Instead of building a normal zoo for visitors to visit, Bill Bensley’s WorldWild is a place where wild animals look back on people.
For decades, humans have been impacting the natural landscape in Asia to build luxurious resorts and to confine wildlife into tight areas to attract tourists. But for Bill Bensley, a 61-year-old architect who specializes in designing American hotels, living in Bangkok, Thailand, the idea is outdated.
Five years ago, a client asked him to design a zoo resort in Wu Xuyen Town, Guangdong Province, China, Bensley turned the tables around. Why not build an animal resort with a zoo inside it? Why not let wildlife watch humans, instead of humans watch them?
Bensley’s idea may seem crazy at first, but the person called “Willy Wonka of hotel design” (Willy Wonka is an eccentric genius, fictional character in Roald Dahl’s Chocolate Factory ) persuaded partners. After serious discussions, the Guangdong government agreed to give Bensley 2,000 hectares of land to build the WorldWild reserve. In particular, Bensley set aside 5% of the area to build a “zoo” with 2,400 “stables” for people to live in. 95% of the large surrounding area is an area of rare and precious Chinese animals that are free to move and live.
The zoo is actually a 5-star hotel chain and 2,400 “stables” are rooms for visitors to stay. Budget for building each room 1 million USD. And instead of traveling freely to enjoy the animals, visitors will stay in the rooms overlooking the large surrounding area and let animals move freely to “see” themselves.
Bensley’s idea to build WorldWild was not intended to be shocking. He was originally a conservationist and had a deep interest in human impacts on the earth. Therefore, his designs are concerned with natural ecosystems.
In a luxurious cafe of the 5-star Rosewoood hotel in London, Bensley said the first phase of the WorldWild project lasted eight years, including many leading branded hotels. Expected this first phase of opening and welcoming guests in 2023.
To support her, Bensley hired zoologist James Morrison. They both list the animals that will appear in the reserve. One of them is pangolin – an animal often considered by locals to be a favorite food because it believes it is nutritious. It is also one of the wildlife species in the “extremely endangered” category, potentially extinct.
Morrison said that many animals brought to WorldWild may be emotionally injured because they have been abused by humans. Despite this, Morrison believes that they will be gradually restored in a new place and this is a significant part of this strange “people watching” project.
In addition, Bensley plans to build four different train lines named Oriental Expresso, Tasmanian Tiger, Iron Horse and Africa Queen. Each line has 7 stops. At each stop, there will be a children’s theater serving the audience of 10-15 years old. The theaters will play films and plays about the animal world in order to arouse love of nature and protect the environment.
Bensley is aware that it will be very difficult to fight for wildlife in China. However, he still hopes to change the awareness of the people in this country on the issue of wildlife protection. What Bensley felt best was that the local government shared the same thought, and supported him. His goal is that every year, WorldWild will change the mindset of 10 million Chinese people, and this place will attract 99% of the room renters are domestic residents, instead of international visitors.