out of 2800 in the Carpathian mountains. In many regions in eastern Europe and Germany, the lynx is considered to be extinct.

Albino wallaby above and racoon to the left. The Iberian wolves looked like big reddish brown dogs sort of like German shepherds - the grey wolves were in another enclosure looking very intelligent. and scheming about doing something using telepathy.

This little racoon was so cute. Liz, I hope it doesn't look like the one you found a summer or two ago on my sidewalk. In grad school at Santa Barbara, I would go to the computer lab and work late at night (didn't have a laptop then) and I would see some racoons around 1 am but looking quite a bit more fierce with glowing yellow eyes and bared teeth. I stayed well away. That was my first year there when I lived in this little apartment in a four plex in Santa Barbara near the mission. The owner, an old guy, would come in and use my outlet for running his garden tols without knocking and I would be in my bathroom. OK, so it  only happened once but I yelled at him. I only stayed there for the year but then put everything into storage and came back after a full summer of research in Turkey. I learned about the two blue and gold macaws in a cage, also in the walk through enclouse whch by the way, you have to be careful walking through as the non-zoo birds, those Canadian geese which are everywhere have Canadian poo everywhere. When I lived in Downingtown, you couldn't even walk without shoes in the backyard. Anyway, back to the macaws. The coloratiom on the larger one was so beautiful it reminded me of the lapis lazuli and the azurite blue pigments that we had just made the week before. Sadly, a gorgeous blue feather was in the cage and I was no where near enough or able to get it. He at least said bye bye to me a couple of times as I was leaving. The zookeeper said that he also uses "blue" language which is embarrassing with families about. I was kind of hoping for a little macaw cursing and didn't even think he would say anything after I said goodbye but he humored me.

 This is an African toad - he's so ugly he's kind of cute. Looks a lot like Jabba the hut from Star Wars. I heard somewhere that some people lick them for their hallucinogenic properties, ugh.

The lower image of the really pretty blue and black frog - he looks more like our malachite green pigment here but he was a pretty bright blue - this is a poison dart frog from South America. Apparently, the brighter the color, the more toxic they are since their diet is based only on ants, termites and mites while the other frogs eat more varied things. I don't know why this would be true - they must eat some really toxic ants. Called poison dart frogs because the Indians of Central and South America used their toxic secretions to tip their arrows with though curare is more effective and is plant based. Either way, would not want either of these two charmers hopping into my sleeping bag (not that I would be camping in Africa or South America). I camped for those three days in the White desert of Egypt but I don't think
anything could live in that heat.

So enough animal planet for now, tomorrow I am planning to see the Cathedral, another Medieval one and check out their museum.

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