We bought a zoo!

Briony Taylor and Michael Knight, directors of Fife Zoo
Briony Taylor and Michael Knight, directors of Fife Zoo

A young couple behind ambitious plans to open a zoo in north east Fife have taken a major step towards realising their dream.

Briony Elizabeth Taylor (26) and her partner Michael Knight (25) have lodged a formal planning application with Fife Council to transform the former Fife Animal Park near Collessie into a zoo and education centre – and all being well, it will open at Easter.

The couple have already moved from their home in Romford, Essex, along with Michael’s parents, Reginald and Ann, and are living on the park they say they fell in love with as soon as they saw it.

They plan to open a cafe, Africafe, at the beginning of next month.

The couple, both wildlife biologists who met at the University of Glamorgan, had long dreamt of opening their own zoo and scoured the UK looking for a suitable site.

They discovered the site of Fife Animal Park - which closed down over two years ago amid shocking circumstances - after three years of searching.

“At first we were focused on Durham but came up against all sorts of planning problems,” explained Briony.

“Then this site came on the market and as soon as we saw it we fell in love with it and realised what huge potential it had.

“Starting a zoo is quite a daunting prospect but we’re driven by what we want to achieve in education and conservation.”

The couple are being advised by Surrey-based independent zoo consultant Matt Hartley, who offers veterinary expertise as well as guidance on issues such as enclosure design and conservation policies.

And they have plenty of experience of their own working with animals, having studied in South Africa and Indonesia and gained ‘hands-on’ experience at zoos and animal parks all over the country.

So far the couple are remaining tight-lipped about the species they plan to introduce, but have already revealed they will include zebras, antelope and monkeys and that there will be a tropical house for primates, birds and reptiles.

“We don’t really want to say too much about it at this stage,” said Briony.

“We want people to come along and discover the animals for themselves.

“There will be a lot of exciting species that maybe people haven’t seen, or don’t see very often, and some animals people might not have even heard of.”

Briony added that a number of jobs would be created, not just working with the animals but also in the areas of education, marketing, catering and retail.

There would also be volunteering opportunities for those interested in working with animals.

In their planning application, the family are seeking permission to erect 22 animal enclosures; form outdoor fenced enclosures and reconfigure the existing zoo, including forming new footpaths and landscaping.

Fife Animal Park was a popular family atraction for years but closed down following concerns about the welfare of its animals.

Its then co-owner, Peter Lockhart, admitted charges of neglect and was fined £2000 and banned from keeping animals for five years.

The park had housed 76 species, including a zebra, Shetland ponies, meerkats, raccoons and owls, all of which were re-homed.

Amongst them was an emu, nicknamed Forest, who was in poor health due to its living conditions and inadequate diet - but who has gone on to become a star attraction at his new home at Birdworld in Surrey.