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No need to feel blue…

Paignton Zoo’s founder Herbert Whitley had many obsessions, but one of his most well-known was a fascination with the colour blue, and over the years he selectively bred a whole host of blue flowers and animals. We’re not entirely sure where this interest originated, although we know that Herbert had a competitive streak, and the colour blue is surprisingly rare in nature. Perhaps this natural rarity intrigued Herbert and drove his efforts to create more blue specimens? We also know that Herbert’s late father, Edward Whitley, was the MP for Everton in Liverpool, and the nickname for Everton Football Club is the Blues, so perhaps it’s a reflection of his sporting interest?

Whatever the reason, Herbert’s zoo contained an array of animals with a blue hue, and to this day it’s a colour that can be associated not just with our founder, but with our current projects and conservation efforts.

Blue lizards

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in our Lower Vertebrate and Invertebrate (LVI) Team. Staff in this team are responsible for the care and wellbeing of a number of blue species, with blue lizards being a particular feature. Visitors to Paignton Zoo can see two of these species on display: blue tree monitors and electric blue day geckos.

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One of Whitley’s species of plant, Malva sylvestris ‘Primley blue’

Our team have been working hard to encourage our endangered blue tree monitors to breed. This unique species occurs on a tiny island called Batanta in Indonesia and faces serious threats in the wild due to habitat loss and illegal collection for the pet trade.

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Blue tree monitor

Also on display are electric blue day geckos. These tiny lizards originate from small patches of rainforest in Tanzania, and over the years we have been extremely successful in breeding them, with Paignton-bred animals now living in a number of zoos across the UK. Our field projects team have been working in Tanzania for several years and our work has contributed to the survival of several species, including many reptiles, in the wild.

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Electric blue day gecko
Helping species in the wild

Our work in the wild is a key part of our wider conservation efforts, and it’s another blue reptile that will see the benefit of this over the coming months. This week, LVI Keeper Tom Wilkinson is heading off to Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean to assist with conservation work for the endangered blue iguana. This will be Tom’s fourth trip to assist with the project, and he forms a key part of the team that undertakes vital survey work in the remaining areas that the iguana survives.

The blue iguana conservation programme is a fantastic example of the importance of captive breeding, combined with field work and community engagement to secure the future of threatened species. As well as monitoring wild iguanas and building local community support, the project also increases the population of wild iguanas through captive breeding alongside a process called ‘head starting’. This involves hatching eggs and rearing young lizards in captivity and then releasing the young once they’re a bit bigger, giving them a much higher chance of survival. Tom’s expertise in looking after captive reptiles will be particularly useful here and highlights the value of zoo-based research in contributing to the success of conservation projects.

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Blue iguana (credit: Tom Wilkinson)

We’ll be sharing updates from Tom’s trip on our social media platforms while he’s away and providing a detailed update of how his involvement has helped halt species decline on his return.