Cat man Giles finds a sanctuary in Kent

Giles Clark is one of the world’s leading experts in big cats who became a TV star along the way – and after years abroad is back in his home country. Jon Phipps headed to The Big Cat Sanctuary in Smarden to meet him…

Lions, tigers, jaguars, pumas and the like may sound like exotic beasts of faraway lands. But to Giles Clark, spending time with them is second nature. The 39-year-old has dedicated his entire career to the

welfare of these magnificent animals, many of which are on the endangered list, and feels we have a responsibility to do all we can to keep their numbers up. There is, he fears, the start of an ecological genocide on the

scale of the extinction last seen 65 million years ago when dinosaurs were wiped off the planet. He points to the dramatic fall in lion numbers in Africa –

down a fifth on what they were 50 years ago – or the Amur leopard, of which there are less than 70 worldwide left. Mind you, three of them are where Giles can see them

every day at The Big Cat Sanctuary, a former farm in between Smarden and Headcorn which is home to more than 50 different species of cat. The sanctuary is, he insists, a means to an end, part of a bid

to ensure these creatures survive for many years to come. It’s why, alongside his work in Kent, he still travels around the world working on various projects where the welfare of animals in the wild is the number one priority. “In an absolutely ideal world, I wouldn’t want to have a

sanctuary here,” says Giles, a few days after returning from helping to put GPS collars on wild lions in Kenya. “These

animals should be in the wild, they belong in the wild, but this unfortunately is a necessity borne out of the situation that many of them as a species face in the wild. “The true and only justification I have for keeping them is to

make sure they are supporting their wild counterparts.” Having grown up surrounded by cats in the family home in

north London, from an early age Giles set his sights on working with animals. Original plans to work as a vet fell by the wayside due to a lack of “academic commitment”, as he puts it, so when it came to a work experience placement, he wrote to zoos. At Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire, the 16-year-old Giles

embarked on a career that would take him all around the world. “I didn’t plan this path,” he explains, “I’ve been incredibly

lucky, one opportunity has always led on to another and people you meet. Some of it is definitely luck but that’s not all of it, I’ve pushed incredibly hard and I’ve had to make sacrifices to get where I am.” The conservation of cats has become paramount to Giles, who

moved back to England from Australia in 2016 to take over at the Big Cat Sanctuary, which is owned by the Wildlife Heritage Foundation, a charity set up in 2004. One of its trustees, and a driving force behind the place as it

is today, is Peter Sampson, the founder of the park where Giles took his first steps into the world of zoo-keeping. Work has taken him to India (for two spells) and Australia for the

Giles shares a tender moment with Maya 6 Mid Kent Living

6 Mid Kent Living

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64