Family-run wildlife park helps son with autism who's friends with the animals

A family-run wildlife park that has been enjoyed by multiple generations, is now helping the owner’s grandson, who has autism.

Eagle Heights, a wildlife park in Eynsford, Kent, was opened in 1996 by Allan Ames, 60, when he and his family moved from London to Kent with his two children, Samantha, 30, and Jonny, 35, and their mother, Sally Ames, 59.

After 25 years in business, the park is now home to six alpacas, 30 huskies, over 100 birds of prey, nine meerkats, and four sheep.

Now Samantha says the wildlife park is a great source of comfort for her eight-year-old son, Archie, who has autism. 

Autism can sometimes make it difficult to interact and communicate with people, but growing up in the park, Archie is able to bond with the animals, who are like his ‘family.’

‘He loves it at Eagle Heights,’ Samantha said.

‘He’s so gentle with the animals and he really bonds with the birds. It’s a very special place and the animals and birds are like his family.’

Animal and pet therapies can help people with autism engage more with others, build communication skills and cope with anxiety. 

Samantha is pleased her son is able to be immersed in nature and animal life, just as she and her brother always were.

‘We really got stuck in with the animals,’ said Samantha.

‘We started flying birds from a really young age and then we got even more involved with the other animals as we helped out more.

‘Sometimes I envy people’s awestruck reactions when they see the birds. It’s so every day for us now to be surrounded by these magnificent creatures that we don’t react with awe.’

Now Archie is following in his mother’s footsteps. At six years old, Archie began to learn how to fly birds of prey. 

He has a particular connection with a spectacled owl called Pepe.

Samantha, who learned to fly the birds at eight, is more involved on the business side of the park now, but she still seeks comfort from the animals in the park, ‘sneaking out’ to lie with them at closing time. 

‘I went more into the office side of things at 16,’ she said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not involved with the animals. I purchased six alpacas, and some sheep recently.

‘I sneak out of the office at closing time and just lie in the hay with them. It’s lovely and helps me to unwind from the day.’

She added: ‘It’s a fantastic life here, we do a good job, and we have fun doing it.

‘It’s all thanks to my dad and mum. Their passion is sharing wildlife with people and the planet, and we always encourage people to be more mindful of the natural world.

‘This is our home. I grew up here and now Archie is doing the same, it’s really special and we wouldn’t change it for the world.’

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