FEATURE: Snakes alive! Mark’s a zany zoo expert

Mark Amey of Ameyzoo
Mark Amey of Ameyzoo

From rats in his pockets to tortoises on telly, meet the zoologist whose passion sparked a wild career...

He’s a distinctive man whose face you might recognise from the telly, but it’s not acting skills which make zoologist Mark Amey so in demand in the showbiz world.

Mark Amey

Mark Amey

Rather, it’s his expert knowledge and unique handling of rare and exotic animals – including creepy crawlies and scaly sorts – which mean he is called upon by everything from panel shows to feature films.

Just where did this wild career originate? Mark’s own original habitat is in the three counties, and he has owned exotic pet store Ameyzoo in Bovingdon – the village where he currently lives – for around 15 years.

But it was when his parents moved to America during his childhood that his passion for the weird and wonderful really developed, and though his mum and dad had little interest in animals, he says he was obsessed by them.

“I was always out animal-catching or fishing, I spent my whole life outside. I never watched TV,” said Mark, who ironically worked as a butcher before setting up his own business.

He said: “I’m a good example of doing what you want to do, and overcoming boundaries. I’m dyslexic, and my parents never liked animals, but they encouraged me.

“They allowed me to have tarantulas and snakes, my bedroom was floor to ceiling animals. I used to have rats sleep with me in bed and take them in my pockets to school!”

Since those days, Mark has returned to his roots and rehomes abandoned rare creatures, whether their owners were unable to care for them or had died, or if they were simply abandoned – like when a 6ft boa constrictor was left on the doorstep of a Hemel Hempstead veterinary surgery earlier this year.

Mark now employs four staff – all as zany about animals as he is – but has less to do with the famous Bovingdon store now that his skills are needed in the TV and film industry.

The 52 year old has regularly appeared in popular late-night panel show Celebrity Juice – in which he provided animal-themed challenges for presenter Keith Lemon – as well as speaking on ITV’s This Morning and Loose Women to defend the much-maligned false widow spiders and rats to the greater public.

He said: “We have got to champion the underdog. To this day I find that in human nature, if we don’t understand something, we just kill it.

“So much of what I do now is about education, and getting people to learn about animals which often have a bad press.”

Mark was affected by an incident in his childhood back over in the US, in which a snapping turtle had made its way from the water into his school grounds. While he, as a six-year-old boy, faced the animal and tried to coax it back towards its home, police showed up and shot it.

He said: “They killed it, but I could have let it go, and that always played on my mind.”

Shelled creatures have again been a big part of the animal handler’s life in the past couple of months, as he was tasked with providing and training around 50 tortoises for a forthcoming film version of Roald Dahl’s children’s book Esio Trot.

He was the main animal trainer on the film and worked directly with A-list stars Dame Judi Dench and Dustin Hoffman.

He said: “It sounds easy – as though you just stick the tortoises on set, but it was much more complicated than that.

“I had to find a tortoise with an outward personality for the main part, one that would come out of its shell, so to speak.”

Mark revealed he has also worked on an upcoming adaptation of Dracula for which he worked with spiders and other insects, and even had a role with a scorpion in the Paddington Bear movie, which hits cinemas later this year.

For more about Mark and Ameyzoo, visit markamey.co.uk or ameyzoo.co.uk, or call 01442 834446.