Gerald Durrell was a pioneer of his time. Not only was he an imaginative and extremely entertaining writer, but in 1947, he was one of the first to collect animals with the goal of creating breeding colonies should a species go extinct in the wild. The following includes a brief biography of Durrell’s life and legacy as well as a few amusing quotes from his books.
His Life and Legacy
Gerald Durrell was born in 1925 in Jamshedpur, India. As a student in college, he began working as an animal keeper for Whipsnade Park. Just two years later, in 1947, he was able to finance and organize his first expedition to Cameroon for the purpose of collecting wild animals. He later went back to Cameroon in 1948 and conducted another collecting expedition in 1949 to British Guiana. He was responsible for founding the Jersey Zoological Park in 1958 (still in existence today: www.durrell.org) and also served as the park’s director. He also founded the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust in 1964.
Durrell included an informative segment to educate readers about the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust in the original print editions of each of his books. The following quote is from that segment and does a nice job of illustrating why he collected these animals from their wild habitats in the first place:
“Our aim is to create a sanctuary in which we can establish breeding colonies of these threatened species, so that, even if they become extinct in the wild state, they will not vanish forever.”
Durrell wrote to entertain and inform. From his writings, we can see that he truly loved wild animals and was able to relate to them almost on a personal level. His interactions with the animals were extremely humorous and I found it almost impossible not to laugh while reading his descriptions. The following is an excerpt from his hilarious description of a pair toads he caught while on one of his expeditions to Cameroon:
“My two Brow-leafs squatted side by side on a bed of fresh grass in the bottom of the basket and gazed up at me with expressions of withering scorn. I tipped the basket on its side, and they waddled out on to the floor with all the indignation and dignity of a couple of Lord Mayors who had been accidentally locked in a public Lavatory.”
-Gerald Durrell in The Bafut Beagles
Durrell’s books also include many colorful descriptions of the native inhabitants of the places that he explored. Durrell had great respect for the men that helped him capture some of his most interesting creatures. He obviously enjoyed looking back at his time spent in these wild places:
“Then I climbed up the seventy-five steps, thinking longingly of bed. I was met at the top by a disapproving Ben with a Hurricane lamp.
‘Sah, som hunter-man done come,’ he said.
‘What, at this hour?’ I asked, surprised, for it was after three.
‘Yes, sah. You want I tell um to go?’
‘They done bring beef?’ I asked hopefully, with visions of some rare specimen.”
-Gerald Durrel in The Bafut Beagles
In the above quote, Durrell describes his time spent in Bafut, Cameroon. During his stay, he relied on members of the tribe to bring him beef (their term for animals).
If you want to have a few laughs while learning about animals as well as catching a glimpse of history, reading Durrell’s books is a must.
A Small List of Gerald Durrell Books:
The Bafut Beagles
A Zoo in My Luggage
The Drunken Forest
Encounters with Animals
The New Noah
The Whispering Land
My Family and Other Animals
Three Singles to Adventure