From tiger teens to realising conservation dreams

Posted on June 27, 2018


As the person behind the Isle of Wight Zoo and The Wildheart Trust, Charlotte Corney’s love of animals and nature is no surprise, but the story behind how she got to this place is certainly intriguing.

In a recent interview with the Daily Mirror, Charlotte gave a fascinating insight into her upbringing and a childhood that shaped her devotion to wildlife conservation and education.

Charlotte has an incredible bond with animals because she grew up in the zoo.

Her father, Jack, was working in his engineering firm in Manchester in the 70s when an advert for a run-down zoo caught his eye one day. He made inquiries and, with a passion for animals but no zoological experience, moved his wife Judith, young Charlotte and her sister Emma 250 miles to take it over.

Jack’s love of animals and his decision to follow his dream is what ultimately led Charlotte to do the same. She took over the zoo after Jack died in 2003.

It was an unusual childhood and one that made her the envy of school friends. Wild animals would be roaming around the garden, the family would take tigers for walks along the beach and Charlotte would even have baths with jungle cats.

She said: “Had my mum and dad known what they were getting into, maybe they wouldn’t have done it.

“But running the zoo became more of a challenge than they could have envisaged. There’s a certain idyllic idea about running a zoo but the reality is it’s hard work.

“I never knew about those problems growing up, I just grew up with a very big family of animals.

“Our house was often home to animals we were hand-raising, or orphaned animals, animals that didn’t actually fit in the zoo because dad had taken too many and they would start spilling out into the garden.

“Some of them roamed – we had leopards and tigers walking around the house. They would sleep in our beds, get in the bath with us.

“They’d mess around in the garden, we’d take them for walks on the beach. It was a very different era to now. I was fortunate to have that experience.”

Charlotte went on in the interview to explain how her caring for animals is part of both her work life and her home life.

“I have Aysha, a tiger who’s 20 and who I’ve raised from a cub, as well as two giant rabbits – Otta and Abella. They sleep on my bed. I can’t live without my giants at all.”

Charlotte was also in the Daily Mirror recently when the paper featured the plight of five rescued ex circus tigers for whom she has created a forever home at the Isle of Wight Zoo.

Although the tigers have now arrived and settled into their new home there is still a way to go with the fundraising to cover all the costs and to support future rescue projects, so the hard work doesn’t stop with the happy ending for the tigers.

Anyone who wants to help with this or the plight of other circus animals can donate here.