The first written record of the name Branféré dates back to 1427. From 1662 to 1857, the area was inhabited by the family of Freslon de la Freslonnière who built the current castle in 1848. Casimir Jourde bought the castle of Branféré in 1884, according the legend, with gambling money. Gaston, his son, inherited the estate and his wife, Nelly Rollet, was seduced by the park which made her feel in harmony with nature and its vital power. Paul, their son, inherited the estate and a considerable fortune at the death of Gaston in 1932. The grandson of Casimir then decided to pursue his precious dream: to become a world traveler.
End of 1933, Paul embarked for India where he was received by the Maharaja of Kutch. There, on the estate and its vast game reserves, he experienced that protected animals in captivity no longer fear human presence. Nevertheless they still looked and behaved like wild animals. He became seized with an idea that determined the rest of his life. He decided to create, at Branféré, a place where animals, from all continents, could live in freedom and in harmony with man.
In 1935, Paul married Elena (Helene) Castori, Italian aristocrat and painter who shared his passion for travel and nature. The magnificence of exotic flora and fauna became the source of inspiration for Helene’s paintings. In 1948, after a succession of trips, the couple returned to France. During their travels, Paul had established relationships with many directors of zoos around the world and now wanted to devote himself to the creation of his ‘animal paradise’.
He received advice from many specialists and gradually scientists became interested. They found at Branféré, besides a warm welcome, an opportunity to observe rare animals in a situation of pseudo-freedom. A park where animals could roam around free and where animals and humans could interact.
Journalist Francois de La Grange, producer of the television programme “ The animals of the world “ performed two shootings at Branféré and expressed his enthusiasm for the place. And with Konrad Lorenz, the famous ethologist, as an advisor Branféré became a well-known place. With their choice to give the animals as much freedom as possible within the park, Paul and Helene participated in the modernisation of zoos in the twentieth century.
In 1965 after 30 years of development, and encouraged by the government, they opened the park (zoo and botanical garden) to the public and it was an immediate success. At that time the notion of ecology begun to emerge, and mankind became aware of the necessity of respecting nature and the protection of animal species. This movement matched perfectly with the concept that was developed at Branféré by the Jourdes.
In 1972, Paul closed the park because of administrative difficulties. This initiated large quantities of letters of support. Not only from scientists who feared losing an unique place in France where they could observe wild animals in captivity as if it was real nature. But also from civilians who described the wonder they felt during their visits. Given the extent of reactions and pressure of the press campaigns, the Finance Minister found a very favorable solution for the park, and Branféré reopened for the next season. During this same period, the talent of Helen was confirmed. Previously confined to only the American continent, her reputation was gradually gaining ground in Europe, which increased the number of expositions. The originality of the works earned her the adjective ‘painter of paradise’. At Paul’s death in 1986, Helene is devoted entirely to the area and she seeks a solution that preserves the future of the park. The park is bequeathed to the ‘Fondation de France’, supported by the Jourde family’s legacy. Branféré becomes the recipient area while the mission is to continue the work of Paul and Helene Jourde and ensure sustainability. Helene died in 1988.
Today the park contains almost 1,000 animals representing nearly 150 species, including antelope, gibbons, hippopotamus, lemurs, llamas, prairie dogs, tapirs, wallaby, zebras, and yaks, as well as flamingos, parrots, pelicans, and storks, all set within landscapes of prairies, waterfalls, and small islands. Its grounds have displayed botanical plantings since the 18th century, and today contain about 70 species of trees and shrubs including araucaria, azaleas, camellias, laricio pines, rhododendrons, sequoia, and a 300-year-old weeping specimen listed as one of the remarkable trees in France.
In 2004 the Nicolas Hulot School for Nature and Man was established on the premises of the Branféré park, which meet the requirements of modern zoos, to educate the community at large regarding nature conservation.
(Sources: Guide book of Parc Animalier et Botanique Branféré; Wikipedia)