Meet Richard Claypole… and his menagerie

BY any standards, the Claypole family of Mill Hill, London, is a large one. It numbers nearly 130 — bearing in mind, of course, that the family includes a “zoo”.

Richard, who is 16 and attends Mill Hill Public School, has been passionately fond of most things that walk, crawl or fly since he was five.

So much so, that his back-garden collection now totals something like 120.

Add to that his sister Jackie’s two ponies, Tippin and Jassamine, and Mum and Dad’s two Old English sheepdogs, Ming and Nana, and you have just about the full complement.

Richard can be seen in Zoo Time on Wednesday. When I talked to him it didn’t take me long to realise what a dedicated young zoologist he is.

He’s a member of the XYZ (Young Zoologists) Club, and a familiar figure to the keepers at London Zoo.

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Most of his own collection are reptiles or amphibians, which he keeps in a heated greenhouse. But there is also a hairy armadillo and a badger cub.

How did it all start?

“When I was about five,” Richard said, “I became interested in insects. From there I went on to reptiles, including green lizards and a grass snake.

“Now I have 49 different species and about 120 items. And, of course, the collection is growing because there are always some of them breeding.”

For many people, the biggest problem with a zoo such as Richard’s would be feeding. But he takes that in his stride.

“The reptiles eat worms; my owls have chicken heads, which I get from the butcher; I breed locusts for the toads and frogs; Mr. Todd, the badger, gets horsemeat and breakfast cereal; and the armadillo has mincemeat, milk and chopped fruit.”

In most cases, the only thing standing between a boy and the pet of his choice — particularly if it happens to be a little offbeat — is Mum. But Richard has no trouble with his.

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“She got used to seeing caterpillars wandering all over the place,” he said, “and eventually took the rest as a matter of course. Well almost…

“I don’t keep snakes any more, because she doesn’t like them.”

How does Dad react to the zoo? “Oh, very favourably,” Mr. Claypole said. “It gives Richard a lively and real interest.

“And I would certainly far rather he did what he is doing than a lot of the things in which the modern generation indulges.”

Thirteen-year-old Jackie is more concerned with her ponies than with her brother’s collection, though occasionally she brings friends along to see the latest additions.

Most of her spare time is spent riding and show jumping, and a pile of rosettes is evidence of her success over the fences.

Mr. and Mrs. Claypole’s two sheep dogs appeared in a film with Richard Attenborough and have been featured in a number of TV commercials. Most families have their “black sheep,” and with the Claypoles it’s Mr. Todd, the badger.

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He is only half grown, but already he weighs more than 201b.

And he has decidedly destructive tendencies, even though some of them are unintentional.

“I’m afraid he may have to go fairly soon,” Richard said sadly.

What does Richard intend doing when he leaves school?

“I haven’t settled for any career yet,” he said. But I think it probably will be something involving animals.

“Either that, or I shall have animals as a sideline. You know, importing and exporting them.”

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