When the Tweedys bought a zoo in Borth, west Wales, it was a dream come true. But it soon turned into a nightmare of escaped animals, deaths and family feuding
It started with an estate agent listing: a two-bedroom bungalow for sale in west Wales, with sea views and planning permission for an extension. It was just a short walk to the beautiful seaside town of Borth and the schools and transport links were, as ever, excellent. The asking price: 650,000.
Dean Tweedy still remembers travelling from his home in Kent for the viewing with his wife, Tracy. It was a sunny day and the drive along the coastal road, over the hill from nearby Aberystwyth, had already seduced a couple looking for a fresh start. We could see there was a lot of work to do, but we had taken on rundown properties before, Dean says, more than a year after moving to Wales. We were prepared for all of that. We just werent prepared for the lynx escape.
The Tweedys had bought more than a modest house by the sea. They had bought a zoo. Borth Animalarium now Borth Wild Animal Kingdom opened in the late 1980s and is home to about 300 animals, including lions who crunch through pigs heads like apples and a six-metre Burmese python called Bernie.
Much earlier in their relationship, the Tweedys had shared a fantasy of owning a zoo, but always assumed it was out of reach. They were hoping only to buy a place with a petting barn to house their own modest menagerie of small mammals and reptiles. Now the fantasy had a price they could afford.
Borth would be a business opportunity, but also an idyll where Tracy, who had trained as a psychotherapist, could use the animals in her work, and where their children could thrive. It was going to be relaxing, she recalls. A sanctuary for animals and for people. It would be, as the attractions slogan reads, the little zoo with a big heart.
But the lynx escape, which made national headlines last October, triggered a series of disasters for the zoo. The extent to which the dream has become a nightmare for the Tweedys, 15 months after they moved in, unfolds during my visit to Borth and afterwards. It includes accounts of mounting debt, a family at war, several more deaths and accusations of incompetence and neglect. So much for buying a quiet little zoo in a quiet seaside town, Tracy says.