Wednesday, October 20

We bought a zoo, too

- April 3, 2012

If you haven’t seen We Bought a Zoo, the latest offering from Oscar-winning director Cameron Crowe, you can find a similar real-life story without leaving East Sussex.

In 1997, Laurence and Christine Smith made the change from owning a recruitment company to owning a zoo – Drusilla’s Park in Alfrison.

Despite never having managed an animal collection before, Laurence and Christine have turned Drusilla’s into an award-winning family attraction.

In 2010, Drusilla’s was named Large Visitor Attraction of the Year by Tourism South East for the second time since the Smiths took it over.

Laurence says: “There was a very steep learning curve in the early years with so much to understand in terms of the animals, legislation and health and safety.

“[But] the principles behind managing the business were the same as with any other company and we were able to draw on our previous experience.”

Christine adds: “It was incredibly exciting when we first took over – we were both so passionate about the zoo and had a lot of new ideas.”

The Smiths initially invested £1.5 million in the refurbishment and rebranding of the Park, and have continued to develop it over the years.

One of Drusilla’s first major projects was the conservation of the rare Rodrigues fruit bats as part of a European breeding programme.

The park has added many other exotic species including coatis, prairie dogs, fennec foxes, capybara, lar gibbons, silvery marmosets and emperor tamarins.

Laurence and Christine say that Drusilla’s has been designed with children in mind, and that getting close up to the animals is an important part of learning about nature.

To that end, visitors can walk through a number of the exhibits, including the fruit bat enclosure and Lemurland, and can feed the rainbow lorikeets at Lory Landing.

The Smiths point out that all the enclosures have low-level viewing, and the Park is dotted with interactivities to enhance children’s learning experience.

The Smith’s commitment to the family experience of the park is highlighted by the involvement of their daughters in running the park.

Cassandra works as the Head of Marketing, and her sister Caroline, is Deputy Operations Manager.

Says Laurence: “We all share the same vision and enjoy working closely together. Drusilla’s has always been a family business and we hope it always will.”

Words: Damien Murphy

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