We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Broken-Down Zoo, and the 200 Animals That Changed a Fam

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9780007274888: We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Broken-Down Zoo, and the 200 Animals That Changed a Fam

A film tie-in edition to 20th Century Fox's film adaptation of the heart-warming international bestseller starring Scarlett Johansson and Matt Damon and directed by Oscar-winning director Cameron Crowe. An amazing true story that has inspired the major Hollywood motion picture this Christmas, to be repackaged for release alongside the film. We Bought a Zoo is about one young family, a broken down zoo, and the wild animals that changed their lives forever. When Ben [played by Damon] and his wife Katherine [played by Johansson] sold their small flat in Primrose Hill, upped sticks with their children and invested their savings into a dilapidated zoo on the edge of Dartmoor, they were prepared for a challenge and a momentous change in all their lives. With over 200 exotic animals to care for - including an African lion, a wolf pack, a Brazilian tapir and a jaguar - Ben's hands, and those of his wife, children and tiny team of keepers, were full. What they weren't prepared for was Katherine's devastating second brain cancer diagnosis. Ben found himself juggling the daunting responsibilities of managing the park's staff and finances, while holding the bailiffs at bay and caring for his wife. A moving and entertaining story of courage and a family's attempts to rebuild a zoo, and carry on after Katherine's tragic death.

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About the Author:

A former bricklayer and decorator, Benjamin then began to study and write about animal intelligence, studying psychology at UCL and then completing an MSc in Science Journalism at Imperial College. Benjamin became a contributing editor to Men's Health magazine and a Guardian columnist, and then moved to Southern France, and began writing a book on the Evolution of Humour in Man and Animals. Then the zoo came up for sale, and everything changed.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

PROLOGUE

Mum and I arrived as the new owners Wildlife Park in Devon for the first time at around six o’clock on the evening of 20 October 2006, and stepped out of the car to the sound of wolves howling in the misty darkness. My brother Duncan had turned on every light in the house to welcome us, and each window beamed the message into the fog as he emerged from the front door to give me a bone-crushing bear hug. He was more gentle with Mum. We had been delayed for an extra day in Leicester with the lawyers, as some last-minute paperwork failed to arrive in time and had to be sent up the M1 on a motorbike. Duncan had masterminded the movement of all Mum’s furniture from Surrey in three vans, with eight men who had another job to go to the next day. The delay had meant a fraught standoff in the entryway to the park, with the previous owner’s lawyer eventually conceding that Duncan could unload the vans, but only into two rooms (one of them the fetid front kitchen) until the paperwork was completed.

So the three of us picked our way in wonderment between teetering towers of boxes and into the flagstoned kitchen, which was relatively uncluttered and, we thought, could make a good center of operations. A huge old trestle table I had been hoarding in my parents’ garage for twenty years finally came into its own, and was erected in a room suited to its size. It’s still there as our dining-room table, but on this first night its symbolic value was immense. Some boxes and carpets Duncan had managed to store in the back pantry had just been flooded, so while he unblocked the drain outside I drove to a Chinese takeout I’d spotted on the way from Route A38, and we sat down to our first meal together in our new home. Our spirits were slightly shaky but elated, and we laughed a lot in this cold, dark, chaotic house on that first night, and took inordinate comfort from the fact that at least we lived near a good Chinese place.

That night, with Mum safely in bed, Duncan and I stepped out into the misty park to try to get a grip on what we’d done. Everywhere the flashlight shone, eyes of different sizes blinked back at us, and without a clear idea of the layout of the park at this stage, the mystery of exactly what animals lurked behind them added greatly to the atmosphere. We knew where the tigers were, however, and made our way over to one of the enclosures that had been earmarked for replacement posts to get a close look at what sort of deterioration we were up against. With no tigers in sight, we climbed over the stand-off barrier and began peering by flashlight at the base of the structural wooden posts holding up the chain-link fence. We squatted down and became engrossed, prodding and scraping at the surface layers of rotted wood to find the harder core, in this instance reassuringly near the surface. We decided it wasn’t so bad, but as we stood up were startled to see that all three tigers in the enclosure were now only a couple of feet away from where we were standing, ready to spring, staring intently at us. Like we were dinner.

It was fantastic. All three beasts — and they were such glorious beasts — had maneuvered to within pawing distance of us without either of us noticing. Each animal was bigger than both of us put together, yet they’d moved silently. If this had been the jungle or, more accurately in this case, the Siberian tundra, the first thing we'd have known about it would have been a large mouth around our necks. Tigers have special sensors along the front of their two-inch canines that can detect the pulse in your aorta. The first bite is to grab, then they take your pulse with their teeth, reposition them, and sink them in.

As they held us in their icy glares, we were impressed. Eventually, one of these vast, muscular cats — acknowledging that due to circumstances beyond their control (i.e., the fence between us), this had been a mere dress rehearsal — yawned, flashed those curved dagger canines, and looked away. We remained impressed.

We started back toward the house. The wolves began their eery night chorus, accompanied by the sounds of owls — there were about fifteen on site — the odd screech of an eagle, and the nocturnal danger call of the vervet monkeys as we walked past their cage. This was what it was all about, we felt. All we had to do now was work out what to do next.

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