Benjamin Mee is a writer, presenter and the owner of Dartmoor Zoo. Portrayed by Matt Damon in the brilliant Hollywood blockbuster We Bought A Zoo, Ben is also a world-renowned speaker. Engaging and inspirational, Ben has a relaxed, informal style and a powerful story to tell. As a result, his message resonates with audiences at a personal and at a business level.
About Benjamin Mee
Benjamin Mee delivers speeches which inspire and engage people of all ages, students and senior executives of global organisations alike. His book, We Bought A Zoo, documents his purchase of a dilapidated country house with numerous wild animals roaming the grounds. Above all else it highlighted his determination to save them from being destroyed.
Benjamin Mee was born during a bush fire in Australia but grew up in Surrey where he had a turbulent relationship with the education system and was expelled from school. His first job was as a bricklayer and decorator.
However, after an encounter with a dolphin, he became fascinated with the field of animal intelligence and has never looked back. He decided to study Psychology at UCL before completing an MSc in Science Journalism at Imperial College. This leads on to a 15-year career in Journalism, both print and Broadcast. Ben was a contributing editor to Men’s Health Magazine and was also a columnist for The Guardian for many years.
In addition, he has written, and continues to write, many articles for newspapers, such as The Independent. He also had a regular slot on LBC Radio, as well as having undertaken interviews for a variety of programmes, radio segments, and news broadcasts.
In 2004 he moved with his family to Southern France to begin writing a book on the Evolution of Humour in Man and Animals. It was whilst in France that his wife Katherine was first diagnosed with a brain tumour, which she subsequently had removed and received treatment for. Not long after, Benjamin’s father died, and his mother decided to sell her house and buy another property in which she and other family members could live together.
It was during the process of looking for properties that Benjamin’s sister sent him a sales brochure for Dartmoor Zoo, with a note on it saying, “Your dream scenario!”. And that’s when everything changed.
Benjamin and his family visited the large house, which just happened to have numerous wild and dangerous animals living in the grounds and fell in love with it and the animals. They were particularly struck by the fact that, if a purchaser couldn’t be found, most of the animals would have had to have been destroyed. It was a massive undertaking – the zoo had an extremely poor reputation, was in massive financial difficulty, and was incredibly dilapidated. The family forged forwards, they wanted to save the animals, and they bought the zoo in 2006.
To make a challenge even more difficult, amid dealing with escaping jaguars and troublesome adolescent vervet monkeys, Katherine began to experience symptoms again and it was discovered that her brain tumour had returned. The prognosis was poor, and so Ben found himself juggling the complexities of managing a zoo and getting it ready for re-opening while facing the consequences of his wife’s terminal illness and caring for their two young children.
Ben′s story is one that both moves and entertains – charting simultaneously the family′s attempts to improve the animals′ lives, the build-up to the Zoo′s official reopening in 2007, as well as Katherine′s decline, her final days, and how the family went on in the face of many obstacles.
Benjamin wrote a book about what happened: We Bought A Zoo. It is an international bestseller and has been printed in 23 countries. Dartmoor Zoo also became the subject of a BBC2 four-part documentary called Ben’s Zoo in 2008. Then Hollywood came calling – 20th Century Fox film studios picked up the book and turned it into a moving film, directed by Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire) and starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson. The We Bought A Zoo film of 2012 was a blockbuster, and charts Benjamin’s inspirational story of one man’s leap of faith, triumphing over personal tragedy, and the battle to succeed, whatever obstacles stand in your way.
Dartmoor Zoological Park, Sparkwell, Nr. Plymouth in Devon remains open today, since the Mees donated the zoo in 2014 to the Dartmoor Zoological Society. Benjamin is the CEO of the charity and continues to live on site with his two children.
Ben has many projects on the go, including writing four books and expanding the, still struggling, Zoo. He has also become an official Ambassador for Brain Tumour Research to help the research to help the research into fighting this devastating condition.
Benjamin has television projects in development and travels the world conducting speaking and fund-raising tours to help finance the zoo, which has just completed the process of becoming a charity. He also spends his time visiting zoos, investigating animal intelligence, and conducting research for his books. In amongst all this he continues to educate, following his passion for transforming lives through knowledge, collaboration, and partnership, and encouraging sustainability through shared practice in the context of conservation. He has been awarded an honorary science doctorate from Plymouth University in recognition of his work and passion for research and the communication of science.
Additionally, thanks to his recent articles, Benjamin has now been brought to international attention and is now the forefront of a new movement to open the zoo world to the outside, change regulations, and work more in tandem with other organisation, with the crucial aim of making the public aware of the importance of zoos in conservation and their necessity to protect and conserve the wild.