Devon

Dartmoor Zoo 'gains charity status' after crowdfunding bid

Ben Mee
Image caption Ben Mee's book about the family's purchase of the zoo inspired a Hollywood film

A zoo that inspired a Hollywood film has become a charity, its boss says.

The news comes after an online crowdfunding appeal to raise £1.6m for Dartmoor Zoo in Devon closed on Monday after raising nearly £340,000.

Director Ben Mee said the gaining of the new status meant the zoo's future was "as secure as it has ever been".

Launching the appeal last month, Mr Mee said becoming a charity that focused on research meant it could apply for grants.

Wet summers

The zoo launched its crowdfunding appeal as part of moves to become a charity and also to avoid job cuts.

It raised £339,930 from 745 backers in its 35-day appeal, which closed on Monday morning.

Crowdfunding backers included people pledging private donations, and Plymouth University also said it would provide £2,000 of match funding.

Launching its appeal, the zoo said: "Two global recessions and five of the wettest English summers on record have shown that this zoo needs to shift its centre of gravity from dependence on seasonal tourists towards becoming a charity focusing on research and education."


Dartmoor Zoo

1968: Opened as Dartmoor Wildlife Park

2006: Bought by Mee family for £1.1m

2011: We Bought a Zoo released starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson

2014: Gains charity status

Employs: 35 people

Animals: Tigers, cheetahs, lions, wolves, raccoons, foxes, bears


Mr Mee's family, from Surrey, bought the zoo in 2006.

The 2011 film We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, was based on a book by Mr Mee describing his experiences.

But it had been "running reliably at a loss" for most of the time it had been in his family's possession and three staff faced losing their jobs if its finances did not improve, he previously said.

Although falling short of the crowdfunding target, Mr Mee said enough money had been raised to "ensure a smooth transition" to becoming a charity.

"The sense of relief is only beginning to wash through me," he said.

Image caption Ben Mee said he had experienced a "sense of relief" at the news
Image caption The zoo is to increase conservation and education work as part of its becoming a charity

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