Monday, November 23, 2009

Want to Buy a Zoo?

I know it’s Thanksgiving but I’d really rather rave about a book I just finished. I think you’ll understand why when I tell you this: If you’ve ever wanted to do something but weren’t sure how you were going to do it, this book is about moving forward, one step at a time. If you’ve ever wanted to take on something huge and wondered if you were crazy to even think you could do it, this book is about daring to dream about possibilities.

First, do you remember your visits to the zoo when you were little? Weren’t they amazing and wonderful? And did you ever think you’d like to live in a zoo or at least work at a zoo, feeding the animals (if not exactly cleaning up after them)?

I confess that zoos often made me sad. I felt bad for the animals who lived in such restricted areas when no doubt their genes had geared them towards a different, more “free” life. And yet, I also knew that without zoos, very few of us would ever see and learn about these animals.

So when I saw the title I was intrigued: “We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Change Their Lives Forever,” by Benjamin Mee.

Who wouldn’t be curious? And who would actually buy a zoo? No question of why one would buy it—but do you know anyone who actually bought a zoo? Sure, people buy houses and cars and even companies. But a zoo? With wild animals (that could eat you)?

This is the story written by a fairly ordinary man (granted, a man who made his living writing, which helps immensely in creating a wonderfully readable book) who comes across a zoo and is intrigued by the possibilities. Now it makes a difference that it was not just him, it was his sister, mother, and brothers as well (his wife and children were interested enough to at least humor him). After Ben’s father died, the children started looking for a larger home around Devon, England, so their mother could live with one of their families. And that’s why the real estate information for a large home, with zoo on the 30-acre grounds, came to their family.

It probably helped that from the beginning, the idea was so impossible that the pressure was completely off. It was just curiosity that led the family to visit the zoo, but once the seed was planted, as Ben said, he knew he would always regret it if he let this opportunity slip away without trying for it. And though he and his family were complete amateurs in terms of running a zoo, they had some important skills to contribute. Ben was a journalist who specialized in do-it-yourselfing fix-it-ups, which is pretty critical for anyone who wants to buy a run-down zoo. He was also interested in animal psychology and behavior and in fact had been gearing up to write a book on humor in animals, a project that had to be put on hold. His brother had worked in a zoo with reptiles and more recently had experience as a business manager, also important when running a zoo, which is a business, after all.

Perhaps the most important thing that Ben and his family could bring to the zoo was their great compassion for the animals, many of whom would be put down if the zoo could not find a buyer who could invest the time and money to bring the zoo up to date and up to required standards.

Not that the family had lots of money, but they were resourceful. And in that astounding way that things fall into place, things did fall into place, piece by piece.

Not only is “We Bought a Zoo” about buying a zoo, it’s about taking that one step forward and then another and another, following your heart and your instincts and working hard—they were rebuilding a zoo, after all—to make something good and worthwhile happen, not just for the zoo animals themselves, but for people and for the planet and all its animals, since a zoo is where children first learn about wild animals and their place in our world.

Find the time to treat yourself to this wonderful book. Until you can get to the book, you can watch the CBS interview with the author at the link below, or google videos (by author and title) for more. The BBC also did a four-part documentary on “Ben’s Zoo” and you can even see footage of the Dartmoor Zoological Park and animals.


Anna Buttimore said...

I want to read his book now! It sounds lots of fun, and so inspiring.

Jeri Gilchrist said...

I think the book sounds like it could be a really good book. I like the idea behind it. Thank you for clueing me in about it, Valerie! Great post!