In 1994, Lawn Mowing Simulator's Dino Safari Park did what no one thought they could without asking whether they should. Inspired by the blockbuster film and book series Jurassic Park, the UK's top scientists brought the monster lizards of yore back to life. Twenty-eight years later, Dino Safari Park continues to thrill its visitors with the experience of a land before time.
We got in touch with Jim Dowling, Dino Safari's longest-tenured groundskeeper, in honor of the dino-sanctuary's twenty-eighth anniversary. Here's what he had to say about the perks of mowing lawns with dinosaurs.
The Cretaceous Café
TG: So, Jim, you've been raving about "The Cretaceous Café" since we sat down. Honestly, we're surprised! What makes a theme park food court stand out when you work with dinosaurs for a living?
Jim: You know, Chris, I get that question quite a lot. But let me tell ya, when you're taking on a new job in a new country [Note: Jim was recruited from the US], it helps to have a sense of the familiar, ya know? And I remember starting my first day thinking, "Man, I could use a cup of coffee and an egg-everything bagel." And wouldn't ya know, that dino cafe had one of the best bagels I ever had, and I've been to New York!
TG: Hold on. You're telling me that a cafe in the UK countryside sells bagels that rival New York's. As a native New Yorker, I refuse to believe it.
Jim: Well, take a bite of this!
[Jim hands me the unbitten half of his egg-everything bagel with cream cheese. I take a bite. It's unremarkable.]
TG: I mean, it's a bagel!
Jim: You betcha! The same bagel I look forward to every morning!
The Petting Zoo
TG: I had no idea Dino Safari has a petting zoo! Tell us about that.
Jim: Technically, it's a sacrificial goat pen, but I like to call it the "petting zoo."
TG: I'm sorry, what?
Jim: Yeah, those are the goats we feed to the T-Rexes. But I always pretend it's the same goat. I named them Harry. Every morning, after my coffee and bagel, I feed Harry a carrot and pat their head. Someone else feeds the T-Rexes, so I try not to think about it.
[The two of us sit in silence for a moment. Jim seems uneasy. I change the subject.]
Hide And Seek With Tony The T-Rex
TG: Speaking of T-Rexes, we heard you have a special friend in the T-Rex Paddock.
Jim: Sure do! Tony's my BFF! I helped raise him since he was a tiny little guy.
TG: And I heard you still play the same games together?
Jim: Yup, hide and seek is Tony's favorite. Every afternoon, I hide in the bushes, and he comes looking for me. And he's so funny when he finds me. He'll just keep trying to grab me with those stubby little arms. But, of course, he can't, so he just starts carrying on. We have an inside joke at the park that if you hear a T-Rex holler, it's pawing Jim's collar!
TG: He's never grabbed you? Not even once!?
Jim: Well, one time, he did. But he kinda fumbled, and I fell to the ground. That's how I got my iron kneecap!
[Jim knocks on his knee, and it pings like a metal triangle. We both share a good laugh.]
TG: And you're still playing hide and seek with Tony!? I'm shocked your bosses still allow it.
Jim: They couldn't keep me away if they tried. So they gave me a taser just in case. If Tony gets too rowdy, I give it a buzz, and he calms down.
TG: It must be a pretty big taser.
Jim: And pretty expensive!
Playing Fetch With The Raptors
TG: But that's not the only game you play with the dinosaurs, right?
Jim: Far from it! We spend plenty of time together! In fact, the trainers had to step in and teach me a few things so I didn't get hurt.
TG: Sounds like you're doing them a favor. Dino Safari, where's this man's raise?
Jim: Listen, do what you love, and you never work a day in your life! They treat me just fine.
DinoTech Inc, Dino Safari's parent company, experienced a thousand percent increase in stock value (as of March 2021). Jim has not received a pay increase since 2005.
TG: Tell me about some of the other ways you bond with these prehistoric creatures.
Jim: Hmmm…there's so much to talk about. Oh! Let me tell ya, you have not lived until you played fetch with a raptor!
TG: Sounds dangerous.
Jim: Not at all. Raptors are a lot like dogs; they like what's usual. They're used to me, so they're actually very cooperative.
TG: The industrial-sized taser doesn't hurt either.
Jim: Oh no! I only ever had to use that thing once, and it was only because Eliza didn't get fed that day.
Jim: Yup! If you can train a dog, you can train a raptor. In fact, my dog, Skipper, plays with the raptors all the time.
TG: Do you take Skipper to work a lot?
Jim: At least once a week.
TG: Does he love it?
Jim: To him, he's one of the dinos! It's like taking him to the dog park.
Riding The Brachiosaurus
Jim: Oh, you have to try another thing before you leave. RIDE A BRACHIOSAURUS!
Brachiosaurus rides were once one of Dino Safari's signature attractions. However, after a tragic accident and interference from the World Wildlife Association in 2003, the practice was discontinued.
TG: I thought that was frowned upon?
Jim: You need special certification. There's a lot more red tape now, you know, after that accident…
We reached out to little Timmy Brewer's family for comment but have not received a response.
TG: Would you mind elaborating?
Jim: Not at all! So, brachiosaurus riding can be a healthy bonding activity for both the dinosaur and the rider. But you have to know what you're doing. It's easy to startle the bronchys, which is how bad things happen. But the HDB [Happy Dinosaur Bureau – a nonprofit that works closely with the WWF] offers a ten-week training program that teaches you how to do it right. We're allowed one unlicensed passenger if you're up for it. It's quite the view.
TG: We'll see.
The Smell Of Fresh Cut Grass
TG: Okay, one last question before we wrap things up. What is your absolute favorite part of the job? You can only pick one!
Jim: Oh, that's easy. It's the grass.
TG: What about the grass?
Jim: Any professional landscaper will tell ya: the smell of fresh-cut grass gets you up in the morning. Nothing beats it! And the park only uses the finest Kentucky Bluegrass, which makes all the difference.
Jim: Plus, the technology DinoTech gives us to cut grass is top of the line. When I tell my buddies I get to ride a Groundsmaster 3300, boy, do they get jealous!
The Toro Groundsmaster 3300 features a four-wheel drive, a 152 cm deck, and reaches a top speed of about fifteen mph.
TG: I'm not gonna lie, Jim. I wasn't expecting that answer.
Jim: Listen, do I love the dinos? Of course, I do. But I'm a landscaper first and foremost: that's my craft, my passion. And DinoTech could not pay me enough to work with dingy equipment on a knotty, patchy lawn.
TG: So, it's all for the love of the grass.
Jim: Now you get it.
We wrapped our interview, and Jim gave me an exclusive Brachiosaurus tour ride across the park. As I looked over the majestic shine of that Kentucky Bluegrass, I started to understand the allure of a well-tended landscape. Maybe, just maybe, Jim is on to something.
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