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Reconnect with nature on Animal Farm

Published:Monday | February 1, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Left: Everton Wilson, a caretaker employed to Animal Farm in Copse, Hanover, shows off a guinea pig - one of the many animals that call Animal Farm home.

Right: The white crested black Polish chicken, affectionately called the 'Rasta Fowl', is Animal Farm's most popular bird.

No, it is not the animal farm in the satire that George Orwell wrote. This Animal Farm has real animals and is a real farm. It is a hidden treasure nestled in the Montpelier Hills of Hanover, and has become a getaway for nature lovers in search of a genuine paradise.

Located beyond the white sand beaches and other traditional tourist resort offerings, this attraction is created to lift the spirit and educate visitors about the flora and fauna of Jamaica and other countries.

Well-known plastic surgeon Dr Geoffrey Williams is the owner and conceptualiser; however, there is nothing cosmetic about this lush, 40-acre property, bordered by the Great River, and located in a little district named Copse, near Ramble, in Hanover.

Williams, originally from Mandeville, Manchester, and now practising in Montego Bay, says everything on Animal Farm touches on his innermost feelings and vision of Mother Nature in perfection.

There are birds everywhere, some 40 different species to be exact, indigenous and imported, of all sizes, colours and plumes.

"I have always loved birds," Williams mused.

"Ever since I was young, I have always been spellbound by them."

Fascination with birds

This fascination with birds led him to travel to some of the most remote areas of the globe, including the Galapagos Islands, to observe exotic species, especially birds, in their natural habitats.

Visitors will find a variety of birds - from local chickens to the golden pheasant from China. In addition, Animal Farm is also home to a number of other animals, including the Jamaican yellow snake, the Jamaica slider turtle found only in western Jamaica; and a variety of farm animals such as goats, sheep and pigs.

One pig has been affectionately named Napoleon after the character in Orwell's novel.

The farm abounds with several varieties of well-known Jamaican herbs and fruit trees, all meticulously labelled with common and scientific names to better inform visitors about their species and origins.

To the rear of the property, the Great River provides a cool backdrop for a picnic, and tens of bamboos plants create a natural cover along the banks of the river.

Animal Farm is self-sufficient, providing its own water, which it pumps from the Great River; producing electricity and energy from solar-powered generators. It also has a biogas facility which was set up with technical assistance from the University of Technology. And recently, it received a loan from the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) through JN Small Business Loans Limited (JNSBL) to upgrade its power supply.

Use of funds

"We used the funds to quadruple our power supply, increasing the capacity of the solar-power system from 720 Watts to 3000 Watts," Williams explained.

"And we are also going to supplement the solar power supply with hydroelectricity."

The additional power will generate enough electricity to run a refrigerator for the kitchen, operate an air-conditioning unit for the gift shop, which are both located downstairs of the country house on the property.

"We worked diligently, and it took a while for us to receive the loan funds; but the loan has been a tremendous help in raising our power-generating capacity to very effective levels," he said.

Frank Whylie, general manager of JNSBL, describes Animal Farm as an enterprise that will add to the diversity of the country's tourism product.

"There has always been a shortage of terrestrial-type tourist attractions, especially those that showcase what communities away from our coastlines can offer," he explains.

"Animal Farm is a good outfit that offers an interesting insight into part of the island that residents and tourists don't often visit and experience."

The microfinance GM also noted that the TEF is geared to encourage further development of innovative visitor attractions that offer genuine Jamaican experiences to visitors, and Animal Farm certainly satisfies that objective.

The attraction is open to visitors from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily, and has become a major destination for large student and church groups, particularly from western parishes, which welcome the farm for its tour and picnic facilities.

"You can bring your lunch and enjoy a picnic by the river; or, if you prefer, you may use our cooking facilities. There is Joelle's Playground, equipped with swings and slides, where children can play to their heart's content; and lots of places for adults to spend some quiet time with nature," Williams pointed out.

In addition to its tours, Animal Farm also earns revenue from the sale of quail eggs to large hotel properties; and from breeding birds, goats, pigs and sheep, which it markets to pet stores and farmers.

Prior to 1999, Williams and his family had no intention of opening their property to the public. It was simply their "getaway" from the hustle and bustle of the tourist capital, Montego Bay.

However, as his family satisfied its own desire to be environmentally conscious and shared the haven with relatives and friends, Williams entertained the idea to open the nature sanctuary to visitors.

Officially opened

"We started the development of the farm as an attraction in earnest about 1999, and after it was sanctioned by the Natural Resources Conservation Authority and the Jamaica Tourist Board, at the turn of the century, in January 2000, it was also officially opened," Williams stated.

Animal Farm provides additional employment to the residents of Copse and the surrounding communities. Eleven persons are permanently employed to operate the farm, four of whom live on the property and care for the animals and the grounds; and other local residents are contracted on a seasonal basis or as demand peaks.

"This farm project has been a labour of love and source of refuge, solitude and peace and is still a work in progress ... that we will continue to expand and improve," Williams maintained.

He is confident that "word of mouth" will continue to bring more local residents to the property, as visitors relate their respective 'back-to-nature' experiences. However, he also plans to implement a targeted marketing programme to influence more overseas visitors to include Animal Farm to their vacation itinerary.