ENCOUNTERS WITH ANIMALS (1958)

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The Life and Death of Pavlo the Marmoset

(Pavlo was a Common Marmoset)

"We never pampered him, and the only concession we made was to give him a hot-water bottle in his bed during the winter. He liked this so much that he would refuse to go to bed without it, even in mid-summer. His bedroom was a drawer in a tall-boy in my mother’s room, and his bed consisted of an old dressing-gown and a piece of fur-coat. Putting Pavlo to bed was quite a ritual: first the dressing-gown had to be spread in the drawer and the bottle wrapped in it so that he did not burn himself. Then the piece of fur-coat had to be made into a sort of furry cave, into which Pavlo would crawl, curl up into a ball and close his eyes blissfully. At first we used to push the drawer closed, except for a crack to allow for air, as this prevented Pavlo from getting up too early in the morning. But he very soon learned that by pushing his head into the crack he could widen it and escape.

About six in the morning he would wake up to find that his bottle had gone cold, so he would sally forth in search of alternative warmth. He would scuttle across the floor and up the leg of my mother’s bed, landing on the eiderdown. Then he would make his way up the bed, uttering squeaks of welcome, and burrow under the pillow where he would stay, cosy and warm, until it was time for her to get up. When she eventually got out of bed and left him, Pavlo would be furious, and would stand on the pillow chattering and screaming with rage. When he saw, however, that she had no intention of getting back to bed to keep him warm, he would scuttle down the passage to my room and crawl in with me. Here he would remain, stretched luxuriously on my chest, until it was time for me to get up, and then he would stand on my pillow and abuse me, screwing his tiny face up into a ferocious and most human scowl. Having told me what he thought of me, he would dash off and get into bed with my brother, and when he was turned out of there would go and join my sister for a quick nap before breakfast. This migration from bed to bed was a regular morning performance. ...

... Pavlo lived with us for eight years, and it was rather like having a leprechaun in the house: you never knew what was going to happen next. He did not adapt himself to our ways, we had to adapt ourselves to his. He insisted, for example, on having his meals with us, and his meals had to be the same as ours. He ate on the window-sill out of a saucer. For breakfast he would have porridge or cornflakes, with warm milk and sugar; at lunch he had green vegetables, potatoes and a spoonful of whatever pudding was going. At tea-time he had to be kept off the table by force, or he would dive into the jam-pot with shrill squeaks of delight; he was under the impression that the jam was put on the table for his benefit, and would get most annoyed if you differed with him on this point. We had to be ready to put him to bed at six o’clock sharp, and if we were late he would stalk furiously up and down outside his drawer, his fur standing on end with rage. We had to learn not to slam doors shut without first looking to see if Pavlo was sitting on top, because, for some reason, he liked to sit on doors and meditate.

.But our worst crime, according to him, was when we went out and left him for an afternoon. When we returned he would leave us in no doubt as to his feelings on the subject; we would be in disgrace; he would turn his back on us in disgust when we tried to talk to him; he would go and sit in a corner and glower at us, his little face screwed up into a scowl. After half an hour or so he would, very reluctantly, forgive us and with regal condescension accept a lump of sugar and some warm milk before retiring to bed. Pavlo’s moods were most human, for he would scowl and mutter at you when he felt bad-tempered, and, very probably, try to give you a nip. When he was feeling affectionate, however, he would approach you with a loving expression on his face, poking his tongue out and in very rapidly, and smacking his lips, climb on to your shoulder and give your ear a series of passionate nibbles....

... When Pavlo died, he staged his deathbed scene in the best Victorian traditions. He had been unwell for a couple of days, and had spent his time on the window—sill of my sister’s room, lying in the sun on his bit of fur-coat. One morning he started to squeak frantically to my sister, who became alarmed and shouted out to the rest of us that she thought he was dying. The whole family at once dropped whatever they were doing and fled upstairs. We gathered round the window-sill and watched Pavlo carefully, but there seemed to be nothing very much the matter with him. He accepted a drink of milk and then lay back on his fur-coat and surveyed us all with bright eyes. We had just decided that it was a false alarm when he suddenly went limp. In a panic we forced open his clenched jaws and poured a little milk down his throat. Slowly he regained consciousness, lying limp in my cupped hands. He looked at us for a moment and then, summoning up his last remaining strength, poked his tongue out at us and smacked his lips in a last gesture of affection. Then he fell back and died quite quietly.

The house and garden seemed very empty without his minute strutting figure and fiery personality. No longer did the sight of a spider evoke cries of: “Where’s Pavlo?” No longer were we woken up at six in the morning, feeling his cold feet on our faces. He had become one of the family in a way that no other pet had ever done, and we mourned his death. Even the white cat next door seemed moody and depressed, for without Pavlo in it our garden seemed to have lost its savour for her."

ENCOUNTERS WITH ANIMALS © Gerald Durrell 1958

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"... although much is being done, there is still a very great deal to do. Unfortunately, the majority of useful work in animal preservation has been done mainly for animals which are of some economic importance to man, and there are many obscure species of no economic importance which, although they are protected on paper, as it were, are in actual fact being allowed to die out because nobody, except a few interested zoologists, considers them important enough to spend money on.

As mankind increases year by year, and as he spreads farther over the globe burning and destroying, it is some small comfort to know that there are certain private individuals and some institutions who consider that the work of trying to save and give sanctuary to these harried animals is of some importance. It is important work for many reasons, but perhaps the best of them is this: man, for all his genius, cannot create a species, nor can he recreate one he has destroyed. There would be a dreadful outcry if anyone suggested obliterating, say, the Tower of London, and quite rightly so; yet a unique and wonderful species of animal which has taken hundreds of thousands of years to develop to the stage we see today, can be snuffed out like a candle without more than a handful of people raising a finger or a voice in protest.

So, until we consider animal life to be worthy of the consideration and reverence we bestow upon old books and pictures and historic monuments, there will always be the animal refugee living a precarious life on the edge of extermination, dependent for existence on the charity of a few human beings."

ENCOUNTERS WITH ANIMALS © Gerald Durrell 1958

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