The seaside town of Paignton is one of the jewels in the crown of England’s south-west coast, in a coastal region known as the English Riviera. Together with Brixham and Torquay, it forms the beautiful borough of Torbay, in Devon.
Paignton was first mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086 and grew over time into a fishing village. In the 19th century, with the extension of the railway to the coast, it began to grow in popularity as a seaside resort. The Paignton railway line, constructed by the Dartmouth and Torbay Railway, was launched on 2nd August 1859, creating a convenient link to London.
Today, the economy relies largely on tourism and it’s known as a great destination for family holidays. The promenade is dominated by the 780ft-long Paignton Pier, which opened in 1879. Visitors are greeted by the traditional sight of an easily-accessible, clean beach, complete with colourful beach huts, the green and the picturesque promenade.
One of the town’s major attractions is Paignton Zoo. This modern environmental park has been continually redeveloped since it first opened in 1923. It spans 80 acres and provides a home for more than 2,500 animals in a natural environment that resembles their living conditions in the wild.
It was constructed by millionaire Herbert Whitley, who was an animal breeder who decided to establish a zoological garden on his large estate at Primley in the 1920s. The 37-year-old opened the zoo to the public to help educate people about other species.
It continued to operate after Whitley’s death in 1955 and today it is managed by South West Environmental Parks Ltd and owned by the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust – the trust was set up following Whitley’s death to continue his good work.
Things to do
Paignton Zoo has become a major tourist attraction in the south-west of England, not only because of its hundreds of fascinating species, but also because there’s plenty to do for a family fun day out.
The zoo is a mature botanical garden too, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy, including waterside plants, herbaceous borders, towering trees and wild flower meadows.
There are all types of species at the zoo, large and small, including favourites such as gorillas and orang-utans and the famous big cats, the lions and tigers. Giraffes, rhinos, red pandas and crocodiles are also popular with the visitors.
Whether it’s sunny or raining, it’s a fun-packed day out, with plenty to do – you’ll need a full day to explore all that the zoo has to offer.
The world’s animal wonders live in specially-designed habitats, including replicas of tropical forests, wetlands and the savannah. Entering the zoo, you will see the first exhibit, Reptile Tropics, home to a fascinating selection of reptiles, birds and amphibians from all over the planet. Get up close and personal with lizards, chameleons and frogs.
Lemur Wood houses three different types of lemur, while the Ape Centre is home to the large primates – the gorillas and orang-utans. The zoo is caring for two critically endangered species – a group of six Bornean orang-utans and four Western lowland gorillas.
The big cats include Sumatran tigers, Asiatic lions and cheetahs, living in the forest area which is wooded with plants and trees. The rolling plains of the savannah area house the camels, giraffes, ostrich, zebra and an African elephant called Duchess, who is a great visitor attraction in her own right.
The humid Crocodile Swamp is not for the feint-hearted, as it houses some reptilian giants, including a saltwater crocodile and pythons!
Events and activities
Paignton Zoo hosts various seasonal events for all the family throughout the year and especially during the school holidays. The Winged Wonders bird show runs from Easter until the end of the school holidays and admission is free. Visitors can see birds of prey completing a fascinating display with their handlers.
Ten keeper talks take place every day, so people can find out more about the amazing animals at the zoo. There’s also a chance to see the animals being fed and to find out about some of the characters who reside at the zoo, from the keepers who know them best.
The Jungle Express train carries passengers on a trip around the exhibits, including an exclusive view of the animals around the lake. There are also outdoor and indoor play areas, with plenty of facilities for children to let off steam and run wild!
The zoo has been active in a number of philanthropic activities over the years to raise funds for wildlife. In 2013, the Great Gorilla Project saw life-size model gorillas being erected across Devon in aid of charity, raising a total of £100,000.
In 2015, Paignton Zoo celebrated 10 years of environmental accreditation to the international standard ISO14001, while in 2016, its Great Big Rhino Project raised an impressive £123,000 in aid of conservation work.
Founded in 1961, the zoo’s education department boasts a large team of staff who teach around 40,000 students every year about our planet’s wildlife and environmental activities. Pupils of all ages participate in the educational programmes.
Devon is an amazing part of the UK, thanks to its family holiday atmosphere and attractions such as Paignton Zoo.
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