Interview: Anthony Bush co-founder of Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm and former General Synod member

02 November 2006

We have just spent £150,000 on white rhinos from South Africa . Yet people still are more interested in whether the sheep have lambed. They just want to come and hold them.

We have worked hard at getting people closer to the animals than anywhere else. The rhinos need a mega-strong house, but people can touch them through a net.

Rhinos have no teeth, and eat with their lips. I am a cowboy, and I like feeding the rhinos through a barrier, which they can get their head through, but not their shoulders. No one else has done that.

I have been in farming for 35 years; this is a sort of retirement job . I was a tenant dairy farmer, and then bought it when the owners sold. We had to sell the cattle because of the price of milk quotas.

From the outside, our farm is not overtly Christian. But, from the inside, we are very strongly Christian. I am a Creationist, and we see the farm as a mission station to give people scientific permission to believe in God.

I spoke to a lorry-driver the other day, and said to him, "Do you believe in God?" He said no. So I said: "How do you think all this amazing plant and animal life happened?" He said: "It was all from the Big Bang and that." So I made a mental note that Attenborough and Dawkins had used their monopoly TV airtime well, and tried to put him straight. All this is a very big subject, and we cover it on the websites, for any reasonably well-informed layman.

We point out the relationship between the donkey and the cross. All domestic donkeys genetically have crosses on their back from the neck; the wild ones don’t. In our shows, we talk about Palm Sunday and Jesus riding on a donkey. We say that he is the most famous person — he divides history — and we talk about getting to heaven.

Sometimes parents rush out screaming, with their children in tow, if they object to what we are saying. But, as a reporter for The Guardian said, it is hardly a surprise.

Giraffes are coming soon. We grow as we can, and like to have a wide variety of animals. They range from the camel family, including llamas and alpacas, to cows, sheep, and lambs. We make a healthy profit and employ staff, but we put everything we can back into it. We also run 220 acres of arable farm, and let some property on our land.

My favourite animal is a waterbuffalo called Bridget (after my dog Barley, of course). When you call her, she gallops for 100 yards and just comes up for a lick. All our animals are popular; we get about 60-70,000 visitors a year.

I read widely on anything to do with creation and evolution . I’m currently reading The Wedge of Truth by a US lawyer, Phillip Johnson. I also enjoy Philip Yancey’s books. I read a lot on holiday.

Not every grandparent owns a theme park — that’s what my grandchildren say. My wife Christina and I have 14 grandchildren and four children, but they all live 200 miles away in different parts of the country.

There is a picture of me as a child pushing a wheelbarrow, and of my brother in a police helmet. I ended up in farming, working on the land, and he is now the High Lieutenant of Wiltshire.

The biggest choice I made in my life was a conscious decision for God when I was 14. Then it would be getting married, followed by running this farm.

I would like to be remembered for helping people into heaven — I can think of nothing more important. I was on General Synod for 17 years, and I have been a youth leader, and I organised the Billy Graham mission to Bristol in 1984. I find the current domestic stuff going on in the Church of England rather irrelevant.

I went to Africa and was inspired to form the Send a Cow charity in 1988. I am still the president. When it started, none of the development agencies would touch it; now they all do it.

My school chaplain and vicar inspired my Christian life. I have been greatly encouraged by the examples of Galileo and Churchill: they keep me going, in the way they were up against the Establishment on their own.

I remember a great sermon from my youth on Elijah and Elisha , all about the spirit of Elijah. I was also struck by a particular sermon on servanthood by John Stott.

The books of Samuel are great examples of how God offers forgiveness and uses a nasty piece of work like David. Revelation is beyond my comfort zone.

Marriage is fundamental to the whole of society. I get cross about the very cheap view of sex and virginity among the young today.

I am happiest when I am making love to my wife. When we started marriage counselling in Bristol, it was soon obvious that the history before the marriage made such a difference.

I love fairtrade ginger biscuits, particularly the Traidcraft variety . My son works for them on the church-development side.

My living room is a great spiritual retreat — or the lookout tower over the farm. From there you get a great view of the farm and Wales. We do get a day off, and love a pub lunch together, or going to church on a Sunday.

I would love to get locked in a church with Richard Dawkins , to straighten things out. I think he would be more relaxed than some.

Anthony Bush was talking to Rachel Harden.

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