Ellis turned the dairy farm on the edge of Dartmoor at Sparkwell near Plymouth into one of the largest collections of big cats in the West Country.
He later sold the zoo to Ben Mee, the current owner who famously wrote the book ‘We Bought a Zoo’ which became a Hollywood movie starring Matt Damon. Robin Godbeer, former employee and friend, said: “Mr Daw was a hugely experienced keeper of big cats who helped design enclosures at Paignton Zoo and knew a great deal about how to care for the animals.
Ellis had hoped to pass on the Dartmoor Wildlife Park to a member of his family. When no one wanted to take on the park he sold it to Ben Mee. He regretted selling the wildlife park. He always said that if he had kept on working he would have stayed younger for longer.”
Meanwhile Dartmoor Zoo confirmed that a strain of TB has been discovered at the zoo.
It is believed that badgers could have been the carriers of the disease, but staff at the zoo have stated that they are not calling for any kind of cull, instead it would make animal enclosures badger proof and was considering inoculating animals against TB.
The zoo said in a statement that there was ‘no increased risk to human visitors’ and the zoo was open as usual.
TB was confirmed after a post mortem on a Lechwe antelope. This is the first confirmed case of TB at the zoo.