Benjamin Mee: Where is Dartmoor Zoo Owner Now?

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Cameron Crowe’s 2011 drama film ‘We Bought a Zoo’ chronicles Benjamin Mee’s efforts to reopen Dartmoor Wildlife Park, a nearly abandoned zoo located in the English county of Devon. Along with his family, Mee transformed the establishment with renovations and a well-structured plan to look after the animals lived at the same. He made sure that hundreds of creatures wouldn’t need to worry about their home as long as he remained in charge of the zoo. Mee eventually managed to reopen the place as Dartmoor Zoological Park. More than a decade after the release of the movie, he is where he truly belongs!

The Adventure of a Lifetime

Benjamin Mee came to know about Dartmoor Zoo through his sister, who sent him the sale brochure of the establishment with a note that read, “Your dream scenario!” At the time, the Mee family was looking for a new house to settle in, especially after the death of Benjamin’s father. When Mee and his family visited the property, they had every right to decide against buying the same. The unfavorable reputation of the zoo, the financial burden on the new owners, and the severely dilapidated state of the property were enough reasons for any prospective buyer to turn their mind against the establishment. Still, Mee and his family bought the zoo also to save the animals at the place since their lives were threatened if a buyer didn’t assume their responsibility.

Since Mee had no experience dealing with or nurturing animals, looking after the zoo was a tough undertaking. Escaping jaguars and troublemaking monkeys only made it harder for him. While the re-opening of the zoo was presenting itself as a difficult goal to achieve, Katherine, his wife, started suffering from cancer again. “Her [Katherine’s] scan on December 22, just before Christmas, was disastrous – the cancer was back in eight places. There was nothing they could do. It was a case of palliative care,” Mee told Devon Live. In addition to looking after the zoo, he had to take care of their two children, Milo and Ella, on his own.

Katherine eventually died on March 31, 2007. Still, Mee didn’t succumb completely to the pain of losing his partner. He worked hard to get the license of the place re-approved so that he could open the doors of the zoo to the public. His dream materialized on July 7, 2007, with signs Katherine, a graphic designer, conceived for her husband before her death.

Benjamin Mee’s Life After Opening Dartmoor Zoo

After re-opening Dartmoor Zoo, Benjamin Mee committed himself to sharing his inspiring story with the world. As a journalist and writer, Mee knew how to craft an emotionally charged memoir, which paved the way for the creation of ‘We Bought a Zoo.’ In 2008, the same year the memoir was published, BBC created a documentary series titled ‘Ben’s Zoo,’ which explores his plights of opening Dartmoor Zoo. Soon, 20th Century Fox greenlit a film adaptation of his memoir. Mee and his two children traveled to California from Devon, England, to appear in the movie as three visitors to the zoo.

Mee continues to live in Dartmoor Zoo with his family, nearly two decades after buying the establishment, which is still open to the public. Since 2006, he worked extensively to upgrade the overall structure of the place to increase the number of animals and launch an Education and Research Department. By 2014, the cost of running the zoo caught up with Mee. He realized that the establishment could not remain in private ownership if he had to safeguard the animals and keep the zoo open without some of his staff members losing their jobs. He then raised a crowdfunding appeal for £1.6m, only to close the same when the collection reached nearly £340,000. In 2014, the Mees handed the zoo over to a charity named Dartmoor Zoological Society (DZS).

The charity status allowed Mee to apply for grants for research purposes. He also revealed that the change in ownership made the zoo’s future “as secure as it has ever been.” Although he couldn’t raise as much money as he wanted, the collection was enough to “ensure a smooth transition” to a charity. “The sense of relief is only beginning to wash through me,” Mee told BBC at the time. He continues to serve as the head of the charity while living at the zoo. Mee regularly visits other zoos and dives into animal intelligence to upgrade his establishment.

Mee is an ambassador of Brain Tumour Research, an England-based medical research charity committed to finding a cure for brain tumors. Katherine’s tragic demise motivated him to be an integral part of the organization. He is a prominent presence in the charity’s fundraising events. Mee also received an honorary science doctorate from the University of Plymouth, located in Plymouth, England. The education institution, along with several others, collaborates with Mee’s Dartmoor Institute of Animal Science to conduct studies in areas such as cognition, behavior, conservation, and animal welfare.

Mee is a well-regarded motivational and science speaker. He collaborates with numerous charities and institutions in the medical field to deliver talks. He is currently writing ‘Never Buy a Zoo,’ a follow-up book to ‘We Bought a Zoo.’ “People often say to me they’d love to own a zoo, and I always say to them: ‘No, you wouldn’t,’” the author told The Guardian about the inspiration behind writing the upcoming work. The writer regularly organizes book-signing events to interact with his readers at his zoo and other venues. He also advises other zoo owners about the operations of one, which explains his well-respected place in the English zoo community.

While not writing, Mee can be found at Dartmoor Zoo, mostly attending to the animals at the place or doing odd jobs. If he is not at his zoo, he must be addressing a crowd about animal science or serving as a motivational speaker.

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