Picture gallery: Cromer estate owner aims to make zoo a roaring success
- Credit: Archant
Cromer estate owner Benjie Cabbell-Manners has taken ownership of the town's Amazona Zoo and vowed to take it to a new level.
He has bought the business for an undisclosed sum from conservation veteran Ken Sims who opened the zoo on 15 acres of Mr Cabbell-Manners' land in 2008.
The new owner is planning major investment and possible enlargement of the park with the aim of increasing long-term visitor numbers from 33,000 to 95,000.
For Mr Cabbell-Manners, the venture will be his latest – and most creative – estate diversification which has seen him build industrial units, a short-term travellers' site and petrol station.
He said: 'The estate goes right into the middle of Cromer and it is really important to consider that tourism, not farming, is Norfolk's most important industry these days. If we want the estate to survive we have to do everything.'
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He said when Mr Sims, who has owned Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens near Great Yarmouth since 1979, first approached him about developing the zoo in Hall Road as a collection for South American animals he had been '100 per cent behind it'.
'Amazona Zoo is one of the finest attractions in north Norfolk so after many years under the loving ownership of Ken Sims we're very proud and excited to be taking it on,' he said.
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His wife Dido and children Rupert, 23, Jessica, 23, and Hughie, 20, would all have a part to play in running the attraction which has five permanent staff.
He said: 'We have a number of short and long term plans to enhance the zoo. This year we're launching a new soft-toy centre for young children as well as a large yurt 'education centre' for events, parties and functions. 'These indoor spaces will create more options for families when the weather is against us and will make Amazona more of a year-round attraction.'
He said the restaurant was being refurbished to portray a more authentic slice of the Amazon rainforest – 'like the Rainforest Cafe in London' - and a long-term goal was to use meat and other produce from their farm.
He said: 'We've worked with animals all our lives so we see the great potential in the zoo, so much so that in May we're taking a trip to South America to bring back new ideas and inspiration.
'We hope that our substantial investment plus our ambitions to integrate the zoo further into community life will make Amazona an unmissable attraction for visitors as well as residents of Cromer.
'We want Cromer to be proud of their zoo. When the town is doing well we tend to do well as an estate. We have had nothing but support from everybody in the area.'
If zoo visitor numbers took off, an expansion of the site would be considered; in due course opportunities would arise to expand the variety of species. Mr Cabbell-Manners said they also planned to extend the opening season, currently from Easter to October half-term.