Get involved: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting 'OXFORD NEWS' to 80360 or email
Man’s private zoo now more like a Noah’s Ark
A South Oxfordshire farmyard which is home to 400 rare animals is suffering from the full force of the weather.
For weeks it has been surrounded by flood waters and now, with powerful winds threatening to tear the roofs off aviaries, it has become something of a Noah’s Ark.
Stephen Castle, 60, keeps a variety of creatures, including flamingoes, Japanese cranes and wallabies, as a hobby.
But in recent days he has been putting bricks on top of cages and hammering in extra stakes to keep them in place.
Mr Castle, who is retired after a career in insurance and lives in Long Wittenham, said: “The wind has actually been quite frightening.
“I’m just trying to stop things from blowing away.
“When I say cages are ‘lifting off the ground’, they are actually moving a few inches.”
His collection started in childhood when his father bought him and his sister exotic animals, such as an African Grey Parrot.
He inherited some of his father’s tropical birds but has gathered most of his collection himself. Some animals, such as terrapins found in the River Thames, are rescued creatures handed in to sanctuaries.
One pair of birds is on loan from a zoo, but the rest he has bought himself.
He said: “I have always been interested in animals. Gerald Durrell and David Attenborough are big heroes.”
Mr Castle said he was trying to help conserve rare and endangered species that might not survive in their natural habitat.
He added: “It is all very well saying ‘you can’t keep animals in captivity’, but natives in those countries just eat them.
“I also look after my mum here, who is 88 and I say to her ‘you’re the most exotic animal I have got’.”
During the past month’s floods, the farm has been stranded by rising waters.
In order to feed his collection, their four crates of food a week, Mr Castle has been asking companies to drop off produce with his neighbours.
He is using a wheelbarrow to cart the food back along narrow duckboards to his house, as he has been doing with his own groceries.
Mr Castle and his mother moved to the farm nine months ago and he is building an enclosure for his small herd of llamas, which are temporarily living in Hampshire.
He said when he booked a viewing for the farm last February, the estate agent had to cancel because it was too flooded to visit. Mr Castle, who is unmarried and does not have any children, said he spends about £5,000 a year keeping his private zoo.
- 25 species of pheasant
- 18 breeding pairs of owls
- Three flamingoes
- 40 different sorts of fowl
- Three types of crane
- Two pairs of mara, South American giant Guinea pigs
- Tropical fish