A mum who is celebrating the 25th birthday of her family’s wildlife park says they are more “like the Osbournes than Dr Dolittle” – although the hundreds of birds and animals they live with make them “even more on the wild side. ”
Samantha Ames, 30, grew up immersed in nature with a menagerie of wonderful creatures, after her dad, Allan Ames, 60, opened Eagle Heights, a wildlife park in Eynsford, Kent, in 1996.
Moving from busy London, along with Samantha, her mum, Sally Ames, 59, and brother Jonny, 35, the park now houses six alpacas, 30 huskies, over 100 birds of prey, nine meerkats, and four sheep.
Working her way up from waiting on tables at the tea rooms to co-owning the park with her brother, Samantha, who has a son, Archie, eight, said: “As soon as we opened Eagle Heights, I fell in love with it.
“From the age of four, my dad was driving me to school with a bald eagle in the back, so it’s been a huge part of my life since I was a kid.
“But we’ve always been more like the outrageous rock music family the Osbournes than like Dr Dolittle – just with a lot more animals!”
A passionate falconer, it was her dad Allan’s dream to open a centre for birds of prey, when he moved his family to Kent.
“It started out as just birds of prey when we opened in 1996,” she said.
“We slowly started to acquire more animals over the years, until we became a fully-fledged wildlife park.
“I’ve spent every weekend here since it opened and started helping in the tea rooms when I was eight.”
Taught to fly birds of prey when they were eight, Samantha and her brother have now passed that tradition down to Archie, who started even younger when he was six and is particularly fond of a spectacled owl called Pepe.
“We really got stuck in with the animals,” said Samantha.
“We started flying birds from a really young age and then we got even more involved with the other animals as we helped out more.
“Sometimes I envy people’s awestruck reactions when they see the birds. It’s so every day for us now to be surrounded by these magnificent creatures that we don’t react with awe.”
While Samantha, who is no longer with Archie’s dad, is now more involved in the business side of the park, she still loves to interact with its furry and feathered residents.
“I went more into the office side of things at 16,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not involved with the animals. I purchased six alpacas, and some sheep recently.
“I sneak out of the office at closing time and just lie in the hay with them. It’s lovely and helps me to unwind from the day.”
Another major addition to the park has been 30 rescued huskies.
“We have over 50 species of animals and birds here now,” said Samantha.
“We have 30 rescued huskies and offer sleigh rides.
“We also offer overnight stays in geo-domes around the park with Virgin Experience Days, allowing the public to spend an evening with the wildlife just like us!”
Samantha says park life is particularly good for her son, Archie, who has autism, which can make it difficult to interact and communicate with people.
“He loves it at Eagle Heights,” she said.
“He’s so gentle with the animals and he really bonds with the birds. It’s a very special place and the animals and birds are like his family.”
And after the pandemic forced the park to shut its doors for months on end, Samantha is delighted to be welcoming visitors again.
“It was a tough time,” she said.
“During lockdown our real focus was making sure the animals were OK. The local community was fantastic. Everyone banded together to help.
“I made an Amazon Wishlist, a virtual shopping list that can be shared with the pubic, for the huskies and supporters bought us 250 bags of dog food. I was blown away by people’s generosity.
“We were forced to adapt but being open again is amazing. Every weekend we are booked to full capacity, and it just feels so good to share our world with the public once more.”
And, just like the TV show The Osbournes, she says their family life is unpredictable and “a little crazy.”
“It’s bonkers,” laughed Samantha.
“People have said we should make a TV show like The Osbournes, but with all the animals.
“It’s a fantastic life here, we do a good job, and we have fun doing it.
“It’s all thanks to my dad and mum. Their passion is sharing wildlife with people and the planet, and we always encourage people to be more mindful of the natural world.
“This is our home. I grew up here and now Archie is doing the same, it’s really special and we wouldn’t change it for the world.”
To find out more about Eagle Heights experience days go to https://www.virginexperiencedays.co.uk/search/eagle%20heights%20wildlife%20foundation