A message from the Wildheart Trust founder Charlotte Corney

On behalf of all the Wildheart Trust team I am excited to tell you that the Isle of Wight Zoo will be changing its name to ‘The Wildheart Animal Sanctuary’ from 1st April 2021.

This new identity reflects our focus on rescued and threatened wildlife and puts the Isle of Wight at the frontline of the protection of endangered species. It is the latest phase of our journey over many decades to care for animals in desperate need and treat them with the compassion they deserve.

My family acquired the Zoo in the late 70s, saving it from closure when it had fallen upon hard times and was destitute. My parents Jack and Judy’s remarkable determination and inexhaustible passion created a unique wildlife centre which specialised in big cats. Growing up here was incredibly special and as a teenager the opportunity to rear an orphaned tiger cub set the wheels of my involvement at the Zoo in perpetual motion.

In 2003 my father passed away and I took the ‘family business’ under my wing. Given the history I’m sure it will strike you as surprising, but I’ve never been comfortable with keeping wild animals in captivity. To me even the best 5 star hotel in the world can’t rival real freedom, or in the case of animals, the essential requirement to thrive as part of a functional ecosystem – as nature properly intended.

However, I’m pragmatically resigned to the fact that we don’t live in a perfect world. As we know, humans are still destroying ecosystems and continuing to exploit and abuse huge numbers of animals that are treated merely as commodities. As long as these problems exist we will need to provide refuges to safeguard against their suffering alongside the loss of our planet’s critically endangered species.

As such reputable zoos, wildlife parks and animal sanctuaries are an essential component at the moment in the fight to save our natural world, delivering world-class conservation and research programmes around the globe. It was with this outlook that I founded The Wildheart Trust in 2016 which became the full owner of the Isle of Wight Zoo a year later. By this stage we had begun to organically evolve our old fashioned ‘encyclopaedia of animals’ style of zoo into a modern rescue centre. From endangered species destined for the pet trade, to ex-circus big cats or surplus zoo stock, our ‘zoo’ was becoming a forever home to many desperate individuals all with poignant stories to be told.

Our visitors and friends were always saying “You’re not really a zoo are you? You’re more of a sanctuary”. And of course they were right! We had stopped the breeding of our animals in favour of providing space for rescues. And our oasis by the sea had also become something of a treasured sanctuary for many people too.

So it’s a wonderful point in our evolution to be emerging from this lockdown ready to welcome our beloved community back to ‘The Wildheart Animal Sanctuary’. We couldn’t have survived the pandemic without the extraordinary help of our many supporters and we hope that now we’ll be able to offer a safe and restorative environment for them to relax in whilst making transformative connections to wildlife. We believe our much loved animal-ambassadors will be the most powerful motivators for change in a world that so desperately needs it.

The Sanctuary will be a living hub for animal welfare and conservation initiatives whether working within the protective walls of its historic fort, out and about on the Isle of Wight or across the wider global arena. We know that making a difference starts at home, in our own hearts and minds, so we’ll use sensitivity and science to carry people on our journey to make the world a fairer and better place for animals and people too.

The Wildheart team are optimists and realists. We believe that our projects, campaigns and actions will make a real difference. If we are successful then the current generation of children will be amongst the last to see wild animals living outside of their natural environments. We are perhaps one of a few organisations working to a vision where we do not exist by the end of this century.

I am grateful to everyone who has helped us to make the progress we’ve made so far and when the world allows I’m really looking forward to properly welcoming you to help celebrate our inspiring transition. As a first step, we look forward to welcoming visitors to our Sanctuary when we reopen on 12th April.

Together we will roar, together we can make a difference and together we can make the world a better place for all life.

Charlotte Corney