We’re working hard to create one of the biggest and potentially best projects Paignton Zoo has ever run. In order to make it happen, we’re juggling rhinos. Now, juggling with a ton of rhino sounds like a really bad idea. Don’t worry, we’re not doing that. Our rhinos are a mere 40 kilos each – plus, eventually, a 600 kilo concrete plinth. Still pretty tough to juggle. I think we have about 20 in the air at the moment.

The Great Big Rhino Project is putting a dazzling free public art trail of 40 life-size painted rhinos around the streets, parks and open spaces of Exeter and the English Riviera this summer. The spectacle will raise awareness and funds to help Critically Endangered wild rhinos.

As the Project gains momentum the e-mails, ‘phone calls, discussions, problems, good ideas, bad ideas, meetings and sudden revelations at 3.00am multiply. We’ve got our sponsors; we’ve got our artists. Many artists have finished their rhinos – some are safely back in the barn round the back of Paignton Zoo, up on the shelf (it’s a big shelf) waiting for the trail to begin.

Others are still in a state of artistic undress, with paint and / or varnish still to be applied. For anyone who thinks it’s simply a matter of painting a rhino and then varnishing a rhino, think again. Certain paints react with certain varnishes, so instead of a protective layer you get a bad chemical reaction and a very large headache.

The artists are scattered across the country, which means our partners, Torbay Clearance Services, have clocked up many hundreds of miles with rhinos in the backs of their vans. We’ve had artists go missing for weeks at a time, artists who ignore the guidelines, artists who ignore the guidelines – but that’s artists for you.

There’s a lot to sort out; deadlines, guidelines, delivery, collection, painting spaces, photo opportunities… We live in a social media world, so there’s Twitter accounts, hashtags, Facebook, Instagram and all the rest of it, too, as well as logos and websites.

We have plans, spreadsheets, lists and lists of lists. Negotiating the locations – 40 outdoor, 60 indoors – is one big job, then allocating these to rhinos and sponsors is another. Then there are all the accessories, like full-colour souvenir brochures, the launch event, collectible ceramic mini rhinos, paint your own ceramic mini rhinos (like the collectibles, but plain), the cuddly toy rhino, the chocolate rhino, the rhino ale, competitions, secret rhinos, not-so-secret rhinos, videos, promotions… I think it’s going to be a rhino-shaped summer…

Quotes Zootastic Paignton! Quotes