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The Story of Porfell Wildlife Park – The Good Life

Ever thought about the dream of having a good life, well that was the dream of John and Joy Palmer. Their journey started in 1973 when they travelled from Solihull to start a new life in Cornwall in search of having a small farm as it was too expensive in Solihull. Each year they used to come to Looe and fell in love with it here. This is when they made the decision to travel to Looe in a £50 Triumph Herald and VW minibus with a horse box where they purchased a house in Looe which also came with a small garden. As they were frequent visitors to Looe they knew a man who had some land in which they were able to house their pony Sunny and their pony Toby

As time went on and with their ever-growing love for animals and looking after them they needed to find somewhere bigger to live, as they had also purchased a goat that was pregnant and had two babies and some chickens. They had also purchased another horse called Solitaire and Amber and then homed daughters pony Star from Birmingham.

This is when they found a perfect place Porfell farm near Lanreath. They purchased the farmhouse which was run down with burst pipes, no fences or heating and needed a lot of work but the land was what made it special with 25 acres, and was perfect for their animals.

John worked as a commercial artist and had a strong passion for drawing and Joy worked as a Nurse, whilst also looking after their own children they also helped look after and house other children from all different backgrounds. Whilst doing this they also run the farm 7 days a week building it up by hand and by themselves and looking after the animals with help from family members. In 1979 John and Joy Palmer built an extension to rent out as a holiday let to help with the ever-growing farm costs. As by this time they had started to house sheep, goats, a cow, ducks, chickens, deer, wallabies, a raccoon, a coati and a capybara. Due to homing all these rescued and unwanted animals and comments from friends and the people that stayed here, it was suggested that they should open the farm up to the public as you didn’t see this kind of sanctuary near Looe.

As they had a raccoon, coati, and capybara they had a dangerous wild animal licence. However, they needed a zoo licence which took them three attempts to obtain and open to the public, but their mission and love to provide animals with a safe home made them not give up on their dream. which meant they could help other animals that might have been neglected, injured, imported illegally or simply no longer wanted

The first part of the farm built by John Palmer was the close contacts section. John would spend many months designing and drawing the park in how they wanted it to look before building the meerkats enclosure, the coati and racoon enclosure then finally the children’s farm yard. John and the family before would build with whatever resources they had- even if it meant them going without for the love of the animals to keep them safe.

For John's 70th birthday, they travelled to Africa this is where he was inspired to build the African Maasai village. This took him just over 4 years to build where he replicated African mud huts. John wanted it to reflect how the Maasai people respected the land around them, and how they benefited from it.

John was passionate that this was not ‘themed’ with respect to the African people, so he made sure it was all rough around the edges like real Maasai villages are. The huts were built using traditional methods and materials: mud and wicker for the walls and roofs. Inside each hut, he made displays of Maasai craft, clothing and history. John and Joy also had people from Africa to stay and help build the bottom of the African Village.

John and Joy fell in love with Africa and getting to know the people on their trip made them support, and wanted to help support a charity called Send-a-Cow who do an enormous amount of work helping people out in Africa. Their support for this charity was recognised and the charity chose them as a venue to hold an event. They even had three Ugandan farmers at different times staying with them and sent out invitations to schools to learn about life out there and about sustainability in gardening and farming. John's love was being educated and educating people in the conservation of animals and of the land.

Being avid supporters of the welfare of animals they supported the Sheldrick wild life trust and even featured on Nick Baker naturalist T.V. Still to this day Joy still supports people out in Africa since their visits.

Life at the Palmer residence was never dull, especially in the early days of building up the Wildlife Park. You would often find George the donkey roaming around on the farm before casually walking into the house to say hello. Joy and John would also hand rear deer in the house before they went outside to live – so you wouldn’t have been surprised if you passed one on the way up the stairs or in one of the rooms upstairs.

They had a racoon called Humbug who lived in the house for a year, with this they had to wire all the windows shut and make sure the fridge was tied shut so he couldn’t help himself to food. Believe it or not, he would often climb in the toilet and pull the lid down – which one family friend got a big surprise when going to the bathroom.

Then there was Stumpy who was one of their Lemurs. Stumpy was part of a group of Lemurs but always had a habit of getting out and John would have to go and get him back in. Due to Stumpy being an escape artist and the Palmers going on holiday, John built a box in the barn with a heat lamp. However, Stumpy had other ideas and kept coming through the farmhouse cat flap and you would find him asleep on top of the fridge freezer, before taking him to the lounge sideboard where he would sleep on a sheep skin rug which they still have. Due to Stumpy's nature, he spent 11 years freely going in and out of the house and was a firm favourite of all the people who came to visit.

Many of evenings were spent with John out late in the Park seeing to all the animals, or sat at the kitchen table drawing designs for the farm or doing write-ups for the farm animals whilst Joy would cut up all the food for the animals. They used to be accompanied by Strawberry the goat until she decided to jump on the table and eat John's telephone list of contacts. Of course, let’s not forget the munt Jack deer and the pigs Percy and Pinky that slept with the house dog Patch.

Many evenings were also spent by John and Joy on what they called the ‘tree top’ where they would have some wine or a Gin and Tonic listening to music, overlooking the Zebras, Eland and Ostriches, and in the summer you would find them down in Lerryn with the family playing in the river.

With the love of the land John specially created and hand-built all the boardwalks through the ancient forest and marshland. Working the days on the farm, bringing up the children you would find John in the evenings down the woods. This took him over three years to make it accessible for the public to enjoy as he did. You would often find him asleep amongst the bluebells. The ancient woods hold a wide variety of trees and plants such as fine examples of wetland coppice with willow and alder whilst the dry areas support ash, oak and beech.

Since opening Porfell to the public in 1989 John worked tirelessly with Joy to establish a sanctuary for unwanted animals and exotic animals with the help of their children and a small team of animal keepers. John passed away in April 2014 after battling cancer but this did not stop him from working right up until he was unable to. John's memory will always live on and you can see that in all his building work which he designed and built by hand and the stories that people have to say and even by our returning visitors who share fond memories of him and Joy.

Joy Palmer still continues to run the farm with her family and a small team of animal keepers, dedicated volunteers and students, with the same mission to always provide a safe haven for elderly and problem exotic animals for the rest of their lives as a non for profit sanctuary, so all the money is purely public funded with every bit going back into the farm to get them through the winter months. Times have been hard for some years Porfell did not know if they were going to make it through another year especially during through Covid and the cost of living crisis.

Porfell is not like a zoo and will never be rich but will always be rich in the love, support and dedication to the welfare of the animals. A lot of people always ask about the future of Porfell Wildlife Park and what will happen. For now, that answer is simple Porfell WildLife Park will always run as a family business - a non-profit animal sanctuary with the same mission as John and Joy Palmer so the Porfell spirit will always live on, with the next generation of the Palmer family.

Porfell history gallery

In 1989 Porfell Farm opened to the public with just domestic farm animals. After introducing exotic animals and changing the name to Porfell Animal Land it soon became evident that there was a need to provide a home for exotic animals and the name was changed to Porfell Wildlife Park & Sanctuary.

From the beginning we wanted to create a special environment to suit the individual needs of animal sin our care, a haven and 'Home for Life'.

Having sensitively constructed enclosures and planted trees to make wildlife corridors leading from an ancient woodland, we have created a sanctuary where visitors can relax, experience and share treasured moments with some of the world's wonderful creatures.

Google Reviews


Very nice place to visit with a range of beautiful exotic animals: emu, zebra, lemurs, peacock,meerkat, reptiles, monkeys, parrots, owl and farm animals: chickens, donkey, sheep, ponies. The walk around took us around 2 hours. There is a picnic area too.

- Ela