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.
An engaging tale from someone who dared to do something different.'
'One of the most inspiring books I've read.'
Western Daily Press
'Mee writes movingly about his wife's fatal illness, his children coming to terms with this, his sprightly old mum and, of course, his 200 wild animals in all their diverse glory.'
About the author
A former bricklayer and decorator, Benjamin Mee began to study and write about animal intelligence, reading 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.
Between his wife Katherine's diagnosis of glioblastoma and her quiet death less than three years later, Mee (The Call of DIY), his siblings and his mother bought a bedraggled zoo, complete with decaying buildings, a ragtag group of animals, an eclectic staff and a reputation that had been quickly going to the wolves. In this occasionally charming (to his children: "Quiet. Daddy's trying to buy a zoo") but overly wordy book, Mee writes about caring for his dying wife and their two young children, dealing with Code Red emergencies (when a dangerous animal escapes its confines), hiring staff, learning about his new two- and four-footed charges and setting his sights on refurbishing his zoo into a sanctuary for breeding and raising endangered animals. Mee tends to meander with too-long explanations for one-sentence points, and the awe he feels about each individual animal is repetitive. Coupled with Britishisms that are never explained and a curious lack of varied wild animal stories, this book that was obviously meant to make animal lovers roar with pleasure will only make them whine with frustration.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Ben Mee tells a heartwarming story about taking chances, devotion and integrity. His families efforts in managing their grief by restoring a zoo as they reinvented their lives and rescued animals in the process was a fantastic read.
Worth a read
This was a good read. Bought it to read before I saw the movie, and enjoyed the roller coaster that the family went through. Definitely more of a journalistic writer, emotionally portrayed but not over the top.
We bought a zoo
Worth reading, interesting and enjoyable. A million times better than the movie