Two in fact: and a mountain lion, a wolf, polecats, primates, a mob of meerkats and more. They live at Shepreth Wildlife Park, a conservation-conscious animal park which turns 30 this month.
Rebecca Willers, who grew up on the Park and is now curator, remembers her father opening it in 1984. A builder, he had bought the land with a view to developing it, but fate took the family in a rather different direction.
“Dad bought the land in 1979 when it was completely derelict, never expecting to build a zoo there,” says Rebecca. “Meanwhile my mum, being an animal fanatic, rescued animals and became known for it, so people would turn up with injured badgers and birds with broken wings… Our house became a bit of a sanctuary.
“Then, when the building industry went downhill in the 80s, my parents opened up to the public because people kept asking if they could come and see the animals. So in 1984 they got a zoo licence.”
As well as injured animals, the Willers family began taking in ex-laboratory animals and animals from zoos which were closing. Now, three decades later, Shepreth plays an active part in the conservation of endangered species and runs extensive education programmes – as well as being a great day out. Asked about her favourite animal on the park, Rebecca replies: “I have a big soft spot for Rana the boy tiger, he’s a real character. Amba was hand-raised, so she’s the one that comes over and says hello and has lots of confidence, where Rana is a bit more dubious. So I feel a bit sorry for him because he’s constantly being ruled by this dominant woman!”
Summer should see lots of babies at Shepreth too, says Rebecca: “We should have meerkat babies, our polecats will breed and our maned wolf has just met a male from Sweden on an international breeding programme. We’ve also got two exciting new species coming this year, one will be in May, and they’ll be very popular indeed. I can’t say anything yet though!”
The newcomers will be at the Park in time for the birthday celebrations on 26 May, when there’ll be a big party with games (including a tiger themed pass the parcel and rubber duck race), cakes and talks. Celebrations will continue throughout the week and Bill Oddie will be stopping by on the 28th.
“The two things we’re passionate about here are conservation and education,” explains Rebecca. “The Park makes a great day out, but why we’re really here is to educate people about what’s going on in the wild and the importance of these species, and to get the animals back into the wild where we can.
“We’ve had countless children who have gone out and done their own fundraising after hearing our talks,” adds Rebecca, who recently raised £20,000 climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. “There are some amazing kids out there, and that really brings a tear to your eye.”