A Wild Day Out At DartmoorOn July 16th We Bought a Zoo is being released on DVD and Blu-Ray. Based on the book written by Benjamin Mee, it tells the real life story of how the Mee family bought and saved a run down zoo. I was incredibly fortunate to be invited by Twentieth Century Fox to meet Benjamin Mee at Dartmoor Zoo and experience this amazing story firsthand.
Benjamin Mee had always imagined that if Hollywood came calling it would be for an eco-thriller work of fiction that he would have written. Never did he imagine that a book of his life would be made into a movie. "We Bought a Zoo" was written in a short and intense period of time, chronicling his family's real life adventure when they purchased the 33 acre zoo nestled in beautiful Dartmoor woodland.
|We Bought A Zoo In the Gift Shop|
Directed by Cameron Crowe, the film stars Matt Damon in the lead role. Benjamin Mee said that he had envisioned "Sean Connery 20 years ago" when he imagined who would play him in the story of his life and added that he anticipated more adventure, action and risk taking being involved. He never expected We Bought A Zoo would have made the big screen. However, he has been bowled over by the sensitive portrayal of his personal life in the film and found the kindness of Crowe and Damon to be beyond reproach.
|Benjamin and Me|
When his family took on the run down zoo, they threw everything they had into saving it. The task had became personal when Mee realised that someone had to do it and made the stand to save the animals who were just days away from being destroyed if no buyer could be found. Mee saw the zoo as a place for his children to grow up in, providing a tangible outlet for them to thrive which became particularly poignant following the death of their mother. Together the family have overcome obstacles, financial difficulties and heartbreak. The story is one of hope, healing and growth after their bereavement, with the rebuilding of the zoo providing a metaphor for the family's personal journey.
|Interviewing The Man Behind The Story|
Benjamin Mee has taken on the challenges in his role as single parent to his children Ella and Milo alongside the challenges of running the zoo. He considers himself lucky to have an amazing support network with the dedicated keepers on hand to keep an eye on the children as well as the animals! I met the children who are thriving in their idyllic environment. They are blessed with a freedom that most children could only dream of, and even though they have now been thrown into the limelight they have stayed grounded and clearly have a fantastic relationship with their dad and a deep respect for their home.
The zoo itself has a quirky, rustic charm. It has such heart and a magical quality that makes you feel privileged to be a part of. The keepers love what they do and Benjamim Mee is hands on in his role. The animals are clearly well looked after and happy. The enclosures are large and stimulating. Benjamin Mee empathizes with his animals, striving to give them the best life possible. Running this zoo is clearly a labour of love for everyone involved.
As part of my day at the zoo, I got up close to the Siberian Tigers Vlad, Stripe and Blotch. When one approached the wire fence and looked me straight in the eye it was an amazing and intense moment. The magnificent creature was close enough to touch, much like in the scene where Matt Damon is face to face with the Tiger in the film.
|Face to Face With a Tiger|
I also went into a cage with the Coatis (who loved raisins) and helped feed the Racoons. I learned about the most feared inhabitant of the zoo, the calculating and powerful Jaguar, Sovereign, who once managed to evade his keeper and got into the tiger enclosure spoiling for a fight before the zoo was open to the public. We witnessed Benjamin Mee attempt the first hand-feeding of the tigers and listened to tales of the wild cats demonstrating their natural killer instincts. The enclosures have great visibility making wildlife photography really rewarding.
|The Animals of Dartmoor Zoo|
Dartmoor Zoo is situated in natural woodland providing green areas for picnics and play. The Jaguar Restaurant serves hot and cold food with lunchboxes or hot meals for the kids. Veggie options are readily available. There are highchairs and a mother and baby changing room. A large under 5's indoor play area with a selection of toys was a big hit with Freddy (and great if it rains).
There are a number of unique experiences that you can choose to participate in such as Big Cat Keeper, Meet The Tigers, Adoptions or a Mini Safari. Full details and prices are available online. There are also opportunities for volunteering at the zoo. You can also donate to projects through sponsorship giving you a plaque at the zoo and special perks for being a donor. The latest project is to build an enclosure for Japanese Macaques (or Snow Monkeys). Weddings, kids' parties and corporate events can all be hosted at Dartmoor Zoological Park which would be a magical venue for animal lovers.
If you are in the area this summer do go and show some support for the Mee family and see the real life inspiration for the Hollywood family movie We Bought a Zoo! The zoo is open all year round and children under five go free. Dartmoor Zoo also has Single Parent Tuesdays offering cheap entry for single mums and dads and their children.
Find out more at www.dartmoorzoo.org
We Bought a Zoo is available on Blu-ray Triple Play and DVD on 16th July, from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.