Tropical Trails & Tribulations

It’s been 35 days since Paignton Zoo has been able to welcome guests after re-opening following the end of UK’s third national lockdown, and both the humans and animals of the zoo are excited to see you again. As this phased lockdown easing continues, we are now able to re-open the majority of our indoor exhibits for you to discover. However, one of these exhibits has been closed for longer than most. Cast your thoughts back to pre-pandemic early 2020 – the forgotten year, whenduring a particularly nasty storm the roof was torn off our Reptile Tropics exhibit by gale force winds. This immensely changed the climate inside from tropical to terrible.

It is safe to say that the roof definitely needed to be repaired… and it was. Part way through those repairs, however, the roof was torn off a second time due to high winds – again. Couple that with successive lockdowns and an organisational restructure, this all added to the time it would take to get animals back into their tropical homes – so where did they go in the mean time? 

Rehousing the animals was, of course, our priority. The birds were caught and moved to off-show aviaries around the zoo and even though the reptiles and amphibians were housed in enclosed environments, we still had to move them straight away to ensure we could provide the specific conditions they needed to thrive. Now, moving all of those animals meant that we filled up our off-show enclosures, quarantine facilities and aviaries to almost max capacity, so this could only ever be a short-term solution.

Once the roof repairs were finalised, the LVI (lower vertebrate and invertebrate) team got to work redesigning aspects of the existing enclosures around the ongoing storm damaged repairs. Some enclosures saw new staff access points added, others were enlarged to provide more space for their inhabitants and most had a full refresh of lighting and heating units. Slowly but surely the individual tasks were completed and we started to move the animals back into Tropical Trails.

What will you see when you visit? As you walk through the newly opened Tropical Trails exhibit, you will notice that some species that were there before have moved or are no longer on display. During the time that it took to repair the storm damage, the keeper teams were able to take stock and rethink what species would go back into the exhibit. Some species that you will see aim to highlight the work that zoos do to fight extinction: Annam leaf turtles, pink pigeon and the grey-breasted conure, whilst others species are zoo favourites like Pierre the mangrove monitor who has come back to Tropical Trails into a much larger enclosure.

Regular visitors will notice that Pascal, the male Parson’s chameleon, will not be on display. Instead, he will be behind the scenes in a specially designed enclosure that we can control more specifically for breeding purposes. Whilst he is indeed irreplaceable you will still get your chameleon fix, as we have housed seven (at the time of writing) Critically Endangered Nguru spiny pygmy chameleons in Tropical Trails. Just make sure you keep your eyes peeled as they are amazing at hiding in their enclosure!

So, after a rollercoaster of behind the scenes maintenance work, species juggling and COVID lockdowns, we hope that you enjoy being able to walk through our Tropical Trails exhibit and seeing some of the changes that we have made to our enclosures and the species on display.