When Dean and Tracy Tweedy started making enquiries to buy a small petting zoo in Kent, little did they know they’d end up buying a working zoo in Wales – complete with lions, monkeys and a leopard.
Keen to incorporate animal therapy with Tracy’s job as a psychotherapist, the couple quickly found that the South East was built up and expensive, so took their search a little further afield.
Dean told Sky News: “We’d fostered children when we lived in Kent, and we saw how they responded to our pets – they allowed them to come out of their shell.
“Animals are being used in therapy more and more, and we were drawn to the idea of using the animals to help people.”
As soon as Dean saw the Animalarium Borth Zoo, in Ceredigion, he knew it was meant to be.
“We’d spent holidays in Snowdonia before, but never Mid Wales. As soon as we drove over the hill and saw it we both knew we would live there.”
Moving from Milton Regis in Kent, the animal-loving family – who already had about 40 pets – found a whole new raft of exotic animals to care for.
The £625,000 zoo has more than 300 animals, including lions, monkeys, meerkats, a leopard, crocodiles, turtles, wallabies (including a rare albino wallaby), lemurs, peacocks and osprey flying overhead.
There is also a reptile house, with snakes including “a medium sized” 15ft snake, and a 22ft female boa constrictor.
For those looking for a more tactile experience, there is also a petting barn with ponies, lambs, cows, goats, pigs, rabbits and Guinea pigs.
And Dean’s daughters – Sophie, 13, Sarah, nine, and Paige, eight – can’t get enough of the animals during the summer holidays.
“From the moment they wake up they are helping the zookeepers,” Dean said.
“All their friends are keen to have sleepovers. They couldn’t be happier.”
While Dean insists he “is no Matt Damon” and wasn’t inspired by the 2011 film We Bought A Zoo, he has spoken to the man whose life the film is based on, Benjamin Mee.
The former bricklayer, who bought the dilapidated Dartmoor Wildlife Park in Devon back in 2007, before opening it to the public the following year, has offered his words of wisdom to the Tweedy family as they go about returning the zoo to its former glory.
While Mr Tweedy says he has “no plans yet for an elephant or a rhinoceros”, the next job on his list is to engage boy scouts in painting the meerkat enclosure.
“I’m keen to get some social projects going, get local people involved with the zoo,” he said.
“Lots of the animals here were rescued – either from other zoos or from owners who they’d got too big for. The leopard used to belong to an Indian prince, but once he started showing an inclination to eat his owner, he gave him to the zoo.
“He’s so used to being around people, he has trouble relating to other leopards.”
He added: “Our dream is to make it a sanctuary for people as well as animals”.