Hollywood’s heading to Devon, Dartmoor to be precise, with a film based on Benjamin Mee’s autobiographical story of his families takeover of a decrepit zoo on the magical moor; rumoured to star Matt Damon in the lead role. Now revitilised and delighting visitors 7 days a week, newly named Dartmoor Zoological Park is a fine example of the many animal encounters visitors to the Westcountry can enjoy. And whether they have 2 legs, 4 legs, wings or flippers, animals are fascinating, educational and a lot of the time they need your help; so when planning your next holiday to the Westcountry, why not set aside a day to visit one of the South West’s many wildlife attactions in either Devon, Cornwall, Somerset or Dorset.
Not sure where to start? Well luckily we’ve done the hard work for you, painstakingly visiting as many of the animal offerings as we could (out of work hours of course!) to compile this run down of our favourites:
Dartmoor Zoological Park, Dartmoor, Devon
More intimate than nearby Paignton Zoo, the real draw to Dartmoor Zoo is it’s wonderful selection of big cats; the largest in the region. Designed to give you the best possible viewing, visitors can join the resident Amur tigers at feeding time or get up close with Solomon and Josie, the zoo’s African lions. There’s also a jaguar, cheetah and lynx on site to keep you purring, but we recommend you try to avoid giving them a head scratch. Elsewhere the zoo offers a host of different animals varying from bears to pot-bellied pigs, reptiles to meerkats, all set in stunning Dartmoor countryside.
Living Coasts, Torquay, South Devon
With a stunning seaside location and very recently built, Living Coasts in Torquay is fascinating experience for all members of the family. Dubbed “a coastal zoo”, visitors are offered the chance to journey around the coasts of the world to learn about the amazing animals and plants that grace their shores. Explorers can witness penguins, seals and an array of bird and marine life, all in specially-designed naturalistic environments allowing for a really unique zoo experience.
The Monkey Sanctuary, Looe, South Cornwall
Set in beautiful woodlands that look out over Looe Bay, The Monkey Sanctuary offers rehabilitation to various breeds of monkey, once kept as pets. The cheeky inhabitants will keep you and your loved ones amused for hours as they scamper about their massive inter-connected enclosures and there are plenty of staff on hand to educate you on our distant relatives. The onsite Tree Top Cafe helped The Sanctuary win an award from the Vegetarian Society for being the best visitor attraction for Vegetarians and it’s likely even the most devout carnivores will be won over by the fine selection of homemade meat-free food available.
Paignton Zoo, Paignton, South Devon
One of the Sunday Telegraph’s 50 great days out, Paignton Zoo is home to thousands of amazing animals and spreads over 80 acres of South Devon soil making it by far the largest animal attraction in the region. Residents come from all around the animal kingdom including lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, gorillas and a large variety of primates. There’s plenty of play areas for the kids and a lovely large restaurant with views over to gibbon island, but be warned, you’ll have to eat quickly if you hope to cram it all into one day!
Paignton Zoo is the perfect day out, come rain or shine, for any guests planning to stay in one of our traditional South Devon cottages.
Pennywell Farm, Buckfastleigh, Devon
Dubbed “Devon’s friendliest day out”, Pennywell is the South West’s largest activity farm and provides visitors with a first hand opportunity to get up close and personal with a range of farmyard animals, but don’t worry, there’s no chance of a pig-led revolt here; not only are the animals loved and spoilt all day long, but also the pigs at Pennywell are so small they wouldn’t be much threat to anyone, that’s because Pennywell are famous worldwide for breading miniature pigs that grow to only a fifth of the size of a normal piglet.
The National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth, Devon
Plymouth boasts the UK’s largest aquarium offering visitors the perfect all-weather attraction to break up your holiday. Set up with the sole purpose of education, conservation and research, the aquarium has 50 live exhibitions with three particularly massive tanks. Offering an overview of sea life that encompasses the coastal shallows right out to the Atlantic deep and back to coral seas, expect to see sea turtles, two and half metre long tiger sharks, seahorses and the odd Nemo impersonator on your journey through the blue planet.
Monkey World – Ape Rescue Centre, Wareham, Dorset
Back with the primates but this time in Dorset, Monkey World assists governments worldwide in attempts to stop the smuggling of these lovable creatures. The Ape Rescue Centre has long starred in it’s own TV series, Monkey Life (formerly Monkey Business), and is now home to over 230 rescued and endangered primates including gibbons, chimps, orang-utans and seven other species of monkey and prosimian. There’s a lovely woodland walk and kids will go ape over the centre’s outdoor play area.