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From Conservation to Coronation: History of Royal Visits to Paignton Zoo

As the country gears up to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III, we are looking back on the times that the Royal Family has graced us with an appearance at Paignton Zoo and our other sites over our 100-year history.

The Duke of Edinburgh visits Paignton Zoo

In 1978, HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, made his first visit to Paignton Zoo as part of a local tour. As President of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Prince Philip had a passion for conservation, and during his visit Paignton Zoo he took an interest in many of our endangered species and the work we do to protect them. According to one keeper at the time, he was particularly taken by the zoo’s capybaras!

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Paignton Zoo’s porcupine charms Prince Philip (1978)

The Duke of Edinburgh returned to Paignton Zoo in 1998 to open the Marie le Fevre Ape Centre. The new exhibit provided a state-of-the-art facility for gorillas and orangutans, with naturalistic outdoor spaces and indoor dens. The Duke not only recognized the importance of the new centre, but also acknowledged the hard work and dedication of our staff in ensuring the welfare of the animals in our care.

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The Duke of Edinburgh returns to open the Ape Centre (1998)

The Royal Family tour Wild Planet Trust sites

Although Prince Philip has been the only royal visitor to Paignton Zoo (that we know of), other members of the Royal Family have played a huge role in promoting the wider work of our charity, Wild Planet Trust.

In 2003, Living Coasts, the Trust’s coastal zoo in Torquay, was formally opened by Anne, Princess Royal. Living Coasts was the first coastal zoo in the UK, and it provided a unique opportunity for visitors to see a range of marine species up close and learn about the challenges they face in the wild. Princess Anne’s visit helped to raise the profile of the new zoo and highlighted our efforts to protect marine habitats and species. Ten years later Prince Edward, then the Earl of Wessex, visited Living Coasts for their 10th anniversary.

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Princess Anne tours the newly opened Living Coasts (2003)
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Prince Edward follows in his sister’s footsteps for Living Coast’s 10th anniversary (2013)

In 2010, Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy, became the first royal to visit Newquay Zoo, which had been acquired by the Trust 7 years earlier. Prince Edward once again paid us a visit in 2019 to celebrate Newquay Zoo’s 50th anniversary and formally open Gems of the Jungle.

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HRH The Earl of Wessex visits Newquay Zoo (2019)

Charles and Camilla learn about Torbay’s seagrass

Last summer, we had the pleasure of meeting with the then Charles, Prince of Wales, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, to discuss our Save Our Seagrass project: a Torbay-based initiative that monitors seagrass beds and takes action to reduce damage to seagrass by installing mooring buoys. As a long-standing advocate for conservation, Prince Charles expressed his support for the project and acknowledged the importance of protecting seagrass. The endorsement of the now King Charles III was especially meaningful for us and acts as a reminder of the importance of the work we do.

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The future King Charles III meets with the Save Our Seagrass team (2022)

As Charles is formally crowned this weekend, we’re grateful to look back at a history of support from the Royal Family. As a conservation charity, Royal visits provide a great endorsement of our work and support us in achieving our mission: to help halt species decline.

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The late Prince Philip with trust director Philip Michelmore (1978)