Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Pioneering Marwell Zoo founder John Knowles dies

John Knowles Image copyright Marwell Wildlife
Image caption John Knowles was the founder of Marwell Zoo

The "great innovator" behind Marwell Zoo has died after a short illness.

John Knowles opened up the attraction near Winchester, Hampshire, in 1972, specifically to breed endangered animal species.

He purchased Marwell Hall and the surrounding 417 acres of land, spending more than £1m to realise his dream.

James Cretney, chief executive of Marwell Wildlife, described him as a "great innovator" with a "pioneering approach".

He said Mr Knowles' work "did much to change the outlook and perception of the sector".

He added: "He implemented many changes to the operations of zoos and conservation, and we have a lot to thank him for.

"Our deepest sympathies go out to Mr Knowles' family."

Image caption Mr Knowles was interviewed in a 1977 BBC South documentary
Image caption He thought it "vital" a zoo was set up to breed endangered animals

Speaking in 2009 about setting up the zoo, Mr Knowles told the BBC: "I was convinced then, and I still am today, that many animals have no future.

"Therefore it was vital to create a zoo that would keep species going."

He tackled difficulties such as planning permission and the transportation of animals to open up the attraction within three years.

Early residents at the zoo included Przewalski's horses, scimitar-horned oryx, and Grevy's zebra.

Image copyright Katy Butler
Image caption The zoo still breeds rare species, such as this mountain bongo antelope, born in October

Mr Knowles set up mixed paddocks of large groups of animals grazing together, after being told it was "impossible", a Marwell Wildlife spokeswoman said.

He also contributed to the establishment of co-operative breeding programmes in Europe.

He was awarded an OBE for his services to conservation in 1991, and founded the Marwell Zimbabwe Trust (now Dambari Wildlife) in 1997.

He retired in 2006.

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