UK’s biggest zoo turns spotlight on Dartmoors, as ponies join the team

  • The UK’s largest zoo will be turning the spotlight on one of the country’s endangered native breeds when two Dartmoor ponies join its exhibits.

    Yearling geldings Thomas and Stargazer will be representing the breed at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire.

    The ponies were bred by Tim Whitley and family at Hedgebarton Farm near Widecombe-in-the-Moor.

    They previously ran as part of a herd that lived on common ground close to Hound Tor, where Arthur Conan Doyle based his Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles.

    The herd consists of 11 grey mares who breed a crop of foals each year.

    Co-founder of the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust Dru Butterfield was heavily involved in securing the move of the ponies, which it is hoped will raise the public profile of the breed.

    “We are thrilled to have these ponies going to the zoo to promote the wonderful temperaments of hardy Dartmoor ponies and to showcase them to a huge audience,” she said.

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    To prepare them for their new role at the zoo, the ponies were handled by Mr Whitley’s family with help from Dru. The handling and castration of the ponies was paid for by the Elise Pilkington Charitable Trust.

    “We made sure they were desensitised, the family took them for walks, groomed them all over and picked out their hooves,” she said. “They are super quality ponies. It will be wonderful for us to watch their progress alongside other rare breeds at Whipsnade and we’ll be keeping in touch with them for regular updates.”

    Animal Manager Matt Webb said: “We are delighted to be welcoming these two Dartmoor ponies to Hullabazoo Farm at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, where so many children and families will be able to watch and enjoy them.”

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