19th September 2019

Students from North Cornwall academy organised a very special goodbye for one of their favourite members of staff who is leaving this week after eighteen and a half years working at the school. Rather than the usual ceremony with flowers and cards, Anna Combellack was treated to an up close and personal meeting with two very lively lionesses at Dartmoor Zoo.

North Cornwall is part of the Wave trust which provides high quality education for students in Devon and Cornwall who have been excluded from school or who are not in school for medical reasons. Two years ago teacher Andy Wilson introduced the ground breaking Dartmoor Zoo project to help build the confidence, self esteem and motivation of students.

Now a group of ‘Super Kids’ leave their classrooms every Thursday to work alongside members of the Zoo’s maintenance team to carry out a range of practical tasks ranging from digging drains, laying underground pipes and making manholes, to edging and filling in holes in paths, mixing concrete and mortar and building fences. A second group works with members of the Zoo’s Education Department on Tuesdays on a programme which focuses on academic study rather than practical skills, with modules on animal husbandry and studying zoo animals, as well as Maths and English qualifications.

Anna has been an important part of the zoo groups and students decided to involve her favourite animals in saying goodbye and thank you to her.

“Although I don't think the lions actually wanted to say thank you” laughed Andrew Wilson. “They were more likely to be saying 'lunch'."

“Following the encounter with Anna the lionesses came back out into their enclosure and treated the students to a very loud roaring display along with the male in the enclosure next door.“

Anna was very moved by the special treat which was arranged by students and staff from the zoo.

“I had a very memorable day at Dartmoor Zoo" she said. “I’ve loved visiting the zoo with our students, watching them grow in confidence and knowledge."

“The opportunity to go in with the lions and see close up their huge paws and powerful muscled bodies pacing backwards and forwards right in front of me was something I never thought I’d get to do. I cannot thank the zoo enough and will miss my weekly visits!”

The project’s unique mix of academic, social and practical activities, coupled with the enthusiasm and support of zoo staff and, of course, access to the animals, is transforming the lives of the young people taking part and Andy Wilson is delighted at the opportunity to share its success with other schools and zoos and wildlife parks.

Earlier this year the Dartmoor Zoo project beat 350 other educational projects from across the country to win Silver in the national British and Irish Association for Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) awards.

“We are so incredibly proud of what the group has achieved whilst being at the Zoo" said Coral Jonas, Dartmoor Zoo’s Head of Discovery, Learning and Research. “It shows that an alternative learning environment like the zoo can really benefit and enhance learning. We love teaching them, the group work so hard, take every day seriously and wear the zoo uniform with pride, we couldn’t ask for more from them."


Wave Multi Academy Trust
Wave is the largest Alternative Provision provider in the South West, with six AP Academies based in Cornwall, three Academies based in Devon and the Community and Hospital Education Service (CHES) based across three centres in Devon and Cornwall

Dartmoor Zoo
Dartmoor Zoo is a registered charity set in a 33-acre site located on the fringes of Dartmoor, Devon where it employs approximately 40 staff and over 90 volunteers. Visitors can enjoy a wide variety of indoor and outdoor attractions from daily big cat feeds and animal talks to falconry displays and close encounters with reptiles, amphibians and creepy crawlies. Dartmoor Zoo was established in 2007 when Benjamin Me and his family bought an ailing zoo. Since then Benjamin, his family and team have built the Zoo into the popular tourist attraction it is today. Ben wrote a book about his experience and in 2011 it was made into the Hollywood Film ‘We Bought a Zoo’ starring Matt Damon. In 2014 the Zoo became a charity, of which Benjamin is CEO. Today the Zoo is heavily involved in research, conservation and education projects to promote the welfare of animals and to enrich the lives of humans and animals. At the heart of all Dartmoor Zoo’s activities is conservation. By improving conservation through research the Zoo is finding ways to help animal numbers and habitats, it’s investigating ways to protect the environment and identifying means by which humans and nature can interact to create better health and well-being. As well as developing international conservation and education programmes, Dartmoor Zoo aims to establish a world class research centre in animal cognition, exploring animal consciousness to promote the welfare of animals around the world. Dartmoor Zoo’s work helps to enrich people’s lives by encouraging volunteering, training and education. Dartmoor Zoo’s research department works alongside keepers to design ideas for animal welfare and enrichment, evaluating their success with the animals to provide continual improvements.