Devon’s Zoo & Circus

Devon’s Zoo & Circus. In the tumultuous years of World War II, the survival of Chessington Zoo hung in the balance. Mostly due to its vulnerability to air raids in the proximity of London. Faced with the daunting task of securing the safety of the animals. Reginald Goddard made a pivotal decision to temporarily relocate them away from the wartime perils of the capital.

In Devon, a unique opportunity emerged. Herbert Whitley, owner of Primley Zoo, had recently closed his establishment due to tax disputes. He was in the process of selling off his animals. Goddard, recognizing a potential haven for his beloved creatures, reached out to Whitley. Proposing a merger of the two zoos for the duration of the war. Despite initial reservations, Whitley agreed to the collaboration.

Under Goddard’s stewardship, Primley Zoo underwent a remarkable transformation. Evolving into Devon’s Zoo & Circus. Goddard brought a sense of entertainment and profit to the zoo’s operations. Visitors were treated to a thrilling experience, with Chessington’s iconic circus acts now on display. The addition of the Jungle Express, a miniature railway winding around the main lake, further enriched the visitor experience.

Unlike Whitley’s original vision. Goddard was determined to make the zoo not only a conservation centre but also a profitable and captivating attraction. The collaboration flourished until the end of the war when Chessington’s animals and staff returned to London. Tragically, Goddard, in failing health, never made the journey back to Paignton. Sadly passing away on Christmas Day 1946 at the age of 56.

Reginald Goddard’s impact on Paignton Zoo was profound. His intervention saved Primley Zoo from potential closure during the war. Allowing it to grow into a world-renowned centre for animal conservation and education. The circus continued until 1953. The Jungle Express remained a cherished feature until its departure in 2022. A lasting legacy of the collaboration that ensured the survival and prosperity of both Chessington and Paignton Zoos.

Photos courtesy of Paignton Zoo. For more information about the connection between Chessington and Paignton Zoo’s. Please click here.