Hollywood-Starring Zoo Launches Appeal for Its Future

Matt Damon

The Zoo at the centre of a Hollywood film starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson has launched an appeal to secure it’s future. The Crowdfund campaign went live this morning and supporters are being asked to help by donating.

Campaigners have launched a high-stakes bid to secure the future of Dartmoor Zoo, immortalised in the Hollywood Movie “We Bought a Zoo” starring Matt Damon.

The zoo, on the southern slopes of England’s last wilderness area, was bought in 2006 by journalist Benjamin Mee who wrote a book about his struggle to bring it back from the brink of ruin, inspire his family and save the animals while grieving the death of his young wife.

His tale of hope in adversity inspired Hollywood director Cameron Crowe to make the heartwarming film starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson.

But real life is not like it is in the movies. The zoo was actually bought by his whole family and after eight years as a family business – spanning two recessions and five of the wettest English summers on record – the time has come for Benjamin Mee to buy out his family and turn the zoo into a charity.

“Dartmoor Zoo has come a long, long way since 2006,” says Mee. “We’ve worked hard to build up excellent relationships with other zoos and have been accept onto several endangered breeding programmes like the Amur Leopard and Sumatran Tiger.

“We teach a diploma in Animal Management on site in partnership with Duchy College, have won awards, and been selected as part of a Government campaign on using zoos as a public health resource for families next year.”

Just this week the zoo had the excellent news that their free outreach sessions to under privileged schools will be helped to continue by Toyota UK, and Plymouth University is also looking to expand its partnership with the zoo, with students already gaining experience within its grounds as part of their studies and talks taking place over future research collaborations in the field of animal cognition.

“To say that I am excited about this is an understatement,” says Mee, who was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Plymouth University in 2013. “It’s a significant step towards fulfilling the dream of turning this place into a world class research centre for Animal Intelligence. All these things have just been possible as a business, but as a charity we would really thrive.

“Now is finally the time to buy the zoo from my family. I tried going to the banks for a conventional mortgage to buy the freehold and sign the site over to a charity. But after they had finished laughing, they said ‘No’. Charitable status is a zoo’s natural habitat. It’s like releasing the zoo into the wild.”

So now Benjamin Mee is appealing to the public to help Crowdfund the purchase of the zoo to turn it into a charity, secure the future of the animals, staff, students and volunteers – and concentrate on growing it as a world-class education and research centre.

“Our aspirations for the future are unashamedly ambitious – and will have a global impact,” says Mee.

“As well as developing our international conservation and education programs, we aim to establish a world class research centre in animal cognition, exploring animal consciousness to promote the rights and welfare of animals everywhere. But our project is also about regenerating people, using the platform of the zoo to encourage volunteering, training and education, from pre-school to post-graduate and beyond.

“People from around the world have been inspired by this story of hope. Now everyone can actively participate in keeping this hope alive.”

The Crowdfund is one of the largest ever undertaken by the Cornwall-based fundraising organisation and they need to raise £1.6 million pounds to secure the future of the Zoo.

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