The Mockery Bird (1981 Novel)

The idyllic, sun-soaked, paradise island of Zenkali, to be found where the waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans meet, is about to get self-government and freedom  from centuries  of colonial rule together with the dubious benefit of an airfield. The airfield, whilst bringing in the outside world, will need electric power, and this will mean flooding a lush tropical mountain valley, a lost unexplored world, owned by the evil Looja.

Zenkali, ruled by the wise, perceptive and mischievous Kingy, as "a democracy of one", has  two tribes - the Ginkas and the Fangouas. The Ginkas, worship dolphins but the lost god of the Fangouas, the biggest tribe, is the extinct Mockery bird:

"In spite of its importance to the Fangouas, the French, ... let their culinary enthusiasm override their politesse, and the Mockery Bird soon became a thing of the past."

Mysteriously, at the same time the Mockery Bird was lost to French cuisine, so  also the strange Ombu Tree disappeared - except for one remaining specimen "the loneliest tree in the world" residing in the Botanical gardens.

The economy of Zenkali depends wholly upon oil made from the fruit of the Amela Tree, found nowhere else in the world. Only the local Amela moth, resembling the Hummingbird Hawk Moth, can pollinate Amela trees.

Peter Foxglove, the new Assistant to H.M. Political Adviser, makes landfall in Zenkali and meets and falls in love with the mesmerising Audrey Damien:-

"slender with a peach-like skin burnt by the sun to the colour of polished bronze. ... but it was her large almond shaped eyes that were most remarkable. ... they were an intense smokey blue, almost violet, with tiny black flecks that enhanced their size."

Peter and Audrey, are the first people to explore and discover, in the hidden valley, fifteen pairs of the lost Mockery Birds and four hundred Ombu Trees - the Fangouas now have their bird god back although he has always been working behind the scenes unbeknown to his worshippers.

There follows various adventures, including the half-hearted kidnap and rescue of Audrey by Looja, and manoeuvres by  local politicians, the worlds press, eccentric characters and conservationists all with their own agendas and vested interests.

Finally and triumpantly the "candle in the dark" of science, in the form of Professor Droom, proves that Amela moths lays their eggs on the Ombu tree, their hatched caterpillars feed on the Ombu tree and the Mockery Bird feeds on the Ombu tree and spreads its seeds.  The hidden valley is safe. Looja has been thwarted and banished.

"So we are linked together like a chain," said Kingy, ... "the Amela Tree, the moth, the Ombu tree, the Mockery Bird and, finally, us. None of us can do without the other; without the help of these trees and these creatures all our hopes  for the future of Zenkali wither and perish. We can do without the help of an airfield. We cannot do without the help of Nature."

."... the Mockery Bird regarded him with a roguish eye, head on one side, and took a few slow steps into the clearing. With its head on one side and its foot tentatively raised, it seemed like some sort of lanky, avian dancing master. It stepped forward among the guava stems with a mincing delicacy and then shuffled its wings like someone shuffling a pack of cards. He noticed that it had very long eyelashes which it raised and lowered over its large gaily-sparkling eyes. ... There was another complicated rustle and flurry in the undergrowth and then, projected into the clearing by its own nervous eagerness, came a female Mockery Bird making strange, peeting noises, which became a soothing babble when she caught sight of the male. She went up to her mate and briefly preened his throat feathers as an over-zealous wife will straighten the tie of her  consort. ... Here in front of him, cossetting each other, were two birds which were thought to be extinct."

THE MOCKERY BIRD extracts © Gerald Durrell 1981

.

  Click an endangered living world to go to ArkGallery Homepage  

Email us by clicking here  The@Arkgallery.org 

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.