It is with sadness that Twycross Zoo announces that Miss Nathalie Evans, co-founder of the Zoo with Miss Molly Badham, passed away peacefully in her sleep on Friday 9 September 2016 aged 98 years. Miss Evans, together with Miss Badham, devoted her life to the founding and running of Twycross Zoo from 1963, only retiring in 2004.
Twycross Zoo offers condolences to Miss Evans’ friends and relatives.
Twycross Zoo official obituary
Nathalie Evans, who died on September 9th aged 98, was one half of an enduring partnership that created a zoological icon – Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire. She and her lifetime business partner, Mollie Badham, were pioneers in their field and instrumental in creating the modern zoo – an instrument for wildlife conservation.
Sarah Nathalie Evans was born on June 12th 1918, the daughter of a Royal Air Force engineer in the first world war, and later a Maltster in the family business. She discovered her love for animals breeding dachshunds – eventually selling them worldwide. This experience led her to finance her next business venture, a pet shop in Sutton Coldfield. The rival pet shop in the town was run by Molly, and it was in the window of Nathalie’s shop that Molly saw her first monkey in 1949. This encounter lead to a unique partnership with Nathalie. Their joint and enduring passion with primates began, and legendary association was born.
After the two joined forces, they quickly became well known in veterinary circles for taking in any unwanted/unusual animals, from a circus lion with bow legs to an otter injured in a fight – all were welcomed.
The pet shop soon became full of orphans, and so in 1954 Nathalie and Molly moved to a bungalow with a one acre garden at Hints, near Tamworth. Here the tiny collection blossomed and with the help of Nathalie’s brother Henry, they opened Hints Zoological Gardens to the public, firstly at weekends, but soon, due to public demand, expanding to 4 days a week. The income from ticket sales helped to maintain this rather costly menagerie.
In the late 1950’s Nathalie was approached by Brooke Bond Tea with a business offer, they had an idea that a chimpanzee tea party would make a wonderful TV advertising campaign. Molly took over the training of the chimps for the adverts and Nathalie, possessing a natural business brain, negotiated the fees. The long-running success of what became the most recognised national TV ad campaign of its day meant that they could then begin to realise their ambitions – to finance a programme of conservation projects and the creation of the gibbon and chimpanzee studbooks which guided the safe breeding of both species in captivity.
By 1962, they had seriously outgrown the small Hints Zoo site and purchased a red-brick Victorian house with 12 acres of land. This was to become Twycross Zoo. Farm buildings and stables were converted to form animal enclosures and over the years they bought adjoining fields to expand the zoo’s footprint and cottages to house the keepers.
Having now installed themselves in premises more suited to their long term requirements, the serious purpose of rearing and caring for endangered and abandoned primates began. Under Nathalie’s steadying hand they became specialists in their field and were acknowledged throughout the UK, Europe and beyond. Natalie and Molly were at the forefront of modernising the way zoological gardens were run and operated, a legacy that still remains today.
In 1972, to ensure the future of a rapidly expanding collection, Nathalie and Molly transferred all the assets of the business into a charitable trust – the East Midlands Zoological Society. As well as primates, the zoo now housed animals as diverse as elephants, sea lions, giraffes, and reptiles.
Nathalie was a founder member of the National Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland and a member of the International Union of Directors of Zoological Gardens. Nathalie co-wrote two books, Chimps with Everything (1979) and Molly’s Zoo (2000).
Nathalie eventually retired at the age of 86 from full time work at Twycross Zoo, leaving behind a legacy and financial platform from which a new generation of conservationists continue a remarkable woman’s lifetime’s work.
Natalie will be sadly missed throughout the zoo world and by all those who were fortunate enough to count her as a friend.