Michael Willis was ten years old, already keeping rabbits, guinea pigs, frogs, possums, and birds in his parents’ garden, and dreaming of running a zoo of his own. Then came a life changing present: a copy of naturalist Gerald Durrell’s The Batfut Beagles. Suddenly the idea of working with animals became more than just a fantasy. A lot of hard work and ingenuity later, the dream came true in 1974, when Michael opened Willowbank Wildlife Reserve on the outskirts of Christchurch. An immensely popular and prize-winning tourist attraction, Willowbank is home to a rich collection of native and exotic species, from kiwi and kea to otters, camels, and monkeys.
But that has been only part of the story. Over the years Michael has been increasingly driven to save and conserve rare livestock breeds, many of them far more endangered than some of their familiar native counterparts. He has travelled New Zealand and the world in his quest to save these often forgotten animals from extinction.
Whether he is rediscovering the tasselled and beguiling kunekune pig, saving the goats of remote Arapawa Island, capturing wild pigs in the forbidding Auckland Islands, bringing back to life the lost wild cattle of Enderby Island, or travelling to the Galapagos in search of threatened wild donkeys, his has been a life full of adventure, and full of the animals he loves. And the search continues.
Just as he did in his first delightful, best selling book, Some of My Best Friends are Animals, Michael Willis recounts his sometimes perilous and always riveting experiences with warmth, passion, and infectious laconic humour. Rescue will make you laugh, and gasp, and think. For as he reminds us, in an uncertain world, the saving of these animals could be the saving of us all.
[Click here to see a selection of pages from the book.]