Benjamin Mee's life has been made into a Hollywood movie starring Matt Damon but the true story is no fairy tale. Here, Benjamin discusses what it's really like to live at a zoo and how he coped with the devastating loss of his wife.
When Benjamin moved his young family into their very own zoo in Dartmoor, South West England, in 2006, he didn't think life could get any better.
Four months later, his wife was dead after a short battle with an aggressive brain tumour and he was struggling to raise Milo, six, and Ella, four, in a zoo that was crumbling around them.
The park was costing more than $70,000 a month to run and needed extensive renovations before it would be able to open to visitors and start making money.
To make matters worse, the local council was coming to inspect the park in 12 weeks. If Benjamin hadn't completed the costly renovations, the animals would have been destroyed.
"It was a catastrophe," Benjamin tells The Weekly. "I felt like I'd been cut in half. I was numb, watching the world through a veil.
"But I never thought of giving up. If you give up, the whole thing was for nothing and that makes it worse.
"People had moved house to come and work there. The animals would have been destroyed immediately. The whole thing would have been for nothing."
Despite his grief and dwindling bank balance, Benjamin persisted with the zoo. Before long, it started to repay some of the love he put into it, healing him in a way he didn't expect.
"Living at the zoo put everything into perspective," he says. "We had a death, which was terrible and unusual because Katherine was so young, but in that same period, one of the animals died and another was born.
"It really made you realise that life goes on. The cycle of life continues. The zoo puts all your problems into perspective because there is always some creature that needs your help."
On a much more basic level, the zoo also helped Milo and Ella through the tragedy of losing their mother.
While Benjamin found comfort on a profound "life goes on" level, Milo and Ella simply found distraction in sharing a home with lions, tigers and bears.
Coupled with children's natural resilience, the zoo meant the kids bounced back much quicker than Benjamin did.
It has now been five years since Katherine died, but Benjamin still thinks about her every day.
Although he says it has got easier with time, he is regularly blindsided by heartbreaking memories.
"Yesterday I put sunscreen on the kids for the first time since we all lived together in France, and it was Katherine putting it on them," he says. "It reminded me so strongly.
"She was always the one who did that sort of stuff. She was effortlessly good at being a mother. For me, even getting them to school is too much. Do you know how many letters you have to sign? Permission slips and this and that?
"You get these flashbacks and it's just so poignant. You just think 'Where is she?' I just miss her all the time."
But while Benjamin is still struggling in his personal life, his professional one has never been better.
Dartmoor Zoological Park is flourishing, being voted the UK's Top Wildlife Attraction in 2011.
It is drawing in more visitors than ever and is now looking to expand and introduce larger species, including elephants.
Benjamin was so moved by his experiences, he wrote a memoir entitled We Bought a Zoo which has now been made into a Hollywood film of the same name.
Matt Damon played Benjamin, and watching him act out scenes from his life was so strange it will stay with the zoo keeper for the rest of his life.
"I had two years to prepare for seeing the film and that still wasn't enough," he says. "It was just bizarre. To see Matt Damon, answering the phone 'Benjamin Mee'. That's my name! How is that happening?"
We Bought a Zoo is now available on DVD and blu-ray.
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Video: We Bought a Zoo trailer