My memories of Sparkwell.
In the movie, one of two brothers is seeking a home in rural USA. He stumbles upon a house he likes. But it comes with a zoo attached. It goes on to recount the trials and tribulations of rebuilding it and opening to the public. It is advertised that the movie is based on a true story but it is so far from the truth. This is the true story.
In the early sixties I went on a school trip to Sparkwell. On the edge of the village was a big house and estate. The gentleman who owned the house had rescued some otters and invited school parties to visit. Apparently the otters were movie stars. They were tame, trained otters used in the film but then surplus to requirements. They could not be released into the wild, so this gent had offered them a home. He was already elderly and it was his son who gave us the lecture.
By the seventies the otters had gone but a menagerie of more exotic species had taken residence. It was now open to the public for a modest charge. By the eighties it had built a reputation within the zoological community for its conservation and breeding programmes. Everything seemed to be going well.
I got the first hint that something was wrong around the millennium. A friend of ours was offered free room and board in exchange for helping to run the place. She, being a single parent of three still fairly young children, turned the offer down. Before long it was reported on the local news that the zoo would no longer be open to the public.
Concern was voiced over the fate of the animals. It now became national news. The zoo was placed on the market. Reports came in of interest from various parties but none came to fruition. Then interest was shown by two brothers from the US. For months it was a will they, won't they situation, with regular reports on the fate of the zoo.
It was during this time that I paid my last visit to the zoo. They were selling the zoo's Range Rover at a knock down price. Before we even got to view the car we were taken to the large deserted cafe for coffee. There were only a handful of tables and chairs left. Most had been sold. They were selling everything they could just to maintain the animals.
We were given a tour of the zoo. It was so sad. There was a skeleton staff working. Apparently they were there on a voluntary basis. Some of the animals were being taken to other zoos. The owner was old and exhausted, but his love for the animals was obvious. We heard about the wild pumas that would visit the captive ones at night. We saw the family cat who's favourite hobby was to jump in and out of the enclosures, winding up their wild cousins. How it never became lunch I will never know.
Then the good news came. The brothers had bought the zoo. It would take time and money before it could be brought up to code and reopen to the public, but the animals would be saved. No doubt the movie brought in much needed funding. It is just a shame they strayed so far from the truth.