TWO IN THE BUSH (1966)

by Gerald Durrell

Gerald Durrell describes a six month tour of New Zealand Australia and Malaya with the BBC Natural History Unit to discover many animal rarities and discover what was being done about conservation at the time.

."Then, quite suddenly from behind a large clump of snow grass, a [New Zealand] Takahe appeared. ... there stood a bird the size of a large turkey - but more rotund in shape - and against the background of dark beech leaves and pale blond snow grass, he glowed like a jewel. He had a heavy, almost finch-like beak that, like his legs, was scarlet; his head and breast were a rich Mediterranean blue, and his back and wings a misty dragon green. He stood straddle-legged  among the snow grass, cocked his head at me and made his drumming noise. I gazed at him with admiration, and he looked back at me with the deepest suspicion. Presently,  having examined me carefully, he bobbed his head and then slowly and with immense dignity, he stepped carefully around a clump of snow grass and disappeared."

TWO IN THE BUSH © Gerald Durrell 1966

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"Firstly what does conservation mean? It is not merely the saving from extinction of such species as the Notornis, the Leadbetters Possum or the Leathery Turtle; this is important work but it is only part of the problem. You cannot begin to preserve any species of animal unless you preserve the habitat in which it dwells. Disturb or destroy that habitat and you will exterminate the species as surely as if you had shot it. So conservation means that you have to preserve forest and grassland, river and lake, even the sea itself. This is not only vital for the presevation of animal life generally, but for the future existence of man himself - a point that seems to escape many people.

We have inherited an incredibly beautiful and complex garden, but the trouble is that we have been appallingly bad gardeners. We have not bothered to acquaint ourselves with the simplest principles of gardening. By neglecting our garden, we are storing up for ourselves, in the not very distant future, a world catastrophe as bad as any atomic war, and we are doing it with all the bland complacency of an idiot child chopping up a Rembrandt with a pair of scissors. We go on, year after year, all over the world, creating dust bowls and erosion, cutting down forests and overgrazing our grasslands, polluting one of our most vital commodities - water - with industrial filth and all the time we are breeding with the ferocity of the Brown Rat, and wondering why there is not enough food to go round. We now stand so aloof from nature that we think we are God. This has always been a dangerous supposition.

The attitude of the average person to the world they live in is completely selfish. When I take people round to see my animals, one of the first questions they ask (unless the animal is cute and appealing) is, "what use is it?" by which they mean, "what use is it to them?" To this one can reply "what use is the Acropolis?" Does a creature have to be of direct material use to mankind in order to exist? By and large, by asking the question "what use is it?" you are asking the animal to justify its existence without having justified your own."

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