Eventually I was building my own miniature zoo. As presents, I got some of the more obscure (hence expensive) ones, such as the platypus off, eBay. Then I started buying animals from other companies that worked in plastic at the same scale (or nearly so), such as Elastolin, Starlux (from France, a little on the large size, but OK and really cool), Veb Plaho (German, ditto), Linde (Austria, needs painting but a great size), as well as select porcelain animals. While vintage lead Britains animals can go for over $150, these are generally $3 to $15 apiece. It's still possible to rack up big bills--in fact, checking those company names on the site of my favorite eBay seller, junglejim, I was tempted and did buy, and I'll probably ask womzilla to block eBay from my computer again when he gets home. However, it's practical for an ongoing hobby.
The final step, and in many ways the most enjoyable, has been customizing animals, even using different scale animals. For instance, a lead wolverine miniature on a smaller scale, painted correctly, makes a great honey badger. (That honey badger is some of my best work to date,although, ironically, the honey badger hirself don't care!) Beyond that, I started using an Exacto knife to reconfigure animals before painting (for instance, an ostrich into an emu) and finally using green putty to reshape or add to the basic shape (an oversized stoat into an otter).
This hobby work has brought me back to my earlier interest in zoology, as instead of a general category (deer, antelope) my miniatures are now of specific species (Sika deer, mule deer; greater kudu, impala). It was fun to find out the exact species Britains followed. Now, I love to investigate new species, including where each animal goes geographically, sexual dimorphism, color variations (including albino/melanistic variants), and other issues relevant to a miniature zoo. The activity provides a great combo of low-level nerdish zoology research, crafting skills at just about my right level of dexterity (my painting most isn't good enough to sell, but it's fine by me), and the joy Little Nellorat has always had playing with these animals. And I like the creative problem solving, too: for instance, I just figured out that for some antelopes, I should start with oversize goats, rather than the deer that work for so many. Tellingly, when I worked on customizing my miniature zoo animals for several days, my blood sugar was astonishingly good--it's calming, pleasing, and consumes my attention in the right way. Hard to ask more from a hobby.
Anyway, I've been meaning to write about this for a while. I'm sure I'll post pics eventually, but don't hold your breath. But can you help with the question?
Status: hungry, but, thanks to supergee, brekkie awaits