The following is taken from the obituary in The Daily Telegraph:
Jack Corney, who has died aged 79, abandoned a successful career in engineering to indulge his passion for wildlife, revitalising the Isle of Wight Zoo where he came to specialise in breeding Indian tigers.
Douglas Jack Corney, the son of a police inspector, was born at Halifax on March 19 1924, and educated at Rishworth School, Rippendon, West Yorkshire. On leaving school he joined the RAF, piloting Lancasters and Liberators in Pathfinder squadrons based in North Africa and Italy.
After the war, Corney joined Henry Simon Engineering, of Stockport, as a trainee engineer, travelling across Europe. In 1954 he founded his own company, D J C Engineering, at Wilmslow, Cheshire; it specialised in designing flour and animal feedstuff mills. At one stage, Corney employed more than 200 people.
In the early 1970s he received the British Coloursteel Award for his design of an animal feedstuffs plant for C M Varley of Darlington. His last engineering project was the grain storage terminal at Southampton Docks for Continental Grain of America.
His war-time experience with the RAF had instilled a passion for flying, and in the 1960s Corney gained his private pilot's licence. He not only enjoyed aerobatics, he also flew himself to his various engineering contracts. But his skill as a pilot was not matched by navigational know-how. On one occasion he was flying a director of his company from Cumbria to Darlington, and followed the wrong railway line. When the aircraft was flying over a port, Corney remarked that it looked like Teesside. His terrified companion replied: "It looks a bit small for Teesside" - and it was, in fact, Heysham, near Morecambe; Corney had flown south instead of east.
Altering course, Corney then flew over the Pennines and tracked up the A1. Before long his plane came to the attention of RAF Leeming, whose jets were practising a flypast in preparation for a visit the next day by the Duchess of Gloucester. The brass hats were not amused.
Corney had always had a passion for wildlife, and in the mid-1970s his attention was caught by an article in the Sunday Times about the Isle of Wight Zoo, which was headlined "Slum Zoo of Britain". With the support of his second wife, Judith, he embarked on a bold endeavour to rescue the zoo, which he purchased in 1976. The initial intention was to operate the zoo solely as an herpetological centre; Corney had long been fascinated by venomous snakes. But having set up a reptile house, he then accepted an invitation from Molly Badham, the director of Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire, to take on a six-week-old, hand-reared Indian tigress called Tamyra; it was the start of his long love affair with this seriously endangered species. A year later Tamyra was joined by a male, Shere Khan, from Blackpool Zoo.
The pair was to form the nucleus of a large collection of tigers (currently there are 20) and were responsible for producing a number of cubs during their lifetime. In Tamyra's early days at the zoo, residents on the Isle of Wight would often see her being walked along the beach at Yaverland.
Realising that wild tigers would find it increasingly difficult to survive in the modern world, Corney strove to interest the media in their plight. He also set out to break down the stereotyped view of zoos as mysterious institutions in which visitors simply paid their entrance fees and were then left to form their own views of the justification for having wild animals in such an environment.
As a friend of Michael Robinson, director of the National Zoo in Washington D C, Corney had witnessed the positive effects of communicating with the public, and wanted to change attitudes. Hence, the Isle of Wight Zoo was among the first British zoos to introduce talks to the public; visitors are taken round in parties to see the tigers, lemurs, spiders, snakes and other animals, and informed about conservation issues.
Until suffering a stroke four years ago, Corney also continued to take an interest in his stock of venomous snakes, working closely with David Theakston, of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, to supply venom to the World Health Organisation for the production of anti-venom. As a result of his close encounters with some of the world's most dangerous snakes, Corney ended up in intensive care on three occasions.
Once, after being bitten by a rattlesnake, he was pronounced clinically dead - at the time he had an "out-of-body experience", and reported being fully aware of the doctors' attempts to revive him.
These episodes did nothing to damage his love of handling snakes; he was not even shaken by the fact that, at the time of his last bite - from a cobra - in the mid-1990s, he was assured by medical staff that he was allergic to the anti-venom.
Corney had a model of a rattlesnake, realistically painted, which sat on the hearth in his sitting room. The model once had the effect of terrifying two VAT inspectors who had called to discuss his tax situation.
Corney was a keen parachutist until the 1970s, when he injured his back in a skydiving accident; he was chairman of Manchester Skydivers, with whom he performed aerobatic displays.
In 1950 he married Beryl Nixon, with whom he had three sons, one of whom predeceased him. His second marriage, in 1973, was to Judith Bridge, who survives him with their two daughters. He died on August 15 2003.