Life's a Zoo

05 November 2022

Jeanette Cole with a monkey on her shoulder

Camels, monkeys and tigers may not be your typical family pets - but then Jeanette Cole was never your typical Kiwi mum.

The spirited octogenarian was not only a zookeeper’s wife, but she raised her four children at the Auckland Zoo.

“We lived in the zookeeper’s house for 15 years and there was always a constant flow of kids and animals,” says Jeanette. “We had Jeanie the pig-tailed macaque, who slept in the hot water cupboard and sat on my shoulder wherever I went. She was quite destructive. If I was hanging up the washing, she’d pull off all the pegs, if I was making a dress, she’d pull out all the pins. Once a church lady came round wearing a fancy hat and she jumped right through the brim of it.

“We also briefly had a tiger cub and nursed a sick baby camel who slept in our laundry but gave the kids ringworm!”

Baby wallabies in the lounge didn’t raise an eyebrow, although visits from Skippy the Bush Kangaroo caused some excitement.

“They’d bring her over from Australia and she’d bounce up to our front door and bound through the house into her pen out the back.”

But it wasn’t just animals Jeanette provided a safe haven for.

“We had foster kids too. Once we took in three kids for 18 months, so we had a household of seven children and all manner of animals. That was pretty busy! Another time we took four boys for the weekend and they snuck down to the creek and filled up my bathtub with eels.”

Fast forward several decades and Jeanette is now a proud grandmother and great grandmother, and while she no longer lives at the zoo, her life is still action-packed. A resident at Metlifecare’s Parkside Village, she swims in the pool most mornings, has taken up aqua aerobics and is an enthusiastic member of Knitwits, the resident knitting club. And as a frequent trans-Tasman traveller, her apartment provides the perfect lock and leave lifestyle. It’s ideal for a woman who lives life to the full.

“My parents taught me that whatever you put into life you get out of it, and it seems to have worked so far. I may have had a very different life to lots of people, but I wouldn’t swap it for anything.”

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