Posted by: billpurdue | April 18, 2012

Buying a zoo

If I could choose which profession to follow in a new career, I don’t think I would chose to be the owner of a zoo. This is exactly what Benjamin Mee  decided to do: he bought a zoo – in spite of it being very run down and on the point of closure. In his book We Bought a Zoo [HarperCollins £8.99 9780007274888], he tells the whole story, which begins in France. Mee and his family had decided to move to a rural part of France, where he could follow his career as a journalist and author. Unfortunately his wife Katherine developed a brain tumor, which was successfully operated on, but they were warned it could come back.

Although not explained in the book, Mee and his family decided that they wanted to return to England to be nearer to his mother. Then his sister sent him a brochure about a run down zoo in Devon which was looking for a buyer. She knew of his affinity with animals and thought that it would be his “dream scenario”. And that is what it eventually turned out to be, but many trials and tribulations lay in their path.   After the purchase of the zoo, when they finally moved in to start renovations, Katherine’s health problems returned and, just when she had started to use her considerable design talents for publicity for the reopening of the zoo, she died.

The work of bringing the zoo up to the required standards had to go on and Mee tells how he managed to cope with his loss and how the animals helped him. There was certainly a lot to occupy his mind; not only did much of the infrastructure of the park need renovation, but there were crises and tricky moments to cope with, such as an escaped dangerous animal or anaesthetizing a big cat to allow dental work to be carried out.   Now the book has been made into a film starring Matt Damon, but it seems that the story has been altered to suit the film makers.

As to the book itself, I wouldn’t say that it was a riveting read, except perhaps some passages where there is some element of suspense – but turning a dilapidated zoo into a modern tourist attraction isn’t all excitement by a long chalk. There are moments, where I thought the author was a bit self indulgent, slipping throw away remarks into the story. There are a couple of pages given over to the Cornish pasty for instance. That said, it was an interesting book and worth the read.  (Click here to look at the zoo’s website)

A little moan..

Hopefully you will forgive me for having a little rant, but you need plenty of patience if you want  Nottinghamshire Libraries to obtain the books you request. The book English Passengers which I wrote about a week or two ago, for example, took a few months to arrive. To a certain extent this is an age old problem, as I know from experience when I was a librarian. A few requests always seemed to get stuck in the system. However most of my requests are taking longer than they used to and the staff at my local library tell me they are often chasing up unsatisfied requests. Now, I know the price of a request is only 25 pence (some years ago it used to be 85 pence), but if you are offering a request service, then  it needs to be done properly without too much waiting for the reader.

I’m reading…..

Pursuit by Clive Maddison [Vanguard £9.99 9781843868729] and enjoying it – more about that in the next week or two.


  1. Real nice design and superb article.

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