Dartmoor Zoological Park is a very, very special place…
It came into being in 2006, when Benjamin Mee and his family came across Dartmoor Wildlife Park (locally known as Sparkwell Wildlife Park): a privately owned, dilapidated exotic animal collection with a poor reputation and in terrible financial difficulty. Rather than running a mile, the Mee family were struck by the fact that if the right purchaser couldn’t be found, property developers would move in, and the vast majority of the animals would be destroyed.
Led by Benjamin, the family gathered all their resources, bought the zoo, saved the animals, and then began the year-long struggle to get the zoo ready to re-open which it finally did in July 2007 with new ideology, and under the new name of Dartmoor Zoological Park.
It was already a very difficult time, but then came the return of a brain tumour in Katherine, Benjamin’s wife. Disastrously this tumour proved terminal, and after a 6 month struggle, Katherine died leaving Benjamin to pick up the pieces with his two young children, as well as keeping the fight going to get the zoo open.
But they did it. The family survived, and the zoo regained its licence: a massive achievement.
Benjamin’s story was documented in his book “We Bought A Zoo”, which was also released as a Hollywood movie of the same title in 2011, starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson.
Benjamin is regularly invited to talk to organisations to inspire their people to never give up, no matter what life throws at you.
Twelve years on, Dartmoor Zoo is still going strong!
In 2009 the zoo was accepted into BIAZA (British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquaria) which is the benchmark for all collections aspiring to excellence.
In 2014 a crowdfund provided the means to convert into a charity, giving the zoo much greater security for the future. Dartmoor Zoological Society is a not-for-profit Charitable Incorporated Organisation registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales under number 1158422. Benjamin’s role has changed from owner to CEO.
In 2016 the Dartmoor Institute of Animal Science was launched on site at Dartmoor Zoo.
Benjamin’s original dream of turning the zoo into a centre of excellence for research, conservation, and education is well on the way with an award-winning Discovery and Learning Department, and the Research Department has forged strong ties with many outstanding universities, including the University of Plymouth.
Benjamin is an ambassador for the charity Brain Tumour Research, and a strong advocate of biophilia – the concept of human wellness through contact with wildlife and the environment. Dartmoor Zoo has a large body of fantastic volunteers, some of whom are using their volunteering as part of their recovery from mental illness: so called “green prescriptions”.
“You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you something great will come of it.”
– Benjamin Mee, (We Bought a Zoo, 2011)