Chuck it all in and buy a zoo? Why not? thought Benjamin Mee, unaware of the grim living conditions, creditors and escaped big cat that lay in wait...A few years ago, Ben and his wife, Katherine, sold their small flat in Primrose Hill and moved to France to pursue their dream of restoring an old barn near Nimes. That dream then became much, much bigger for, last October, they moved with their two young children, Ben's 76 year-old mother and his brother, into a run-down zoo on the edge of Dartmoor which they had bought, and found themselves responsible for 200 animals including four huge tigers, lions, pumas, three massive bears, a tapir and a wolf pack. Ben's new extended family now included: Solomon, an African lion and scourge of the local golf course; Zak, the rickety Alpha wolf, a broadly benevolent dictator clinging to power; Ronnie, a Brazilian tapir, easily capable of killing a man, but hopelessly soppy; and Sovereign, a jaguar who is also a would-be ninja, and has devised a long term escape plan and implemented it.
But tragedy was to strike for, in the midst of dealing with escaping wolves and jaguars, and troublesome adolescent vervet monkeys, Katherine, who had developed, and had removed, a brain tumour while in France, began to experience symptoms again. The prognosis was poor, and so Ben found himself juggling the complexities of managing the zoo and getting it ready for re-opening, and at the same time having to care for his rapidly deteriorating wife, their two young children, and their ever growing menagerie of animals. Ben's story will both move and entertain - charting, simultaneously, the family's attempts to improve the animals' lives, the build-up to the Zoo's official reopening, as well as Katherine's decline, her final days, and how the family went on.
A former bricklayer and decorator, Benjamin then began to study and write about animal intelligence, studying psychology at UCL and then completing an MSc in Science Journalism at Imperial College. Benjamin became a contributing editor to Men's Health magazine and a Guardian columnist, and then moved to Southern France, and began writing a book on the Evolution of Humour in Man and Animals. Then the zoo came up for sale, and everything changed.
'An engaging tale from someone who dared to do something different.' ShortList 'One of the most inspiring books I've read.' Western Daily Press
Erstwhile newspaper columnist wagers all, and then some, by talking his extended family into taking a flyer on their very own zoo.Writing a do-it-yourself column did not exactly qualify British journalist Mee (The Call of DIY, 2005) to take over a fading small zoo in the southwestern English town of Dartmoor. Neither did his university degree in psychology coupled with years of studying animal behavior, but at least that background helped him make up his mind. Mee convinced older brother Duncan to give up his London job, and their recently widowed 76-year-old mother yielded to his exhortations to sell the valuable family home, thus enabling the zoo purchase. He also had the sometimes strained support of wife Katherine, a graphic designer and brain-tumor survivor, and their two small children. His memoir principally recalls the events from October 2006, when they took possession of the zoo and rechristened it the Dartmoor Zoological Park, until the next July, when it was reopened. Mee's initial underestimation of rehabilitation and operating costs meant a massive effort to secure additional financing. Then there were the vicissitudes of hiring and firing zoo help: again, not a game for the inexperienced. Yet, the process of getting to know the park's 200 animals, from flamingoes and monkeys to wolves, lions, bears and jaguars, and of securing their care in the best possible captive environment, provided many heartwarming and heartbreaking moments. Tragedy intervened when Katherine's tumor reappeared and proved ultimately fatal, but Mee fought through personal grief to bring the park to a successful reopening.Replete with wry British perspective and facile rendering of the sights, sounds and smells only zoos can provide. (Kirkus Reviews)
The Amazing True Story of a Broken-Down Zoo, and the 200 Animals That Changed a Family Forever
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50 col plates (8pp)