Want to improve your wellbeing? Head for the zoo!


The animals at our top local zoos are healthy and content – but now there’s a new focus on how a visit can improve the wellbeing of human beings.

Paignton Zoo spokesperson Phil Knowling said: “We know there are kilometres of paths around Paignton Zoo. Living Coasts and Newquay Zoo are smaller, but walking around them is still good exercise. We decided to draw up a map with a few routes on, showing people how many steps they’d take, just out of interest. Now it’s snowballed!”

Head of Education Steve Nash: “One of our educators went off around Paignton Zoo with her Fitbit. It counted 6,781 steps in total and Map My Walk mapped a total of 5.26 kilometres. The route covered all major pathways with little to no backtracking. With no stops and a fairly good pace, we reckon that distance could be completed in just over an hour – unless you were distracted by looking at animals!

“Her heart rate was mostly in the ‘fat burn’ zone – around 110 bpm – with the hills taking it to around 135 bpm – that’s into the cardio zone. The route included four hills – three medium and one fairly steep – and finished in the restaurant, just in front of the cake…”

The map, now available to download for free from the Paignton Zoo web site, suggests three routes of differing lengths for guests to enjoy at their own pace. Phil Knowling: “You can of course follow some or all or parts of our suggested routes – or discover your own route. Whichever way you go, we recommend that you need a full day to see everything at Paignton Zoo. Think how many steps you’d do if you walked all three of these routes!”

Some otherwise sedentary office staff – including several in the Paignton Zoo accounts office – take healthy walks around the Zoo in their breaks. Volunteers can be pretty active in their roles. Group Volunteers’ Manager Neil Thomas-Childs: “Two of our Guest Experience Volunteers are clocking up between 7,500 and 9,500 steps a day. That’s up to 7 kilometres.”

But they have a long way to go – literally – to compete with their Living Collections colleagues. Head Vet Ghislaine Sayers revealed a typical working day was approximately 10,000 steps. New Curator of Plants and Gardens Alex Brotherton is averaging well over 10,000 steps every day – but then, he has a large garden to get to know.

Inevitably, it’s the zoo keepers who turn in the highest scores. Living Coasts aquarist Tom Fielding averages around 12,000 steps a day, but can reach 20,000. Paignton Zoo mammal keepers Cindy Burton, Marc Johnson and Stuart Parr all wear Fitbits. Cindy: “We average about 20 kilometres a day, burn around 4,000 calories a day and take about 30,000 steps a day!”

Ghislaine: “There’s definitely a mental benefit in walking across the Zoo, being closer to nature, getting fresh air and sunshine as well as taking a breather from the rush of the office. Definitely a mental energy booster!”

Zoo spokesperson Phil Knowling said: “This started with our Human Resources team looking for ways to improve the wellbeing of staff and volunteers. We wondered how far various people walked in the course of a typical day’s work. But we quickly extended the idea to guests and decided to offer planned routes with distances to help them work out how far they’d been. All of our zoos are great places for family walks – we can offer fresh air, good paths, interesting and attractive routes – and quite a lot of plants and animals to look at along the way…!”

The wellbeing map of Paignton Zoo can be found here: https://www.paigntonzoo.org.uk/explore/wellbeing-map Paignton Zoo is a registered charity. For more information go to www.paigntonzoo.org.uk or ring 01803 697500.

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