You have heard the story of we bought a zoo, well we built one!
How we started
We moved to Chew Valley in 2005, never owning any land or without any farming background, our daughters asked if they could have Pygmy Goats as pets. We couldn’t really refuse as we had so much space we felt they would be a wonderful addition to our family. We fell in love with the goats and then decided to purchase our first three pregnant Alpacas to begin our first breeding programme as a hobby.
The next year we bred our Pygmy Goats and began a business called Chew Valley Alpacas. When our first Cria’s (baby alpacas) and kids (baby goats) were born, friends and family flocked to see them. As we collected more animals like chickens and ducks etc many people suggested that we open to the public and allow schools to visit. As our hobby became more and more time consuming we decided to give this a go.
In 2010 we opened a very small farm shop in our small brown shed in the car park also using an outside toilet in our garden. Serving tea and coffee from a kettle and 2 or 3 seats outside, we allowed people to visit our animals for free and hopefully purchase farm fresh goods such as homemade jams, homemade cakes, homegrown vegetables etc. Unfortunately this venture was not very successful and as our collection of animals grew and became more time consuming we decided to diversify and open a children’s petting zoo.
Building the zoo
As visitor numbers were very small we then decided to purchase some exotic animals to try to encourage more visitors. One day Gary said “we need something different I think we should buy some wallabies”, my reaction was, how on earth do we source wallabies, look in the yellow pages? The very next day the man who shears our alpacas contacted me and said, “how do you feel about Wallabies, I know of some for sale”. We then travelled to the Isle of Wight to collect them. It was a very strange journey travelling with four wallabies in dog cages in the back of the van. The journey went very well and we arrived home with our new arrivals.
About 6 months later we were contacted by the council to inform us that you need a licence for wallabies and Rheas as they were on display to the public. We had two choices, either apply for a full zoo licence or move the wallabies on and just have goats, sheep etc
We felt we really had no choice if we were to continue, we had the choice to go back to ‘normal’ jobs or make a complete life style change and try a completely new venture but the only way we could do this was to make visitor numbers rise and the only way to do this was to obtain a zoo licence. After lots of demanding work including risk assessments, conservation, ethical reviews, health and safety the day of our zoo inspection arrived. Seven and a half hours of inspection and questions and we were thrilled to be informed we had passed and now have a full zoo licence us the same as any of the other larger zoos like Bristol Zoo/London Zoo etc. This doesn’t end there as we are regularly inspected either by the council or DEFRA.
Our Animal Park
We are a very small, family run concern and over the past 5 years and lots and lots of hard work, our collection is growing and we now house such animals as Meerkats, Coati Mundi, Racoons etc. This has only happened with help from friends, family and some wonderful volunteers.
Obviously we have lots and lots of animals to feed, house, vets bills, insurance, tree inspections, staff etc. We have barely even managed to draw a wage. Each year we try to make more and more improvements which obviously cost money, along with the cost of any new animals we purchase. Every penny taken on the gate goes straight back into caring for our animals and making improvements to the zoo.
If you would like to help us with the cost of running our fantastic park then please donate to us.
We never imagined we would become zoo keepers and with each new animal we have purchased have ensured that they have come from a reputable source, we have spent lots of time researching husbandry, diet and environments. We also obviously have excellent back up from our Vets with any concerns or questions.
It has been a very eventful journey through the last 5 years with many things happening that we could write a book on.