When Neil Trickett goes shopping he doesn’t take the average shopping list with him.
Frozen mice, rats, rabbits and chicks and loads of vegetables and fruit are a must.
For Neil has more than 300 mouths to feed.
Neil and wife Ella are the owners of an unusual enterprise and rescue service – The Living Jungle Mobile Zoo.
To say they love animals would be an understatement. The former Garstang High School pupils have welcomed beasts large and small into their home and garden
They and son Austin, and pet beagle dog Shirley, share their home with a collection of mostly “rescue” animals ranging from prairie dogs and an African Crested Hornbill bird to an assortment of snakes and a tarantula spider.
Neil says that for five year old Austin: “It’s just normality – it’s everyone else that’s weird.”
Just how 35 year old Neil found this vocation and passion could not have been predicted: “After leaving school I went to college. I studied social sciences – criminology, psychology and sociology at Preston College.”
But after A levels he saw an advert in the newspaper about working abroad doing voluntary work: “I went to Tanzania for three months and I think that’s when it all started.”
Seeing the animals in their natural habitat was a revelation – as was the threat their habitats were under. The 1999 visit proved a turning point:“I saw the animals in their natural habitat and I saw at first hand the issues they faced – deforestation and everything else. I thought then I would like to do something and eventually when I got my own house that’s what I started getting into.”
“We started rescuing exotic animals – we still do for the RSPCA. I would say 98 per cent of the animals we have are rescued one way or another.”
He stresses that the rescues are not due to cruelty as much as owners’ change in circumstances where poverty, ill health or a house move, means they are unable to continue looking after their once cherished pets.
The experience has fired another ambition: “I want to educate the next generation on the issues facing the animal world.”
He is adamant that there is a very strong need to educate people about how to keep such animals in captivity too: “because that’s the only future a lot of these animals have. I have had many conversations about the rights and wrongs of keeping exotics. But when you’ve seen with your own eyes....you can’t explain or comprehend it properly as to the scale of it. A lot of species in captivity will survive whereas in the natural world they won’t. That’s the kind of message I try to get across and hopefully the next generation will try to do something to help them.”
Looking after their livestock is definitely a full time job, but until recently both Neil and Ella worked full time too – Ella is part of the Made in Lancashire team based at Myerscough College.
Now Neil is devoting himself to The Living Jungle and has exciting plans:
“We’ll be starting after school clubs, like a zoo club and hopefully grow that in different schools and develop it across the Fylde and Wyre districts. We will basically run educational lessons and make them fun and interactive with some of the animals.”
They already do numerous road shows at events and parties – taking along a carefully chosen selection of stars – ranging from mini beasts to insects, lizards (the blue tongued skink is a popular one), snake and tortoise to birds and mammals. Insects can range from millipedes, cockroaches and snails to stick insects, and a tarantula spider.
Neil’s snake collection ranges from royal pythons to boas and Burmese pythons.
On the bird front there is an African crested hornbill, and a black faced ibis as well as a crane in the collection.
Whilst “Pricklelilly”, their African Crested Porcupine and three prairie dogs are among the more unusual mammals.
Their most recent addition is a coatimundi a member of the raccoon family, who has not yet been given a full name, but is known as Teddy because he looks like a bear.
Neil acknowledges the menagerie is expensive to feed, (they spend about £100 a week on food for their stock): “It’s pretty unusual. We buy frozen mice, rats, rabbits chicks and we buy in fruit and veg. We’ve just started receiving unsaleable fruit and veg from Fleetwood Fruit and Veg produce based in Cleveleys. That’s helping financially.”
A Lytham St Annes based veterinary practice also offers reduced fees for the rescued animals:” The rescue side is not a registered charity we have to fund it ourselves – that’s why we set up the Mobile Zoo – to help with educational awareness and financial side – it helps to do it all.”
The zoo’s feeding and cleaning routine for their charges takes some two hours each day, with Ella also getting her sleeves rolled up before setting out for work. Neil said: “We give everything a good once over. It takes longer because we give everything a lot of one to one time ...it probably spreads to four hours.
“The insects are probably the easiest to look after; although we do handle the spiders quite regularly as we do need to keep them quite nice and friendly!”
Neil is the one to handle the tarantula and says people come to their events saying they are scared of spiders and snakes and are encouraged to handle both.
But he stressed: “The health and care of the animals is paramount and it always will be.”