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A century of superstars: Paignton Zoo’s top 10 iconic animals

Disclaimer: This blog discusses some zoological practices that we do not support today. We recognise this was part of the work of early zoos, but as a forward-thinking conservation charity we are working to protect animals and their habitats in order to help halt species decline. You can read more about our conservation work here.

Paignton Zoo has been home to many memorable characters over the years. From movie stars to fan favourites, we’re looking back at some of the most unforgettable residents from our 100-year history…

1. ‘Primley Mary’

Tschego chimpanzee

Date of residence: 1922 – 1928

Mary the Chimp edited scaled

Mary was something of a local celebrity back in the day. She lived at Primley House with Herbert Whitley in the 1920s and performed chores such as gardening, dog walking and milk-fetching. You can learn more about Primley Mary here.

2. ‘Beauty’

Bengal tiger

Date of residence: c.1930 – c.1945

bengal tiger Beauty edited

This tigress was aptly named for her stunning appearance. She starred in the 1937 movie ‘Elephant Boy’ as well as being the cover girl of our original guide book, which you can view in full here.

3. ‘Dannyboy’

Common eland

Date of residence: 1953 – c.1960

ken smith with dannyboy eland edited scaled

Danny, or Dannyboy as he was affectionately known, was known to respond to his name when called. Pictured here with Kenneth Smith, Dannyboy reached a staggering height of 6 feet tall. His growth spurt might have been aided by his love of carby treats, most notably bread.

4. ‘Sarah Huggersack’

Giant anteater

Date of residence: 1954 – c.1960

Sarah Huggersack Trudy Smith 1950s edited scaled

Named by Gerald Durrell for her clingy personality, Sarah would hug anything, including sacks! She charmed staff and visitors alike in the 1950s with her gentle temperament and close bond with her keeper, Trudy Smith (pictured above).

5. ‘Elsa’

African lion

Date of residence: 1963 – 1987

Danny Elsa 1 edited scaled

As a cub, Elsa starred in the 1966 movie ‘Born Free’ and was subsequently named after the character she played. She would go on to spend many years at Paignton Zoo with her male companion ‘Danny’.

6. ‘Duchess’ & ‘Gay’

African & Asian Elephants

Dates of residence: 1978 – 2010 (Gay); 1978 – 2019 (Duchess)

elephants edited scaled

Originally circus elephants in Ireland, Duchess (pictured left) and Gay (pictured right) were rescued by Longleat before being permanently rehomed to Paignton Zoo. The odd couple (one African and one Asian elephant) soon became some of the best-loved animals in the zoo’s history, going on attract countless devoted fans over their many years here.

7. ‘Elvis’

Aldabra giant tortoise

Date of residence: 1985 – present

PZ GT 100 Feast 04 23 LR 6 edited 2

Elvis was one of a group of hatchlings seized at Heathrow airport customs after being illegally smuggled for the pet trade. Along with our other tortoises: ‘Timmy’, ‘Miley’, ‘Dora’ and ‘Cleo’, these are the only animals at the zoo that could still be here for our 200th birthday in 2123! Elvis can be recognised as the largest of our giant tortoises.

8. ‘Pertinax’

Western lowland gorilla

Date of residence: 1997 – present

PZ Pertinax Birthday Enrich 13 04 22 HR 39 edited scaled

Born in 1982, ‘Pert’ is Europe’s oldest silverback gorilla and celebrated his 40th birthday last year. He also starred as ‘Hank’ in CBBC’s ‘The Zoo’, which was filmed on-site at Paignton Zoo in the late 2010s.

9. ‘Zuri’

Black rhinoceros

Date of residence: 2007 – 2011

baby Zuri edited

Our female rhino Sita (who still lives at Paignton Zoo) made the headlines in 2007 when she was captured giving birth on livestream, which was something of a novelty at the time. The calf was named by a public vote, with the winning name being ‘Zuri’, which means ‘beautiful’ in Swahili. Zuri moved to Chester Zoo in 2011 as part of a breeding programme and went on to birth her own calf in 2013.

10. ‘Manu’

Brown kiwi

Date of residence: 2016 – present

2016 04 PZ kiwi 2 edited scaled

Manu has the title of the only kiwi in the UK. These rare birds are revered by the Maori people of New Zealand, and serve as a flagship species for conservation. Manu is a popular resident of Paignton Zoo, but due to his nocturnal nature he can usually only be seen sleeping in a cute little ball on his webcam.

We’re celebrating our centenary year. To discover more about Paignton Zoo’s 100 year history and our plans for the year, click here.

GloWild at Paignton Zoo

17th November 2023 – 2nd January 2024

We will be ending our centenary year in style with our biggest ever festive event!

Join us after dark for an immersive light experience featuring a variety of beautiful, interactive light installations, entertainers and a silent disco.