Cimla Equestrian Centre's wild plan to boost tourism with zoo
A ZOO could soon open in Neath for the first time since the demise of the town's Penscynor Wildlife Park.
Hawdref Ganol Farm in Cimla is already home to a zebra, reindeer and other harmless beasts.
Now businesswoman Caren Jones is in discussions with Neath Port Talbot Council to open a small, child-friendly zoo there.
It would be Neath's first wildlife attraction since Penscynor closed its doors in the late 1990s.
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"It used to be a massive part of the area's tourism," said Caren, who owns Cimla Equestrian Centre and the Green Lanterns Guest House, and is part-owner of T-Bones restaurant, all of them based at the farm.
"It's sadly missed. I went there as a child and loved it. "I have some animals here and our customers love seeing them. People have asked me why I don't open it up into an attraction, so I have now gone to the council and we are in discussions about doing exactly that."
Caren had to get a special licence for the zebra, two-year-old Humbug, who was put up for sale by a travelling circus.
"He's so tame and friendly. I fell in love with him and bought him without hesitation," she said.
Caren's menagerie includes reindeer, pygmy goats, wallabies, kunekune pigs, alpacas, a mule and Patagonian mara, as well as horses and ponies.
Some of them she can advertise as attractions. But because of the terms of her licence she cannot exhibit Humbug and some of the other animals, though visitors to the equestrian centre, guest house and restaurant are allowed to see them close up if they ask to.
"I definitely want to get more animals, including some small monkeys, but it depends what happens with my discussions with the council," said Caren. "We want all our animals to be tame so the children will be able to engage with them. There won't be any lions or tigers."
Other ideas she has in mind include a strange breeds area and a butterfly house, where rare species would be bred — and where a popular trend from the USA could be introduced.
"They have these butterfly houses in America," explained Caren. "They have weddings there and people pay to have butterflies released during the wedding."
Penscynor Wildlife Park, the brainchild of local businessman Idris Hale, was opened by TV star Johnny Morris in 1971.
For years it was one of the area's biggest visitor attractions before its fortunes took a turn for the worse. It closed in October, 1998, because of falling visitor numbers and increasing costs.
Caren said her zoo idea would not only help safeguard the jobs of the 16 people employed at the farm's three businesses but would create four or more new ones.
"It would be a fantastic educational resource for children and we would have a big play area too," she said. "It would also provide a tourism venue for people of Neath, Port Talbot and Swansea. There's nothing else like it around here. If people stay here and want somewhere to go I have to point them in the direction of places further west, like Folly Farm, Oakwood or Bluestone."