Dartmoor Zoological Park

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Dartmoor Zoological Park

Dartmoor Zoo logo
Date opened1968 (1968)
LocationDartmoor, Devon, England
Coordinates50°24′25″N 3°59′49″W / 50.407°N 3.997°W / 50.407; -3.997Coordinates: 50°24′25″N 3°59′49″W / 50.407°N 3.997°W / 50.407; -3.997
Land area30 acres (12 ha) [1]
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Dartmoor Zoological Park

Dartmoor Zoo logo
Date opened1968 (1968)
LocationDartmoor, Devon, England
Coordinates50°24′25″N 3°59′49″W / 50.407°N 3.997°W / 50.407; -3.997Coordinates: 50°24′25″N 3°59′49″W / 50.407°N 3.997°W / 50.407; -3.997
Land area30 acres (12 ha) [1]

Dartmoor Zoological Park (originally Dartmoor Wildlife Park) is a 30-acre (12 ha)[1][2] 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.



The zoo was opened as Dartmoor Wildlife Park by Ellis Daw in 1968 on farmland his family bought in 1948.[2][3]

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,[4][5] even though there had been no accidents in the zoo's 33-year history.[6] The group criticised the living conditions for the animals and the safety barriers, calling for the zoo's license to be revoked.[6] The council were reluctant to revoke the zoo's licence, due to concerns over the future of the animals,[6] but did charge Ellis Daw with 16 offenses after the zoo was investigated.[7] 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.[7] For this, Daw received a £200 fine and a conditional discharge, and the tigers were sent to a wildlife centre in the Netherlands.[7][8]

The zoo was forced to close to the public on 23 April 2006.[3] In August 2006, it was bought for £1.1m[1] by the Mee family consisting of Benjamin Mee, his wife, Katharine, son Milo and daughter Ella,[9] who reopened the zoo to the public in July 2007 after a major refurbishment.

The house at the zoo in 2010. The inscribed granite block is under the trees, far left.

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!


The zoo is home to animals including lions, tigers, jaguar, lynx, cheetah, bears, tapirs, capybara, raccoon, meerkats, agouti, coatis, reindeer, lechwe, Sika deer, parrots, owls, rheas, and falcons.[10]

In the media

Ben's Zoo

In 2007, 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.

We Bought a Zoo

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.[11]

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 America, instead of Dartmoor Zoological Park in England. The story also differs in that Benjamin Mee buys the zoo after the death of his wife,[12] whereas in fact she died aged 40 of a brain tumour several months after the purchase.[9][13]

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.[11]


  1. ^ a b c Morris, Jonathan (6 July 2007). "Break-out zoo is being reopened". BBC News South West. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  2. ^ a b "Dartmoor Wildlife Park sale completes" (Press release). Knight Frank. 2006-11-03. http://www.knightfrank.co.uk/press/2006_news_stories/DartmoorWildlifeParksalecompletes.aspx. Retrieved 2008-03-10.[dead link]
  3. ^ a b "Wildlife park ends public access". BBC News South West. 22 April 2006. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  4. ^ "Welfare group calls for zoo closure". BBC News South West. 7 November 2001. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  5. ^ "Report on visit to Dartmoor Wildlife Park, Sparkwell, Devon". Captive Animals Protection Society. 6 November 2001. http://www.captiveanimals.org/zoos/dartmoor1.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-10.[dead link]
  6. ^ a b c "Zoo's anger over closure call". BBC News South West. 7 November 2001. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  7. ^ a b c "Zoo boss guilty of illegally breeding animals". Captive Animals Protection Society. 10 July 2002. http://www.captiveanimals.org/zoos/daw.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-10.[dead link]
  8. ^ "Devon wildlife park up for sale". BBC News South West. 16 February 2005. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  9. ^ a b Morris, Meagan. "Meet the family behind We Bought a Zoo". http://www.sheknows.com/entertainment/articles/850705/meet-the-family-behind-we-bought-a-zoo. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  10. ^ "What's Here". dartmoorzoo.org. Dartmoor Zoological Park. http://www.dartmoorzoo.org/your-visit/whats-here.html. Retrieved 20 October 2012.
  11. ^ a b "Bibliography - British & Irish Zoos (Specific)". The Bartlett Society. http://www.zoohistory.co.uk/projects/bibliography/british_irish_zoos_specific. Retrieved 2012-12-14.
  12. ^ "We Bought a Zoo - IMDB". http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1389137/. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
  13. ^ "Hollywood star playing me was 'beyond surreal'". This is North Devon. 19 July 2012. http://www.thisisnorthdevon.co.uk/Hollywood-star-playing-surreal/story-16560393-detail/story.html. Retrieved 2012-12-14.

External links