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  • Written by Tamás Veress
  • Category: Zoolife
  • Hits: 1048

ZOOmovie: We Bought a Zoo (2011)

We Bought a Zoo poster

Spoiler alert!

We Bought a Zoo is an American family film made in 2011 that is an adaptation of a novel with the same title by Benjamin Mee published in 2008. The book is based on a true story about the life of Benjamin Mee and his family during the time when he bought, renovated and re-opened the Dartmoor Wildlife Park, UK. The film adapted this story – but moved it to the USA, and the professional details of zoo-life were pushed into the background while characters’ features were brought to the front. While the book ensures some interesting moments for both zoo professionals and outsiders about the renovation of a zoo, the film makes an easy pastime.

Cover of We Bought a ZooFirst, some words about the book. Benjamin Mee wrote the book in a very readable style – well, of course, as he is basically a journalist – so it is easy to read for everyone. Maybe it is daring to compare it to Gerald Durrell’s books, but Mee too writes about the professional aspects (e.g. about animal species, zoo management, etc.) in simple style spiced with humour. Moreover, a family tragedy is also present with the death of his wife and his children’s mother, so the reader can feel oneself even closer to the family.

The film adapts the story of Mee, his family and their zoo, but while some basic parts are the same in the book and the film, many particulars are different. One of the main differences is location of the zoo, and while the zoo’s name is Dartmoor Zoological Park (UK) in the book, it is called Rosemoor Wildlife Park (US) in the film. The disagreements between the characters are also stronger in the film, for example between Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) and his teenage son, Dylan (Colin Ford). There are also strong disagreements between the zoo’s staff and Walter Ferris, the excessively strict zoo inspector (John Michael Higgins). Opposition between Benjamin and the zoo’s staff – represented most of the times by Kelly Foster, the lead-zookeeper (Scarlett Johansson) – induce many humorous events, but also some serious moments. In my view these events (both funny and serious) are present in all zoos where a new director or owner comes from the “outside”. In contrast with the book two new love stories evolve in the film, from which the filmmakers probably expected to make the film more popular with the public. My opinion is that these give the film a cheesy feel.

It is a curiosity that the “original” Benjamin Mee and his children also appear in the film: they are among the first visitors of the re-opened Rosemoor Wildlife Park.

The film generally received positive reviews. The Rotten Tomatoes rated it 66%, and considered Matt Damon’s central character sympathetic. The Chicago Sun-Times and The Telegraph also praised the performance of Matt Damon in the film. The soundtracks were composed by the Icelandic musician Jónsi from the band Sigus Rós, who received a BMI Film Music Award in 2012 for the soundtrack of this film. The premier of the film was on the 23rd of December 2011, the running time is 124 minutes. The budget was 50 million USD and the worldwide total income was 113 million USD.

About the Dartmoor Zoological Park
Dartmoor Wildlife Park was opened on the 29th of June 1968 by Ellis Daw. The zoo lies on a 13 ha (33 acre) area in Sparkwell, in the county of Devon, South West of England. The zoo was closed for the public on the 23rdof April 2006 after an animal protection organization regularly attacked Ellis Daw for the alleged poor living condition of the animals. Benjamin Mee and his family bought the zoo in August 2006. After renovation works Dartmoor Zoological Park opened again to the public on the 7th of July 2007. The zoo became a member of BIAZA (the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums) in 2011. The zoo is also a member of Species360 and uses ZIMS (the Zoological Information Management System) for the management of its animal collection. It has approximately 70 animal species in a diverse collection. The annual visitor’s number of the zoo was approx. 80,000 in 2016.

  • Written by Lajos Endrédi
  • Category: Zoolife
  • Hits: 1020

Reindeer Trouble at a Zoo

Fighting with the reindeer stag (source: Youtube)What would you do in a really tough situation? Daily routine can be learnt easily, making us believe that we are experienced. However, it is put to the test in crisis situations, when we make either right or wrong decisions. Many of us might behave as inexperienced greenhorns even after several years, which can easily lead to tragedy. What can be done to prevent it? We have to be mentally prepared for it, and it is useful to analyse both positive and negative examples. One of the best known cases is the one on this video, which has been published on video sharing sites. The incident happened in the famous and recognised Antwerp Zoo (Belgium) in 2010. Visitors filmed the dramatic events unfolding in the enclosure of the reindeer. It was a scandal back then; extremist animal protection organisations naturally accused the zoo of animal abuse. Their interpretation was incorrect, since it was not a consequence of any systematic cruelty; it was merely the result of bad decisions made by zookeepers in a crisis.

  • Written by Krisztian Svabik
  • Category: Zoolife
  • Hits: 677

The 2016 EAZA Annual Conference in Belfast, United Kingdom

Conference Hall (photo: Christian)The membership organization of the leading zoological gardens and aquariums in Europe, EAZA held its annual conference on 20-24 September 2016 in Belfast. As of now, the association has more than 370 member institutions in 44 countries throughout Europe and the Middle East. The number of the participants is getting higher from year to year, so nearly 800 delegates arrived not only from the regions of Europe, but from different parts of the world as well.
The conference took place in the Waterfront Belfast, which was voted the second best conference centre in the world in the Apex Awards in 2002.

  • Written by Lajos Endrédi
  • Category: Zoolife
  • Hits: 1148

ZOOmovie: Fierce Creatures (1997)

Fierce CreaturesThis film is based on a lying fiction. All people in the film are impossible characters and I cannot imagine situations similar to this story. For example, have you ever heard about a businessman who didn’t give a damn about noble ideals, or a director who began managing a zoo without any experience with animals and made stupid decisions, or a zoo worker who was insufferably fussy? Or do you know stories about zoos where the fate of the animals was the last thing to be considered? You’ll agree with me that this story is very fictional, so we should regard it as a light comedy only. Fortunately – due to the great actors and scenario – it is a very funny comedy. Or do you have a different opinion? Really? Well, on second thought... maybe I should change the statement of the first sentence.

Following the great success of “A Fish Called Wanda” (1988) John Cleese began writing the script of a new movie in 1992, the shooting of which began in 1995. The two films had more than 20 cast and crew members in common. The main actors were the same too, including another Monty Python member Michael Palin, Hollywood stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Cline – the latter playing two roles: the heartless multi-billionaire businessman Rod McCain, owner of Octopus Inc., and his son, Vince McCain. There was another Monty Python character too, even if his first name was mentioned only: Terry, the tarantula was named after Terry Jones. The scene is Marwood Zoo in London (Marwood is the middle name of John Cleese); in fact Durrell’s Jersey Wildlife Park hosted the film makers.

  • Written by Krisztian Svabik
  • Category: Zoolife
  • Hits: 2719

An Intriguing African Nocturnal Exhibit in Prague Zoo

 Honey badger (photo: Christian)Prague Zoo (Zoo Praha) has several zoo exhibits that are outstanding on a global level. One of the main specialities of the rich and diverse animal collection is that the institution keeps – besides the most popular key species – many less known, but really interesting taxa for the interest for many zoo experts. The ’Africa Close Up’ Pavilion (’Afrika zblízka’) is one of these specialised exhibitions where many uncommon species from this beautiful continent can be seen.

  • Written by Krisztian Svabik
  • Category: Zoolife
  • Hits: 2638

A “Palearctic Zoo” in Switzerland – Zoological Garden Bern

Atlantic puffins (photo: Christian)Zoological gardens in capitals usually have wonderful but overcrowded animal collections exhibited on a relatively small land area. However, I have to say that Zoological Garden Bern (Tierpark Dählhölzli) does not belong to this line any more. Their new slogan „More space for fewer animals” was created in 2000, so nowadays a relatively low number of species – approximately 250 taxa – are on public display in the frame of an integrated concept.

Throughout Europe people can find many „classical” zoos exhibiting exotic animals in addition to some wildlife parks representing the given native fauna. Dählhölzli has found the balance between these aspects with its unusual yet very simple collection planning: the animals in the park belong to the fauna of the Palearctic ecozone, so all the exhibited species originated from Europe, Asia North of the Himalayas, North Africa and the Northern and Central parts of the Arabian Peninsula. This concept makes the animal park a real „Palearctic Zoo”. Only one part of the zoo makes an exception, the Vivarium, where many exotic species are exhibited, like different species of small mammals, lizards and fish. The display of the African giant termites (Macrotermes jeanneli) is worth mentioning above all, since this was the first successful attempt at establishing a termite mound in a natural way in captivity.

Enter the zoo world!