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DURRELL'S ARK

THE RENEGADE WHO WAS RIGHT  

BY  SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH

How do you sum up the contribution to conservation of someone like Gerald Durrell?

I can only try to capture some of the extraordinary, original, thought that, to a generation of zoo directors, made him, to quote a director of the London Zoo, "a beacon to us all" - that earned him, or his Zoo, nine international awards for leadership and conservation; that awarded someone who barely went to school, three honorary degrees and his name given to an ecology institute.

The extraordinary thing - which is perhaps the mark of genius - was that everything he said, and, then, typically, did, seems now so obvious, so logical, and so much a part of everyday conservation language, that we easily forget how radical, revolutionary, and downright opinionated these statements seemed at the time.

He was truly a man before his time, when the time was already upon us.

Brushed off by the "experts" as, at best, an idealist, at worst, an opportunist, Gerry was also blessed with a generous dose of self-confidence. He pursued his ideal against the tide of opinion that claimed that the world was much the same as it always had been, and that extinctions were, after all, just part of the evolutionary process.

As a young collector of animals for zoos he soon became dissatisfied with the way zoos were managed, and he determined to have a zoo of his own, and in 1959, as we have heard, he opened the Jersey Zoological Park. Very shortly after that he began to express publicly what had been incubating in his mind for some time, that zoos could and should contribute to the preservation of wildlife.

Not one to follow his pronouncements without action, in 1963, he gave his Zoo into the hands of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust.

He, and his staff, concentrated their efforts on breeding the animals in their collection, and the Zoological Federation of Great Britain and Ireland started issuing to Jersey Certificates for long lists of first breedings.

Just listen, the very names are a romantic poetic evocation of the diversity of nature - the Black and White Colobus Monkey, the White Eared Pheasant (that was his first endangered species), the Congo Peacock, Shallows Touracous and the Thick Billed Parrot, the Palawan Peacock-Pheasant the Red Crested Touracous, Spectacled Bear, Waldrapp Ibis, Mellers Duck, Jamaican Hutia, Goeldi’s Monkey, Rodrigues Fruit Bat and the Red Handed Tamarin.

As the collection changed, to meet his vision, a tour of Jersey Zoo conveyed to the visitor a new and different Zoo experience. Animals come first, their keepers second and the public are privileged paying guests. No elephants or giraffes here, instead a row of aviaries all with brown ducks below and white starlings above. Conservation breeding programmes on exhibit rather than exhibits with barely justified conservation labels.

Increasingly endangered species arrived to breed for the first time, the St. Lucia Parrot, the Volcano Rabbit, Black Lion Tamarins, Livingstones Fruit Bat, Rodrigues Fodey, Round Island Boa, Flat Tailed Tortoise, Giant Jumping Rat, and, perhaps the most extraordinary, the nocturnal Aye-Aye from Madagascar, marking, in 1992, their ultimate achievement so far.

"How do you do it?" asked a chat-show hostess,

"I read them the Kama Sutra every morning" he replied.

He irritated, possibly enraged, some of his peers by lambasting the zoo fraternity for the abrogation of their conservation responsibilities, and he wrote it, in The Stationary Ark in 1976, saving his sharpest vitriol for the unfortunate zoo architect.

As a one man pressure group he was years ahead of anti-zoo propagandists and the international zoo community alike. In one of his last television interviews he was asked if he was pleased that more zoos were putting conservation first on the agenda, "I think its marvellous, wonderful", he said, paused, and then, sadly, "But why did it take so bloody long?".

Gerry's deep commitment to zoos and world conservation could hardly be played out on a small island in the English Channel, and certainly not exclusively between zoos. In 1972 his Trust formed the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society to hold the first world conference on breeding endangered species in Jersey, and, in 1983, he was the match that re-kindled the World Conservation Unions Captive Breeding Specialist Group.

Gerry had learnt the importance of carefully recording observations at Theodores' knee and he insisted that research overseas as well as in the Zoo, and its dissemination to the Conservation community, was critical to all captive breeding efforts. He had complained vehemently for years that academic science did little, or nothing, to empower conservation with any useful information. He almost wept when, in 1989, he was asked to give his name to the Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent. At long last, he said, this Institute represents a marriage between ecology and conservation - the science that tells you how the world works, and the science of how to keep it working.

In 1984 he signed an Accord with the Government of Mauritius to begin a breeding programme for a number of critically endangered species, including the Pink Pigeon, a distant relative of the Dodo, the symbol of extinction and his Trust. This bird marked his first successful reintroduction, and has multiplied in the hands of his staff, from 15 to 150 in the wild.

These government Accords had always been important to Gerry. He had enormous charm and he used it to good effect. To him it was natural, and plain good manners, to treat people everywhere, not just as equals, but as very special members of his species, who should be afforded the respect and personal attention their identity deserved. His ability to form real relationships with people he co-operated with to save their animals, is a hallmark of the Jersey Trust wherever it goes. Mauritian Ministers to save Round Island from the ravages of alien species. Madagascan Ministers to breed the Ploughshare Tortoise for reintroduction to Madagascar. Brazilian Committees to re-introduce and manage Lion Tamarins in the wild. A Caribbean Prime Minister to secure the future of his countries endemic parrot and unique ground lizard. The entire Indian Cabinet to allow one last desperate attempt to save the worlds smallest pig, in its natural habitat, and, everywhere, Gerry's brand of friendship and trust is the lasting common denominator.

"Why don't we have a sort of mini-university?" he said, and sure enough, in 1978 the first of 350 trainees, from over 70 countries, not counting 400 summer school students attended the International Training Centre officially opened by Her Royal Highness, in 1984, in the converted Jersey farmhouse next door. A small army of zoo keepers and directors, wildlife wardens and forestry officers, veterinarian and zoo educators, and even a zoo architect have all taken the Durrell message and mission home.

Gerry Durrell was, to use the modern idiom, Magic. You imbibe it in his books, you feel it in his Zoo, you see it in the eyes of his trainees, and you hear it in even the most restrained tones of zoo directors, who may command budgets ten times the size that he ever did.

Magic people, as all well read children know, are especially susceptible to mortal dangers and Gerry was no exception, but, before it finally ran out, he sprinkled his Magic in such vast quantities, that much of it has germinated, and hundreds of good gardeners are feeding the new growth as if their lives, and the lives of other animals depend upon it - and indeed they do.

Gerald Durrell has left the propagation of his dream in the hands of Lee, and of his Trust, in Jersey, in the United Kingdom, in the United States and in Canada.

I wish them, I wish you all, Good Gardening, and, please, don't ever forget the Magic of Gerald Durrell.

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"The Committee of Three"

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Samantha Hicks

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Down in the River, among the reeds,

That is where the crocodile feeds.

And when you are swimming watch how it goes,

because you may come back without any toes

or, goodness me, the worst of all,

you may never come back at all.

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Genevieve Hicks

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A snake can change its skin, like you take off a shirt,

So it doesn't have to bath, to get off all the dirt;

and there isn't any hope,

of snakes buying cakes of soap.

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Olivia Hicks

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Always be a little wary, of spiders large and hairy,

they build large webs that can be snary.

And if they catch you in the loo,

with eight long legs they'll tickle you.

First you giggle, and then you laugh,

and then you fall into the bath.

And this of course, you didn't oughta,

for you cannot laugh, beneath the water.

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MARGARET ("MARGO") DURRELL BOURNEMOUTH  c. 1950

In Bournemouth, in 1950, I had hoped to run a sedate money-making guesthouse as advised by my most respectable Aunt, a spinster by design, and very fussy. As you can imagine this was a hard task with my eccentric families unscheduled visitations.

Today mother is visiting, ever watchful. I am bemoaning my fate.

"The children are breeding mice in the outside lavatory - isn't it ghastly?" I moaned. Silence followed.

"Breeding mice", mother gasped as though at last comprehending, and behaving as though I had told her an epidemic of smallpox raged through the Avenue. "It's a most unhygienic occupation, and they do smell dreadfully dear." There was a far away look in her eyes. "Carriers of the plague too, I believe".

"That's rats, not mice Mother", I reasoned. Mother was going too far.

"I well remember the occasion when I, very stupidly, allowed your brother Gerald, as a young boy, to keep mice. I regretted it bitterly - had to put my foot down in the end."

"Yes I said, decidedly, but I do try to forget the more sordid memories." The picture of mother putting her dainty foot down amused me. I had no doubt at all that Gerry bred mice to the bitter end.

Into our midst, well before schedule, came my brother, Gerald, and his arrival eclipsed all else for the next twenty-four hours. Mother's expression, unlike mine, cheered delightedly at the sight of her youngest son. I groaned aloud, as a familiar boyish face grinned at the youngest members of my household racing to the gate to greet him.

Gerry stepped from the car, tall, fair, debonair and typically English, holding a sack carefully in one hand, as if carrying a rare gift, but I knew better than that. He greeted his fans jovially, eyes twinkling. There was an involved gesticulated discussion which seemed to involve both the house, the garage and the large wooden cage that was resting on the boot of the taxi: he appeared to regard my house as his own, for a matter of a few minutes an unusual entourage made its way to the empty garage. I knew the meaning of that move. I glanced at Mother, a look of dismay had now crossed her face, as no doubt she remembered other times when the presence of a sack or box had meant eventual trouble.

"If he puts one foot over my threshold," I said in a voice of doom, "I'm done for, ruined."

"Too late, dear," said Mother in a queer voice, as many hands lifted the crate tipped at a crazy angle - the party under the loud instructions from my brother had already crossed my boundaries.

Followed by Mother, I went to face the inevitable.

"Just a few monkeys," Gerald called out airily, seeing Mother and me for the first time."

"I hope there is nothing dangerous in that sack, dear?" Mother enquired, kissing her youngest tenderly.

"Its a six-foot python, but harmless," Gerald replied carelessly. "It feeds on mice so no one need worry"

"My God!" We can't have it in this house, Gerald!" Mother said, in her attempted firm voice that meant that he could. "You'll have to keep it hidden from your lodgers," she whispered aside to me, sweetly, compromising, trying to pacify my obvious scowling displeasure.

Gerald was delighted that mice were breeding like Communist China in the back lavatory. Confident that he was a sobering influence, he watched over the entire household, tenderly, rather as though he was privileged to witness the birth of some rare mammal. Advising me on the best ways of handling humanity, he taught the household the rudiments of biology, natural history and charming snakes. He wrote "My Family and Other Animals" amongst other epics. He played the women with light unconcern, ate garlic, drank wine or champagne as money would allow and ignored neighbours complaints. As a young chimpanzee swung from curtain to curtain joyfully, reptiles snoozed comfortably guarding the front porch and outdid everybody elses smells. Africa had arrived in style. An invasion of the natural world had become the norm in a suburban Bournemouth house and garden. However my brother had a dream. The dream became Jersey Zoo.

Margaret  ("Margo") Durrell

Gerald Durrell Memorial  London, 28th June 1995

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-0-FROM MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS 1956

"THE WORLD IN A WALL" EXTRACT  READ BY HANNAH GORDON  BBC "MRS DURRELL"

Then one day I found a fat female scorpion in the wall wearing what at first glance appeared to be a pale fawn fur coat. Closer inspection proved that this strange garment was made up of a mass of tiny babies clinging to the mother's back. I was enraptured by this family, and I made up my mind to smuggle them into the house and up to my bedroom so that I might keep them and watch them grow up. With infinite care I manoeuvred the mother and family into a matchbox, and then hurried to the villa. It was rather unfortunate that just as I entered the door lunch should be served; however I placed the match box carefully on the mantelpiece in the drawing-room, so that the scorpions should get plenty of air, and made my way to the dining-room and joined the family for the meal. Dawdling over my food, feeding Roger surreptitiously under the table and listening to the family arguing, I completely forgot about my exciting new captures. At last Larry, having finished, fetched the cigarettes from the drawing-room, and lying back in his chair he put one in his mouth and picked up the matchbox he had brought. Oblivious of my impending doom I watched him interestedly as, still talking glibly, he opened the matchbox.

Now I maintain to this day that the female scorpion meant no harm. She was agitated and a trifle annoyed at being shut up in a matchbox for so long, and so she seized the first opportunity to escape. She hoisted herself out of the box with great rapidity, her babies clinging on desperately, and scuttled on to the back of Larry's hand. There, not quite certain what to do next, she paused, her sting curved up at the ready. Larry, feeling the movement of her claws, glanced down to see what it was, and from that moment things got increasingly confused.

He uttered a roar of fright that made  Lugaretzia drop a plate and brought Roger out from beneath the table, barking wildly. With a flick of his hand he sent the unfortunate scorpion flying down the table, and she landed midway between Margo and Leslie, scattering babies like confetti as she thumped on the cloth. Thoroughly enraged at this treatment, the creature sped towards Leslie, her sting quivering with emotion. Leslie leapt to his feet, overturning his chair and flicked out desperately with his napkin, sending the scorpion rolling across the cloth towards Margo, who promptly let out a scream that any railway engine would have been proud to produce. Mother, completely bewildered by this sudden and rapid change from peace to chaos, put on her glasses and peered down the table to see what was causing the pandemonium, and at that moment Margo, in a vain attempt to stop the scorpion's advance, hurled a glass of water at it. The shower missed the animal completely, but successfully drenched Mother, who, not being able to stand cold water, promptly lost her breath and sat gasping at the end of the table, unable even to protest. The scorpion had now gone to ground under Leslie's plate, while her babies swarmed wildly all over the table. Roger, mystified by the panic, but determined to do his share, ran around and round the room, barking hysterically.

"It's that bloody boy again ..." bellowed Larry.

"Look out! Look out! They're coming!" screamed Margo.

"All we need is a book," roared Leslie; "don't panic, hit 'em with a book."

"What on earth's the matter with you all?" Mother kept imploring, moping her glasses.

"It's that bloody boy ... he'll kill the lot of us ... Look at the table ... knee deep in scorpions ..."

"Quick ... quick ... do something ...Look out, look out!"

"Stop screeching and get me a book, for God's sake ... You're worse than the dog ... Shut up, Roger ..."

"By the Grace of God I wasn't bitten ..."

"Look out ... there's another one ... Quick ... quick..."

"Oh, shut up and get me a book or something ... "

"But how did the scorpions get on the table, dear?"

"That bloody boy ... Every matchbox in the house is a deathtrap ..."

"Look out, it's coming towards me ... Quick, quick, do something ..."

"Hit it with your knife ... your knife ... Go on, hit it ..."

Since no one bothered to explain things to him, Roger was under the mistaken impression that the family was being attacked, and that it was his duty to defend them. As Lugaretzia was the only stranger in the room, he came to the logical conclusion that she must be the responsible party, so he bit her on the ankle. This did not help matters very much.

By the time a certain amount of order had been restored, all the baby scorpions had hidden themselves under various plates and bits of cutlery. Eventually, after impassioned pleas on my part, backed up by Mother, Leslie's suggestion that the whole lot be slaughtered was quashed. While the family, still simmering with rage and fright, retired to the drawing-room, I spent half an hour rounding up the babies ..."

MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS © Gerald Durrell 1956 

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FROM A TIME CAPSULE 1988

BY HER ROYAL HIGHNESS, THE PRINCESS ROYAL

Patron of Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust

Tonight has been a unique occasion, for a unique man, in a rather unique place. 

And  tonight has been a reflection,  and a celebration, of a delightful,  concerned,  knowledgeable  and humorous individual to whom all of us owe our own personal debt of gratitude  for his inspiration. I  was  one of those people who find it  difficult  not to laugh in public places - the train being one of the most awkward.

I was honoured, and very excited, to be asked to become Patron of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust in 1972 and each of my visits, and each opportunity to talk with Gerald has been a pleasure, and a huge increase of knowledge - they have always been valuable.

On one of those visits, on the occasion of the Trusts Anniversary, I also had the pleasure of giving to him a present from the Staff, and from the Members - a reminder of that story you heard earlier  - about the scorpion  - a little silver matchbox with a little silver scorpion in it. They very kindly gave me a silver matchbox but it does not contain any scorpions.

On another such visit, when I opened the new Conservation and Education Pavilion, I sank a Time Capsule that contained a number of items but, most particularly, it contained a letter from Gerald Durrell.

Now, I could not possibly equal the eloquence of Sir David Attenborough, in his remembrances of Gerry, but it is my privilege to read Gerrys' own words:-

To Whom it may Concern

Many of us, though not all in this year of 1988, recognise the following things:

1. All political and religious differences that at present slow down, entangle and strangle progress in the world will have to be solved in a civilised manner.

2. All other life forms have as much right to exist as we have and that indeed without the bulk of them we would perish.

3. Overpopulation is a menace that must be addressed by all countries; if allowed to continue it is a Gadarene syndrome which will cause nothing but our doom.

4. Ecosystems are intricate and vulnerable; once misused, disfigured or greedily exploited they vanish to our detriment. Used wisely they provide boundless treasure. Used unwisely they create misery, starvation and death to the human race and to a myriad other lifeforms.

5. It is stupid to destroy things such as rainforests before we know how they function and what is in them, especially because in these great webs of life may be embedded secrets of incalculable value to the human race.

6. The world is to us what the Garden of Eden was supposed to be to Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were banished, but we are banishing ourselves from our Eden.  The difference is that Adam and Eve had somewhere else to go. We have nowhere else to go.

We hope that by the time you read this you will have at least partially curtailed our reckless greed and stupidity. If we have not, at least some of us have tried...

All we can say is learn from what we have achieved, but above all learn from our mistakes, do not go on endlessly like a squirrel in a wheel committing the same errors hour by hour day by day year after year century after century as we have done up to now.

We hope that there will be fireflies and glow-worms at night to guide you and butterflies in hedges and forests to greet you.

We hope that your dawns will have an orchestra of bird song and that the sound of their wings and the opalescence of their colouring will dazzle you.

We hope that there will still be the extraordinary varieties of creatures sharing the land of the planet with you to enchant you and enrich your lives as they have done for us

We hope that you will be grateful for having been born into such a magical world.

Gerald Durrell 

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Permission to quote from the literary works of Gerald Durrell has been granted by Curtis Brown Ltd, London on behalf of the Estate of Gerald Durrell. All rights are reserved and no reproduction from this site for whatever purpose is permitted without permission.

Permission to reproduce photographs and sketches from the Estate of Gerald Durrell is granted by Lee Durrell on behalf of the Estate. All rights are reserved and no reproduction from this site for whatever purpose is permitted without permission.

Permission to quote from the literary works of Lawrence Durrell has been granted by Curtis Brown Ltd, London on behalf of his Estate All rights are reserved and no reproduction from this site for whatever purpose is permitted without permission.

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