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Best Books and Films of 2011 - We Bought a Zoo

Updated on October 26, 2011

A Book of a Different Breed

I did not intend to read Benjamin Mee's 2008 book We Bought a Zoo all in one sitting recently, but it happened! With no effort the book engrossed me entirely and I felt compelled to continue reading.

At 261 pages in length, the true life account is one I would have split reading into two days, but the story flew along with fresh information about wildlife, zoos, creativity, and cancer and the emotions that can emerge related in dealing with them all. Color photography of the humans and major animals at the Dartmoor zoo in Devon fired my reading vigor anew half-way through the book. The narrative and dialogues describe the characters effective, but then the photos come around to catch you up as if you are part of the family.

A Dartmoor Tiger


We Bought a Zoo

We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals that Changed Their Lives Forever
We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals that Changed Their Lives Forever

Pre-release purchase available. Film limited release date November 22, 2011; Wide Release December 23, 2011. A wonderful Christmas gift!


In Good Company

Zoos are some of my topmost favorite places to visit and support, full of familiar animals and big surprises. We Bought a Zoo may persuade you into an interest in wildlife that you may not already possess. For those already interested, it is a new step up in knowledge and even sentiment toward the animals of Earth and their human caretakers and companions.

You may be familiar with the James Harriott (Jame Alfred Wight) series of books and BBC television episodes of All Creatures Great and Small (TV: 1978 - 1980, 1983, and 1985). These fiction and nonfiction stories attracted many new wildlife followers and persuaded some viewers to become veterinarians. Mr. Mee's book may persuade some readers to take up some sort of work with wildlife. The 2011 film of the story, starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johannson, will encourage a few more to do so.

You may know about Jack Hanna and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Still filming television wildlife shows and running a wildlife and sustainability center in Ohio, Jack is a hero. First, he saved the zoo from its early 1970s incarnation as a sea of mud holes with an elephant, a giraffe, a lion, and the famous gorilla Colo. There were a few fish, some raccoons, and an alligator and not much more. Jack recreated it into a wonderland in all seasons with new funding, new animals, breeding programs for endangered species, educational programs (including an on site high school), and dozens of other features. The grounds are huge and the organization owns more land that it can develop as well.

Jack's visibility increased even further in October 2011 as he rushed to Eastern Ohio overnight to help sort the Muskingum County wildlife escape orchestrated by the menagerie's suicidal owner. In 24 hours, the situation was concluded, even though with the unavoidable loss of some endangered species. Escapes are a mainstay in the Dartmoor Wildlife Park early on in We Bought a Zoo, and the descriptions of these events engage readers in the same manner as the Ohio October newscasts.

You probably know about Steve Irwin and his family - Terri, the current owner of Australia Zoo, Bindy, a bright and lovely teenager at this writing, young Bob and old Bob. At times controversial, the Irwins organized programs for saving endangered and threatened species, educational projects, television series and films, and so forth. The tears shed at his memorial service by Terri and Steve's friends and fans are like those shed in We Bought a Zoo - tears shed over animals, financial setbacks, cancer, and the death of loved ones.

A Zoo Near the Infamous Dartmoor Prison

show route and directions
A markerDartmoor Wildlife Park, Devon UK -
Sparkwell, Dartmoor Wild Life Park (Hail and ride), Sparkwell, Devon PL21, UK
get directions

B markerDartmoor Prison -
Princetown, Dartmoor Prison (Hail and ride), Dartmoor National Park, Princetown, Dartmoor Forest, De
get directions

Lioness | Source

Coincidence in History

Another thing that caught my attention about this book is that Dartmoor Wildlife Park is near enough to Dartmoor Prison (Dartmoor Depot) that one can stand in the zoo and see the prison and the national park surrounding it.

During the War of 1812 - 1814, many American prisoners of war were incarcerated at Dartmoor Depot and released not until a year after the war was over. This is an amazing story of how these military and merchant class American survived or died at the Depot. It was written up very well by Graham Sclater in Hatred is the Key.

The film of the book is set in Southern California and with a few other changes, but the story retains its strength. After his dad's death, Benjamin Mee takes his wife and two children to France, where together they build a lovely dwelling and life. But being a scientific and DIY writer, Ben is drawn to the dilapidated zoo whose animals need a home. His mother is all for purchasing the place and his siblings enter and withdraw from the project at different times. The hardest part is the several financial institutions that offer financing and then withdraw it. Then the cancer hits even harder for a while.

The story is gripping and the animals are those that kids and grownups will remember for years.

A Scene in Dartmoor National park


The Animals You Will Love

Photos in the book include:

  • Juliette the Tawny Eagle - grouchy, they say.
  • Solomon, the King Lion
  • Gilly the Serval
  • Zak, the Alpha Wolf
  • A Tiger called Stripe, who smiles.
  • Snowdrop the Otter
  • Mrs. Capybara
  • Dilys the alpaca
  • Sovereign - A jaguar that likes to escape.

Despite having no photo, Ronnie the Tapir is quite a character as well.

The story of extensive rebuilding and the certifying and licensing of the Dartmoor Zoo again was filmed for BB2 as Ben's Zoo. The book is fantastic alone and the BBC2 series adds another dimension, but you might like to see the film as well. If ever in Devon with free time, visit the zoo that has been reopened since July 2007. It's open every day, including holidays.


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    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

      Unusual but interesting book. Thank you for your introduction.

    • adrienne2 profile image

      Adrienne F Manson 6 years ago from Atlanta

      Amazing hub, educational, and enlightening. Really opens one eyes about nature and wildlife. Thanks for sharing.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thank you all for reading and posting a comment! All these types of zoos have great stories and can help wildlife and humans, too. And I love tigers. And jaguars. :)

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 6 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Awesome and thank you for sharing!

    • anasshad profile image

      Anas Shad 6 years ago from Pakistan

      Beautiful Hub Patty. Every word of this hub shows your expertise and your love towards nature.

      Thanks for this hub Patty.

    • Esmeowl12 profile image

      Cindy A. Johnson 6 years ago from Sevierville, TN

      This sounds like an interesting book. I've added it to my "to read" list (which is quite lengthy). Thanks for the info.