(The) Mee family and other animals...

One of my favourite places in the UK is down in Devon, and surprisingly enough you probably know a bit about it. A few years back when I turned 30, my lovely family all clubbed together to buy me a Zookeeper for a day, or more specifically a big cat keeper. The Zoo we were going to do it at was down in Devon, which may seem a bit odd, but bear with me..

A few years ago now, after watching We Bought a Zoo I did the usual googling and became enthralled by the story of the Mee family, who did in fact decide with no experience to buy a zoo. I also saw that they did Big Cat Keeper days, and I added it to the wishlist of things I wanted to do, and promptly let it fall to the back of my mind. Until, that is, a voucher showed up on my 30th. Although the movie was set in California, the real zoo is Dartmoor Zoological Park just outside Plymouth. Doing the keeper day was without a doubt its something I will never forget.

All the animals are locked into their "houses" before we go into the enclosure and clean up.
Jasiri was eager for us to stop coo-ing and get on with feeding him.

Its really hard to put into words how truly awesome it was to be up close and personal with the beautiful beasts. Jasiri their Lion scared me, but in an exhilarating way. He was just so big, and at the time we went to feed him I think we were the first people he had seen that day (it was an early start - before the park opened) and we was excited. Josie (one of the few remaining animals from when the zoo was purchased) was so diddy for a lioness, yet so agile, climbing tree's for her meat (lovingly hidden there by Mr O ), yet the whoomp when she dropped back to the ground was a reminded of just how powerful she is.

I *might* have hidden some food in the cab of the truck so I could get this shot of Josie

Vladimir and Stripe, the sibling tigers, were feeling rather lazy and lethargic - having had a big meal the day before. As well as scattering the food around the enclosures, they are fed every other day to properly reflect how they would eat in the wild. Vlad certainly didn't want to do much but warm up up the sun with his belly still full from what was (based on what we fed Jasiri) a faily big chunk of pony - bones and all. There were times he looked over at us and would expose his belly just like a pet wanting a belly rub. Sadly, or rather luckily for my health, he was the other side of the fence. at that point. Stripe was more accommodating, and I would swear she actually posed for me a couple of times. She's a bit of a flirt for the cameras. Sadly, both of these beautiful cats have passed since we visited, but the new cats Dragan and Alicia are just as gorgeous and MUCH more active.

Stripe and Vladimir, don't you just want to rub that fluffy belly?? 

The other "big cats" at the Zoo are the Cheetah who the Lynx's, who you might remember from the fuss a when he escaped after he was moved to the zoo. They also have a Jaguar, but not Sovereign (who's story is in the book), but the big cat keeper day included pretty much all the carnivores in the feeding routine. Definitely not one for the squeemish.

Ceeta keeping a lazy eye on what everyone is doing

There was the tame fox Bramble, who we were told was better behaved than most dogs according to the vet. We went in with her without putting her in her house first she was so well behaved, just sniffed me and licked my trousers a bit. We also fed the lovely bears Fudge and Hayley, another paid of the old guard who are still resident. Fudge, the lighter one, is an old lady and I really could half see her in a blue rinse and doddering along. Hayley was full of Sass and tried to con us into giving her sweets so we could get her into her house so we could clean her enclosure and leave food. I couldn't get a photo because of the angle, but I wont ever forget the sight of her, head half in the house, arms crossed and hanging over the threshold - almost as if shes saying "make it worth my while keeper lady....."

Fudge and Hayley

The stand out, unexpected stars were the otters. I love otters anyway, but Jonsi and little Atti (short for Attitude). Atti was hand-reared and because of that she squeaks. She squeaks and chirps so much and so loudly she if officially the loudest otter in the UK. She didn't even stop as she was eating, it was constant. I love her, I wanted to keep her. They now have Jasmine, who is a bit less talkative but shes a nice mate for Jonsi and he seems to be teaching her the ropes.

Jonsi and Atti were very happy to see us coming with their breakfast

Aside from the keeping being AMAZING and getting to know the personalities of all the animals a bit more than the average visitor, I also really loved the feel of the Zoo. It was small, yes, but all the animals had large homes, and I got the impression of a large family - and I don't just mean the one that saved the Zoo from closure when they bought it. The whole place just had a warm feeling, a love radiating and it just made the whole place feel all the nicer. I picked up Benjamin Mee's book in the gift shop, devoured it in a day, and it made me love the place a little more. On return visits the same comes back again - its definitely the kind of place worth visiting. Location wise its a great stop point if heading into Cornwall, as we did recently on the way to a wedding. Either way, if you love animals make the time to visit this family and all their humans.

Dartmoor Zoo is located just outside the city of Plymouth and is open 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day). For More information about the animals, the zoo and the Mee family please visit their website.

No comments