Not your average day at the zoo!

This weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to an educators day at Dartmoor Zoological Park (Plymouth, Devon). Dartmoor Zoo is a small BIAZA zoo set in beautiful Devonshire countryside. The zoo used to be better known for the mistreatment of its animals. But since it was bought by Benjamin Mee, who successfully refurbished and reopened it in 2007, this little zoo makes for a great day out with a lovely collection of well looked after animals. I was very much looking forward to seeing if the education side of the zoo matched the successful development of the site.
First off we had a short introduction talk, which is where we got our first surprise! A young Rhea, named Zazu, strutted its way into the room. I can only imagine the excitement of children if this happened during a lesson at the zoo!
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Next we were shown the close encounters room. This room had a wide range of reptiles and insects that we could get close to, hold or feel. This would be a fantastic experience for children, especially to face some fears! I think it is essential that children learn about the importance of the not so cute and cuddly animals such as frogs and cockroaches. The only criticism I have of this room is that it is quite small and maybe would not fit a large class or a child in a wheelchair.
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Next we were taken to the dissection room to watch a sheep dissection. This is something that Dartmoor Zoo are clearly proud of, and rightly so. Andy, who is pictured chopping up the sheep, is interesting, humorous and a natural performer. During the dissection I was so engrossed that I very quickly forgot any nerves I had about feeling uncomfortable or queasy. Unfortunately the sound system used to listen to Andy talking from behind the glass is dated and in desperate need of an update. The system completely cut out during our talk and even though a solution was quickly found I fear that if this happened during a talk with children that their attention would be quickly lost. This would be an utter shame because I can safely say I learnt a great deal in the short time we had and it is a truly unique experience.
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We then had a demonstration from the company which Dartmoor zoo use for bush craft sessions, who were entertaining and knowledgeable. They also demonstrated their ability to differentiate their lessons for all ages, when a stray child walked along and decided to join in with the session! I leant some new fire lighting techniques such as short circuiting a torch with wire wool. Unfortunately the group I was in did not do overly well in the fire lighting competitions, but it was all great fun!
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Finally we were taken to see Grow 4 Good’s section of the zoo. Grow for Good is a project that leases land from the zoo for horticultural purposes. What makes this project special is that their volunteers are usually children who are struggling in society, the work they do helps to ‘reduce the likelihood of (these children) becoming marginalized or offending’. What makes it even better is the salad grown is bought by Dartmoor Zoo and sold in the cafe.
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All in all I was incredibly impressed by what the zoo offers for education. The zoo uses its size to it’s advantage, the selling point being that the experience children will have will be personalised and unique! The zoo provides children with experiences I don’t think they would forget in a hurry.
A truly valuable and interesting day. Thank you very much Dartmoor Zoo.

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