Attractions industry news

30 Jun 2017

Pub becomes first in the UK to be granted licence to operate as a zoo

A pub in Kent is the first in the UK to be granted a licence to operate as a zoo, after Medway Council granted the licence following a two-and-a-half year process.

The Fenn Bell Inn in Rochester, owned by Andy and Kelly Cowell, has been home to the family’s collection of exotic animals since it opened in 2014. The pub has over the last few years had issues with the council regarding the licensing agreement, for some time being asked to screen off some animal enclosures from the public. The licence approval now gives the zoo-pub hybrid full zoo status.

“In about 2011 we took on two pigs – Ginger and Spice,” said Andy Cowell, speaking to Attractions Management.

“Out of that it really developed, with us taking in more and more animals. My wife turned to me one day and said ‘we can’t live like this, you have turned the house into a zoo’, and I thought ‘what a good idea let’s do it!’”

Since then the family has been taking in captivity-bred rescue animals which wouldn’t have survived had they been released into the wild. The pub was established to support the growing number of animals under the family’s care.

“We decided to take on an old, disused pub with plenty of land, meaning we were able to have facilities such as toilets, car parking, food and drink, which would facilitate the zoo moving forward,” sad Cowell.

“We’ve never classed ourselves as a zoo – we’ve always classed ourselves as a rescue centre – but we had to fulfil the zoo criteria if we wanted to obtain the licence.”

To be granted a zoo licence, the pub had to meet a certain number of criteria, including health plans for the animals, veterinary care, on-site facilities, quarantine areas, hiring of trained staff, first aiders and more.

The 5 acre (20,000sq m) zoo currently has a collection of 88 animals under its care, including monkeys, meerkats, raccoons, parrots, birds of prey, lemurs, pigs, ducks, genets and more. Now the license has been granted, plans include expanding the property by several acres, building a big cat centre for larger felines and conservation and rescue work with hedgehogs and red squirrels. The pub and free-to-visit zoo work in harmony, with each drawing visitors to the other.

“The pub couldn’t survive without the zoo and the zoo couldn’t survive without the pub,” said Cowell. “The zoo brings visitors to the pub, which allows us to do community events such as quiz nights and other activities a local village pub would host. In return, all the money we make at the pub goes back into animal health care, building the enclosures and feeding the animals.”

Now the pub has its zoo licence, it means the Cowells can take the next steps, helping the zoo to develop into a fully functional zoological park.

“This is the start of our journey really because now we can trade as a zoo, meaning we can become involved with other zoos and conservation projects, and we can offer school education and trips,” said Cowell.

“What I also think it does is it gives us the credit that we deserve. We are not a ‘boozer with a few animals in the garden’, we are an all singing and dancing, very well-structured little zoo. Just because we’re small and just because we have a pub on site, that doesn't make us an less good than anywhere else you would go in the country. That is what the licence gives us, that credibility. Moving forward that will allow us to do bigger and better things in the future.”

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