Erstwhile newspaper columnist wagers all, and then some, by talking his extended family into taking a flyer on their very own zoo.
Writing a do-it-yourself column did not exactly qualify British journalist Mee (The Call of DIY, 2005) to take over a fading small zoo in the southwestern English town of Dartmoor. Neither did his university degree in psychology coupled with years of studying animal behavior, but at least that background helped him make up his mind. Mee convinced older brother Duncan to give up his London job, and their recently widowed 76-year-old mother yielded to his exhortations to sell the valuable family home, thus enabling the zoo purchase. He also had the sometimes strained support of wife Katherine, a graphic designer and brain-tumor survivor, and their two small children. His memoir principally recalls the events from October 2006, when they took possession of the zoo and rechristened it the Dartmoor Zoological Park, until the next July, when it was reopened. Mee’s initial underestimation of rehabilitation and operating costs meant a massive effort to secure additional financing. Then there were the vicissitudes of hiring and firing zoo help: again, not a game for the inexperienced. Yet, the process of getting to know the park’s 200 animals, from flamingoes and monkeys to wolves, lions, bears and jaguars, and of securing their care in the best possible captive environment, provided many heartwarming and heartbreaking moments. Tragedy intervened when Katherine’s tumor reappeared and proved ultimately fatal, but Mee fought through personal grief to bring the park to a successful reopening.
Replete with wry British perspective and facile rendering of the sights, sounds and smells only zoos can provide.