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Life in Paradise – a Q&A with zoo founder Peter Sampson

PUBLISHED: 10:48 18 July 2013 | UPDATED: 11:06 18 July 2013

Peter Sampson with a snow leopard cub born at the zoo

Peter Sampson with a snow leopard cub born at the zoo

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Broxbourne’s Paradise Wildlife Park founder Peter Sampson on taking on a zoo with no wild animal knowledge and turning it into one of the most important rare animal centres in Europe

What was your journey to Paradise Wildlife Park? I have lived and worked in Hertfordshire all my life. I started my business 50 years ago and have owned many different businesses over the years, all of which have been based in Hertfordshire. These included Sampson Coaches, Sampson Travel, Fleetville MOT testing station, Shades coach conversion and of course Paradise Wildlife Park. I started life as a speedway rider and rode for several years for various teams across the UK, including Rye House. I still maintain my interest in speedway as Paradise is home to the National Speedway Museum and the World Speedway Riders Association.

What did you want to achieve with Paradise when you opened in the 1980s? We bought Broxbourne Zoo on April 1 1984 and everyone thought we were fools! We were the original ‘We Bought a Zoo’ family as we had no knowledge of wild animals. We did however have good business acumen and through very hard work, patience, belief and passion, we have developed Paradise Wildlife Park into one of the UK’s leading privately- owned zoos.

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How have things evolved since then? The park is home to more than 400 animals and we have many that are part of European endangered species breeding programmes. We are proud to welcome well over 300,000 guests each year for days out, weddings, corporate events and charity functions and for our amazing selection of hands-on exotic animal experiences.

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What have been the highlights? Our passion for big cats has grown extensively over the years. Thirteen years ago we purchased the Big Cat Sanctuary in Kent. Across the two sites we have one of the most important collections of big cats with some of the world’s most endangered cats, which we have bred successfully. We are very proud of achievements in conservation and education. We have won numerous awards and recognition from our peers for our work to establish or support conservation projects in all corners of the globe. A highlight was sending two lions back to Africa in 2009.

My other highlight is being able to work with my children and, now, grandchildren. How many people are lucky enough to see their family every day and help support them develop their own careers and business ideas?

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And the challenges? There are over 20 zoos and animal attractions within an hour of Paradise, including London, Whipsnade, Woburn and Colchester, which makes it the most competitive region in Europe, if not the world. We therefore have to be on our game!

What does the future hold for Paradise? The future is uncertain. There is increased competition from other leisure outlets, more government red-tape and regulations, plus our operation costs and the amount we pay in taxes are all increasing dramatically. But the most important part is my family and their health.

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