Having the only black leopard on exhibit in the UK, the staff at Exmoor Zoo have taken the story of the Beast of Exmoor and run with it! They tell the legend of the Exmoor beast while also educating visitors about these endangered animals. The zoo is also home to an excellent variety of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. There are a dozen or so talks about the various different animals every day.
Axe Valley Wildlife Park is a little zoo with a big heart! There’s a children’s play and picnic area, you can feed the numerous wild-roaming birds and in normal times they have lots of interesting educational talks. Lots of beautiful, exotic birds await you, as well as small animals such as lemurs, meerkats, wallabies, reptiles and some larger such as zebra and flamingos. This is a great place for smaller children as it’s not as overwhelming as the larger zoos. Spend half a day there and take a picnic or use their café.
Paignton Zoo is probably Devon’s most well-known zoo. A full day out, the zoo boasts 2.5k animals across 80 acres and has plenty of places for snacks and lunch. They have the largest range of species in the south west, including lions, tigers, giraffes, crocodiles, rhinos, lemurs, meerkats and orang-utans. There are also indoor and outdoor play areas and various talks and shows. The big cats are especially worth visiting and, according to the zoo’s website, they’re usually more active and easier to spot in the afternoon.
Famous for its portrayal in “We Bought a Zoo”, the book and film about the family who used to own the zoo, Dartmoor Zoo was donated by the Mee family to the Dartmoor Zoological Society (a charity dedicated to wildlife conservation, education and research) in 2014. The zoo is set in a beautiful woodland environment, where the animals have lots of space – as do the kids! Smaller than some of the other zoos, they offer excellent keeper talks and the reptile house is particularly noteworthy.
The price of admission for Buckfastleigh Otters and Butterflies gives you access to two attractions in one. The butterfly house is home to a wide range of exotic butterflies and moths, many of which are much larger than our native varieties. Take a wander amongst tropical plants, looking out for these beautiful insects. You’ll also find large numbers of terrapins around the pools within the butterfly house.
Since its opening in 1984, the Otter Sanctuary has been involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned, abandoned otters, as well as educating the general public about these fascinating creatures. Feeding time is the best time to see the otters (11.30am, 2pm and 4pm every day). You will likely only need a couple of hours with the otters and butterflies, so for a full day out, combine your visit with a trip to the South Devon Railway (indeed you’ll drive past the station to get to the carpark) and catch the train to the Totnes Rare Breeds Farm (see below)
Having been established more than 50 years ago, the Donkey Sanctuary Sidmouth is famous for its work in making lives better for donkey across the world. Free to visit, the Sidmouth base gives you plenty of opportunity to see, learn about and even stroke these gentle creatures and to find out more about the work of the charity. They have seasonal family trails, a modern restaurant and gift shop. Dogs are also welcome.
Wildwood Escot puts a special focus on the types of animals that would have roamed Great Britain in times gone by, as well as re-establishing biodiversity. Their most recent addition is the European Brown Bear, which joins other originally-native species such as red squirrels, wild boar, lynx and wolves as well as many others. Set in the grounds of Escot House near Ottery St Mary, this is a full day out, with a play barn, outdoor play area, drop slide, animal talks, bird of prey display and various other activities suitable for a range of ages. Don’t forget to visit the wetlands and the recreation of a Saxon Village too!
Hands-On Animal Experiences
Miniature Pony Centre Whilst you’re advised not to touch wild Dartmoor ponies when visiting the tors of the moor, you’re welcome to get close to, interact with and wander amongst the different types of miniature ponies here. It’s not just pony magic on offer however, it’s also unicorns*, heavy horses and giant donkeys! Another great one for smaller children.
At Totnes Rare Breeds Farm, they focus on interaction with the animals. Their guinea pig cuddles are very popular, or perhaps you’d prefer to stroke an eagle owl’s shiny feathers. The farm is quite small, so best combined with other attractions for a day out. It can also be tricky to find, so use the “Getting Here” page of their website to ensure you don’t get lost!
Yarak Birds of Prey offers hands-on experiences for those 7 and over are available Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Run by very knowledgeable staff, passionate about protecting birds of prey. Get up close and personal with owls, eagles and other birds of prey, finding out more about their habitat, diet and behaviours.
The National Marine Aquarium at Plymouth is a magical insight into our undersea world. With a staggering variety of sea life from seahorses to sharks, it’s a relaxing and educational day out. Travelling through the aquarium, you voyage across the world’s different oceans, finishing up at the massive and stunning Great Barrier Reef display.
If you want to learn more about the sea creatures along our Jurassic Coast, then seek out Lyme Regis Aquarium. It’s the perfect place to find out just what a fascinating range of species live right here on our coastline.
Please note: With the exceptions of the Donkey Sanctuary, Otters & Butterflies and the Rare Breeds Farm, pre-booking is essential for all attractions. Please note we make every effort to provide accurate and up to date information, but please check an attraction’s website or call ahead to check details before your visit.
*We all know unicorns do actually exist, but we also know they’re elusive and we’re not sure they can be kept in captivity, so we can’t guarantee that these are real ones.