Earlier this year, we announced that – after 50 years of living on Baboon Rock – our troop of hamadryas baboons will soon be moving to a brand new home.
Visitors have enjoyed watching the baboons since 1973
Many visitors to the zoo will have seen the extensive construction work being carried out at our former zebra enclosure, following the zebras’ relocation to their new paddock next to the giraffes. However, the most exciting phase of the building is set to take place early next year, with the state-of-the art baboon house that our troop of twenty will soon call home.
Icon of an era
Since its construction in 1973, Baboon Rock has been one of Paignton Zoos most popular and iconic exhibits. Baboon Rock even featured in the music video for the 2008 single Heartbreaker by electronic band Metronomy!
The original idea for Baboon Rock came about several years before it was built, with finances delaying its construction until it finally opened in July 1973. The ‘Rock’ replaced ‘Bear Cage Walk’, a row of cages that housed bears, leopards and various other mammal species. Early plans for this area, showed a smaller ‘rock’ with exhibits lower down the hill for wild dogs and seals. As the picture below shows, they also included a chimpanzee enclosure on the site where our giant tortoises now live, although this idea was also dropped in favour of a giraffe house, which opened in 1968.
The original plans for Baboon Rock included a smaller rock for wild dogs and seals
The newly completed exhibit looked very similar to the rock of today, although with brighter colours. The artificial rockwork was coloured using local Devon sands to colour the concrete; yellow sand from Newton Abbot, white sand from Lee Moor and red sand from Exeter. The aim was to replicate the volcanic rock formations found in the baboon’s natural range in northern Ethiopia.
The striped hues of yellow, red and white were designed to emulate the arid plains of North Africa
On opening, Paignton Zoo’s baboon troop numbered just 13 individuals, consisting of two males and 11 females. For many years, their view from the top of the rock would have included elephants Duchess and Gay, who arrived in 1977, as well as our giraffe herd, before they all moved to the Large Mammal House, in the late 1990’s.
The baboons used to have giraffes and elephants as their neighbours
A new chapter
As a throwback to the original rock, we’ve landscaped the entire hillside with the same three types of sand, sourced from the same sites as 50 years ago. We’ve also added some boulders, selectively sourced from a Dartmoor quarry, to emulate their natural habitat in the rocky, arid plains of North East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. To provide the baboons with enrichment, we have added some caves for the baboons to explore. We’ve also recycled parts of our old Hang Out play area to build climbing frames and tunnels for the troop.
Climbing frames, tunnels and caves will provide the baboons with endless enrichment
We’ve already begun laying the foundation for the visitor viewing areas and pathways. The modern design of Hamadryas Hill means that, as well as giving our baboons more space and access to an enriching, grassy hillside, we’ll be able to let visitors see them inside as well as out.
Concept design for Hamadryas Hill construction
Thanks to the findings from over 20 years of behavioural research – carried out by our team here at the zoo – that we have been able to design a new home for our baboons that will meet all of their needs. Together with our keepers and placement students, our research team has carried out an average of 450 hours of observations every year, meaning that our baboons are among the most well studied monkeys in the whole of the UK. This incredible work has given us a detailed insight into how they spend their time and interact with each other, and the new design will allow us to continue gathering this valuable information.
Placement students carry out daily observations as part of their research
The departure of our baboons from their current location begs the obvious question of ‘what replaces the rock?’ Plans for this are a little more intricate, and we are still smoothing out the finer details. For now, all we can say is that we have something very big and exciting in store, and we look forward to announcing this next phase of our transformation very soon!