Sunday, November 16, 2008

Scenes from Dartmoor Zoological Park

My mother heard this interview on the Diane Rehm Show on the NPR station WFYI in Indianapolis.

It's a pretty amazing, heartbreaking, and uplifting story, if you take time to listen to it. In 2006, Benjamin Mee and his family decided to buy a dilapidated zoo on Dartmoor to rescue the animals, many of whom were going to be shot if nobody bought it within 10 days. After a lot of trouble both with banks and family members, he and his wife, his brother, and his mother finally owned an unlicensed zoo with about 200 animals on the edge of Dartmoor. Four days later, Sovereign, the jaguar escaped. Then Ben's wife's brain cancer recurred and she died leaving him with two young children to raise alone. They finally managed to open on July 7, 2007. If you listen closely, you'll find something unusual in an interview like this in the United States. There is no mention of God anywhere.

There was also a BBC2 documentary about it that several of my relatives had seen, so we decided to visit the Dartmoor Zoological Park while we were there.

Animals I wouldn't have expected to find on Dartmoor:I love capybaras. I hopped up and down and squealed,"Look! Capybaras! Capybaras!" As I've said before, it doesn't take much to excite me.

There were lions: Solomon and his mother Josie

And tigers Vlad (Siberian tiger)

And bears Ben (European brown bear)Hailey (European brown bear) and Fudge (Syrian brown bear)

Oh, my!

I looked down into this enclosure and thought, "Humph. These aren't very exotic." Then I remembered I was in England:
Snowdrop and Attitude, the hand raised Asian otters were hungry and begging from anybody who walked by. They were absolutely adorable and sounded like very loud squeaky toys.
According to the book written by Benjamin Mee, Ronnie the tapir is apparently gay. And wouldn't stand still for me to take a good picture. In the book, Mr. Mee explains how common homosexuality is in the animal kingdom - eventually he wants to add gay animal exhibits. This is already being done at the Artis Zoo in Holland. The UK version of the book is here.

In the book, he notes that he was heavily influenced by one of my childhood heroes, Gerald Durrell. I spent many an exciting night reading My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts and Relatives, and Catch Me a Colobus. I would have loved to have owned a zoo. Fortunately for the Dartmoor Zoological Park, Mr. Mee managed to reignite his childhood dream.

We had a very nice lunch overlooking the ostrich/llama/alpaca/fallow deer enclosure.

What struck me about this zoo was that most of the animals actually looked content, and some even seemed interested in us. Nobody was neurotically pacing, the enclosures were large, and most of the animals were out and about even though they could go in and hide if they chose. The grey wolves were a bit restive and kept snarling and attacking each other, but I think it was near feeding time.


alcyone said...

I love capybaras too! :D My husband once said that he really loved "the way [I] run at zoos," squealing and clapping from animal to animal.

I went to the gay animal exhibit in Oslo but I didn't know about the one in Holland. It would be much cooler at a zoo with live animals! :O

Laurie said...

Yeah, I used to embarrass my son when he was little. He just rolls his eyes now.

artificialhabitat said...

I could use a wheelbarrow like that.