Visitors to Devon love to watch its majestic stags, free-range ponies and cute otters – but how do you fancy feeding its lions, tigers and elephants? This beautiful county has some top-class zoos including Dartmoor, the subject of the book We Bought a Zoo which became a Hollywood hit. We’ve picked our top three places to get up close and personal with the world’s most majestic wildlife:
Dartmoor Zoo, near Sparkwell, Devon
The zoo: Expect to find tigers, lions, bears, wolves, meerkats and monkeys, as well as deer, owls and bugs (and much more), spread over 33 acres of beautiful woodland in the middle of Dartmoor. This family-owned zoo has a fascinating history too, and it’s been the subject of a BBC documentary, book (We Bought a Zoo by owner Benjamin Mee), and subsequent film.
The experience : There are a few zookeeper experiences to choose from at Dartmoor Zoo – and lots of them are on a 2 for 1 offer at the moment. Keeper for a Day (£199, 2 for 1 available, minimum age 8) means you get to work with the cuddlier zoo animals, whilst the carnivorous version is Big Cat Keeper for a Day (£299, 2 for 1 available, minimum age 18) where you work with lions, tigers, jaguars, wolves and bears. You can also Meet the Tigers, Meet the Meerkats, or have a deluxe tour of the zoo from Benjamin Mee himself. If you don’t go for the full experience, head to the Education Centre which offers close encounters with many of the zoo’s animals including snakes, tortoises, bearded dragons, gerbils, poison dart frogs and geckos. Stay at our Plymouth Travelodge, just 9 miles away.
Paignton Zoo, Paignton, Devon
The zoo: Paignton boasts the greatest number of animals in the South West and it’s certainly a great day out. It has all the big draws you hope for at a zoo including giraffes, elephants, lions, gorillas, cheetahs, crocodiles and monkeys, as well as an indoor play area and miniature train.
The experience: Paignton offers experiences to suit most ages and budgets. Fancy being Keeper for a Day (£195, minimum age 15)? You’ll get involved with the daily routine of caring for some of the world’s most endangered animals, including feeding and mucking out! Other options include Animal Feeding Experiences (from £37.50, minimum age 8, animals include meerkats, rhinos, giraffes, giant tortoises or crocodiles); Behind The Scenes at Amphibian Ark (from £37.50, minimum age 15); and Vet for a Day (£195, minimum age 15). Stay at our Paignton Seafront Travelodge, just 2 miles away.
Exmoor Zoo, near Combe Martin, Devon
The zoo: One corner of Exmoor houses over 160 species, including monkeys, leopards, cheetahs, wolves, tapir and sand cats – plus the mysterious “Exmoor Beast” (or black leopard, as it’s more commonly known!). Exmoor Zoo is compact but with excellent close-up sights round every corner, making it brilliant for families with younger children. It’s award-winning too and was named the best small attraction in the South West in 2013.
The experience: Exmoor Zoo’s Adult Keeper for a Day (£150, minimum age 15, ages 8-14 can do the 1/2 day Junior Keeper for £95) includes meeting meerkats, agouti, porcupines, lemurs and reindeer – as well as tapir scratching (whatever that is!), or go for the three hour Walk on the Wild Side (£85 for 1, £100 per couple, minimum age 3). Stay at our Barnstaple Travelodge, just 11 miles away.