Club Ramblings

This page contains what some Clubs would grandly call "Club Proceedings".  It is a motley collection of some of the most interesting, we hope, Club postings, particularly members contributions, relating, in some way, to the late Gerald Durrell and Jersey Zoo. If you have arrived here looking for something in particular try searching this page for your key word using your Browsers' facilities. If you still cannot find what you want try clicking our Index to the many pages on this Site.


I mentioned The Authorised Biography by Douglas Botting the other day. I have selected these passages as inspirational samplers for any prospective readers. They also give the general tone of much of the book in a short reading space.

Gerald Durrells mother died in 1964 and the first two quotes relate to just after that event in his life:

"Though Gerald was to sparkle with charm and fun and infectious humour until the end [in 1995], his underlying mood was to grow darker from this time forth. The severance from his roots that his mother's death had brought about; the growing sterility of his marriage [to his first Wife Jacquie]; the frustration caused by the ceaseless difficulties with the zoo; the mounting anger he felt at the ways of man, hell-bent on mayhem in the world of nature - all these things began to affect him, and to bow him down, inch by bitter inch."

"On the face of it, Gerald need not have chosen the difficult path he did. At his best he was one of the great nature writers in the English language - perhaps in any language.  He was up there with the classic nature writers of the past - Thoreau, Richard Jefferies, W.H. Hudson, John Burroughs, William Beebe - and the best of his own time - Henry Williamson, Jim Corbett, Konrad Lorenz, Gavin Maxwell, Joy Adamson, George Schaller, and was also a masterly practitioner of  comic writing. His writings sold by the millions. He could well have afforded to retreat to a life of comfort and tranquillity in the South of France like his brother [Lawrence Durrell], writing a book a year. But he eschewed the easy way, the life of the self. He did not choose to do what suited him best, but was driven to do what was right."

"The zoo has been enormously successful," he told a visiting reporter in the mid-1980's, "but not successful enough in the sense that it is such slow progress. You have to grope around for money and persuade governments and every year you read more horrible reports of what is being done to the world about us. The world is being destroyed at the speed of an Exocet and we are riding about on a bicycle. I feel despair twenty-four hours a day at the way we are treating  the world and what we are piling up for ourselves. But you have to keep fighting, or what are we on earth for? I believe so much in what I am doing that I cannot let up."


Does anyone know the name, or anything about, fungi that glows in the dark. In Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons GD is on Rodrigues Island (which I think is East of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean) trying to catch Rodrigeus Bats for his Zoo and he says:

"On the fallen and rotting branches that lay about, I  found innumerable small phosporescent fungi that glowed with a bright, greenish-blue light, so that part of forest floor was illuminated like a city seen from the air at night. I collected some of these twigs and branches, and found that ten or twelve of these glowing fungi produced enough light to be able to read by, providing you kept your light source fairly close to the page".

This sounds like fun - where can I get some. Imagine the energy saving if you could illuminate the world at night just with fungi! Still, I expect there is a snag....


I will risk some book recommendations for someone like her who has not read any of Gerald Durrells books and wants to start somewhere. Some of our members are devotees and can quote chapter and verse from many of the more than 30 books in his lifetime but do not let that put you off.

I may be shouted down but I would think that if I was starting out today now my number one book choice would be "The Best of Gerald Durrell" by his widow Lee Durrell. Ratilda has provided a copy of the front cover on my Homepage. It includes a "cross the range" selection of his greatest writing. In the UK it was published in paperback by Harper Collins in 1978 and my copy cost 7.99 Sterling. This is obviously a fairly recent book and older GD fanatics will very likely have come to know and love GD's works through "My Family and Other Animals" - his famous account of his childhood in Corfu in the 1930's - perhaps try this book next. Its quite surprising and an impressive testament to get emails from places like Russia and Thailand and discover from them that young people there have read and enjoyed this book in translations.

GD Durrell wrote quite a few animal story books for very young children.

If you, or perhaps a youngster you know, are very keen on down to earth practical natural history can I put in a plug for GD's well illustrated "The Amateur Naturalist". If you want to know how to catch shrimps or caddis fly larvae in a bottle in a stream or suchlike in true GD Corfu style this is where you will find out. Some of his childhood enthusiasm has fortunately seeped into it.

A lot of GD's earlier books can be obtained relatively cheaply second hand - I have used Advanced Book Exchange on the internet to track down some earlier out of print books or you will very likely find a book or two in your library or local second hand bookshop.

You will find quite a lot of mention on these pages of The Authorised Biography of Gerald Durrell by Douglas Botting. I do not think this is the sort of book you would read first about GD but, despite its length, it is a readable (once you are a chapter or two in) mine of information - the bible on GD's life and the personality up to the very end. By the way it also has an extraordinary, and unexpected, ending which I will not spoil!!


Melbourne Zoo Release

Western Lowland Gorilla baby Yakini has certainly had a fascinating first year.

His first birthday has been celebrated today (Yesterday 27th), with his mother, Yuska, and the two Keepers who have cared for him all year, Ulli Weiher and Heidi Wenk.

There was even a cake shaped like a strawberry – Yakini’s favourite fruit.

Not many one year olds have a book all about them, so the launch of a new book about Yakini made today’s celebration an extra-special event.

Victoria’s Minister for Environment and Conservation, Ms. Sherryl Garbutt, attended the birthday event to launch the book Yakini, created by photographer David Caird and author Bob Hart, and published by Hardie Grant.

The conservation significance of the Zoo’s Western Lowland Gorilla endangered species breeding program is strongly highlighted in the new book, which is full of delightful photographs recording Yakini’s progress.

In this past year, he has grown from an underweight and weak infant to a thriving, healthy and active young gorilla. Yakini is still on display daily in the Gorilla Nursery between 10am and 3pm daily, but spends most of the rest of the time with his mother Yuska, including overnights in the Gorilla House.

Primate Keeper-in-Charge Ulli Weiher recalls that the past 12 months have been wonderful, but also a lot of hard work for the Primate Department, particularly once Yakini’s two younger siblings were born in April.

A second strawberry-shaped cake was served to the human party-goers, made to a more traditional recipe than the wholemeal version full of fruit chunks and whole nuts which Ulli Weiher requested for the gorilla family.

After Yakini had the first taste of his cake, Yuska enthusiastically joined in, and shortly afterwards the rest of the family group, including Yakini’s father Motaba, had the chance to sample the very healthy birthday cake.


I bet I am the only member who has a copy of this Gerald Durrell book. Its about a puppy (with the power to talk out loud it seems) who has a trip to a zoo:-

"I wondered what a zoo was ... "

"A zoo is where lots of different animals from all over the world live,  ..... Its a safe place  for some animals because, in the countries they come from, their wild homes are being destroyed to make room for more people. So these poor animals have nowhere to live any more."  

The zoo owner (GD?), conveniently, allows the puppy entry into the zoo as a "special treat", which is just as well as otherwise the story would have come to a grinding halt on its first page. Can you identify the book? I was going to offer a £1m prize but decided that this wasn't very original - your prize will be the warm glow of knowing you got the answer right. Much better.


I have been able to sort out parentage of the three baby gorillas you can watch in the nursery at Melbourne Zoo. You may have to pay attention a bit for this.

They are:-

Ganyeka (male) born Spring 2000 - Father Motaba = Mother G-Ann (Both Jersey Gorillas)

Jumatano (female) born Spring 2000 - Father Motaba = Mother Julia (Both Jersey Gorillas)

Yakini (male) born November 1999 - Father Motaba (Jersey Gorilla) = Mother Yuska (Melbourne Gorilla)

In fact Motaba , son of the famous Jambo, has fathered several other offspring since transfer from Jersey to Melbourne in 1990.

To put it another way Ganyeka and Jumatano are 100% Jersey and the oldest Yakini is 50% Jersey.

Ganyeka means excel or surpass in the Zulu language.

Jumatano is Swahili for Wednesday, which is the the day she was born.

I have put posted a mini family tree for the three babies with some pictures from Melbournes site.

No I do not know which is the one still in nappies.

This is a quote from the Melbourne site "Staff at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust on the Channel Island of Jersey are especially thrilled by the news, as both G-Anne and Julia came to Melbourne from Jersey. The babies’ father, the silverback Motaba, also came from Jersey as a youngster. Motaba is also the father of Yuska’s baby, Yakini."

"Captive breeding really works" - Gerald Durrell 


The GD Statue in the photo on our club main page was created by sculptor John Doubleday  in bronze and shows GD at work. He is shown wearing field expedition garb crouched down towards a ruffed lemur. There is a Round Island gecko lingering near his feet - see the front view on my Homepage. The statue is placed amongst granite stones near the new landscaped entrance court. Just behind is the enclosure for the Spectacled Bears. The lemur and the gecko sculptures were based on specimens actually in the zoo. 

I have done a little research about Jersey Gorillas emigrating to Melbourne Zoo. I have discovered that before G-Ann and Julia went in 1996 the famous JZ Silverback Jambo's son Motaba had emigrated there in 1990. G-Ann and Julia were rejected by the Silverback at JZ Ya Kwanza as mates hence the move.  Ya Kwanza is in the first photograph in the Lowland Gorilla section of my Homepage - he looks as if he might be hard to get on with sometimes!  Julia in fact had been injured by Ya Kwanza and things had got to such a state that the two females were kept  together but separate from Ya Kwanza. I shall try to find out more about the parentages of the baby gorillas in the Melbourne Zoo nursery and generally since 1996. GD said that "You can place animals together in a cage but you cannot make them fall in love". Apparently in the wild incompatibilities are not uncommon and there wild females will often choose to transfer from group to group - though not, of course, on an RAF Hercules plane.  Motaba was apparently ready to welcome them in Melbourne with great interest. Such moves between Zoos should also prevent genetic inbreeding.


If you have seen Ratildas' picture of the DWCT Dodo symbol you might like to see this.

I do not know the date of the picture. Back in the days of Marco Polo's famous journeys in Asia and China he heard stories of a huge rare bird called a Rukh so big and with legs so strong it could fell an ox and would even seize an elephant and carry him on high. Marco Polo believed in the elephant bird and said that it was to be found to the south of the island of Madagascar. Three hundred years later the flightless Dodo was found on Madagascar but within one hundred years, as we know, it was hunted to extinction.

The picture below is an illustration from a travel book from the 1800's. It shows a gorilla snapping a hunters gun in half.

Despite valiant efforts by a few organisations it is estimated that hundreds of Lowland gorillas are still hunted and killed each year leaving the population teetering on the brink of extinction. Most of us would view this picture differently today than we would have done in the nineteenth century, of course, as a result of mass education. A relatively small amount of money,  spent wisely, (a pittance to Western world budgets currently spent by their politicians) could guarantee the gorillas survival as a species into the next century. Otherwise they will probably become extinct in the wild leaving their only captive bred survivors in zoos.


In HTSAAN GD calls his Wife insubordinate for referring to his writing as "purple prose" though it seems an apt  description to me. Yesterdays description of a Corfu summer night (tangerine moon etc) is a classic example. Is it "over the top" do you think? I think it might be politer to call it exagerrated than OTT. I guess its intended to conjure up images in the readers mind and could be compared with , say, an impressionist oil painting. Mind you I have never experienced Corfu summer nights so maybe its just me lacking the comparison.

I have found this  impressive GD "purple prose" description of the Northern Scottish highlands which is nearer to my experience (and I suspect most British readers):-

"It was the colouring that first struck you. The gentleness of the colours, was as though each green or brown had been muted and softened by an applique of chalk, and the clouds, low and sculpted to the exact shade of grey and very pale coffee of the tangles of sheep's wool that hung on the fences and in spiny thickets. The rolling, low hills were pale creamy emerald or, where the heather grew, a rich chocolatey-mauve. The hedges along the way golden with buttercups and dandelions, and in places purple loose-strife blazed and in the damp hollows golden iris bloomed like banners in an army of green sword-shaped leaves. For some reason, it reminded me of New Zealand with its rolling empty landscape and roads with practically no traffic and the same sense of remoteness. In places the heather was sabre-slashed where the peat had been cut out in pieces from the land. These bricks of peat, rich, and dark as plum cake, lay drying in great jumbled piles beside the tiny crofts". This seems about spot on to me (the plum cake peat is great) although I am not sure I can go along with (a little further on) "... the flocks of sheep like clotted cream on the green baize of the turf..." Maybe I am misunderstanding and he just meant colour rather than (my first thought) looking like blobs of clotted cream?

Anyway, I have posted a JZ postcard picture of Assumbo on a club album because I like it and think it is fascinating.  I hope you all agree. I think its the one that converted Princess Grace and plenty of others, I dare say, to the WCT conservation cause. I think the story is told in DB, and certainly TAA, showing the power of one photograph - the photographer must have been over the moon (tangerine or whatever).  


An article in a magazine I was reading about the plight of orangutans started by saying that the the worlds wild orangtans are on the brink of extinction, driven out of the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra by loggers, killed as pests or caged as pets in cities. A Dutchman, a Dr Willy Smits, through his Balikapan Orangutan Survival Foundation, and at great personal risk, is trying to rescue, rehabilitate and reintroduce orangutans to where they belong. I was especially struck by this:-

"Orangutans look you in the eye. They meet your gaze with with that of an equal. It is a startling moment - that first, personal exchange - as if there is mutual understanding. These creatures are so disturbingly human-like, so sophisticated, that they deepen our understanding of ourselves. Their continued undisturbed existence is, on the most fundamental level, our gain. Orangutan lives give meaning to our own, revealing our origin through their social structures, their relationship, their nurturing, their tool use, their culture. Destroying them will rank as one of the great barbarous acts of humankind. A forest-dweller once told Smits how he shot an orangutan. Her dying act was to climb from her tree and stagger towards him. He feared she would attack him but instead she held out her baby and thrust it into his arms. Smit pauses over his food: "If we let it happen that such a special, sensitive, intelligent animal can become extinct because of humans - if that could happen ..." He does not finish."

As a companion to "Orangutans look you in the eye" I have also, by chance, come across this quote today, adapted from a book I have never heard of before (does anyone know it?), called "The Outermost house" (1928) by Henry Beston. This quotation is, by the way, apparently to be found below a stone statue of an impala at Zambia airport :-

"Creatures of the wild - we patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animals shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth."


Jills new photographs, especially her Corfu sunset, lets me quote this colourful paragraph from GD's 1991 Marrying Off Mother (which, curiously, I have just realised abbreviates to MOM):-

"That summer in Corfu was a particularly good one. The night skies were a heavy velvety blue with, apparently, more stars than ever before, like a crop of tiny burnished mushrooms glinting in the vast blue meadow. The moon seemed twice as large as normal, starting - as we turned towards her and she lifted herself into the night sky - as orange as tangerine and then undergoing colour changes from apricot to daffodil yellow before hatching out into a miraculous white, as white as a bride's gown, the light from which cast pools of bright silver among the hunched and twisted olives. Excited by the warmth and beauty of these nights, the fireflies would attempt to emulate and outdo the stars and so formed their own glittering, throbbing conglomerations among the trees where the Scops owl chimed like mournful little bells. At dawn the eastern sky would have a blood red line drawn across, the sword of the approaching sun. This would change to canary yellow, then lilac,and finally as the sun made his splendid appearance over the horizon the sky would suddenly turn as blue as flax and the stars would be extinguished as one blows out candles after a gigantic ball."

A "white faced Scops Owl" is described in Jersey Zoo in Chapter 1 of MM, I see, but there the night cry they make is described as "a noise like tearing calico" so they must make interesting neighbours. I have found a picture at -

- but I am not sure if this is the Corfu variety. Apparently they turn up in Scotland occasionally. This one had the misfortune to get concussion after getting run over -

- much to the excitement of bird watchers. This seems like unfair ornithology tactics but anyway the story had a happy ending you will be pleased to hear. There is apparently an Indian version as well.

Did Jill, or have any of you others, (especially our international section) ever seen fireflies behaving unusually? You will need to have read the last strange few pages of DB's biography to understand this if you are puzzled.

["there is a Scops Owl in India (Collared Scops Owl), but I have'nt had the good fortune to see it, having seen only the common Barn Owl and the Great Indian Horned Owl. Talking of Indian owls... the Indian Forest Spotted Owlet was last seen in the 1880s near Bombay(Mumbai) and has been remarkably re discovered by American researchers in the Satpuras! The second such rediscovery in India following the rediscovery of Jerdon's Courser !! Read about the rediscovery at - pradipta]

Note: the above link for no longer (in 2004) appears to be working


Yesterday the ancient Greek drachma was abolished to be replaced by shiny euros [technically the euro became the sole legal tender in 12 European nations] .

I should think almost everyones general knowledge included the [now obsolete] fact that the drachma was the currency of Greece.

Now, "[the new] one-euro [Greek] coin features the owl, the emblem of the goddess of wisdom and patron of ancient Athens, Athina, taken from an ancient Athenian four-drachma piece."

See for pictures:-

At the end of this post I have given the classical details but take it from me that Ulysses was friendly with Athena. Now dig out your copy of "My Family and Other Animals", look up Chapter 10 The Pageant of Fireflies and read about the baby Scops Owl who "took up residence in a basket kept in [Gerald's] study" and who after much argument was christened Ulysses" - a bird of great strength of character and not to trifled with. Well he was a boy and could not be called Athena could he?

Pure conjecture but I'll bet that the much argument would have involved Theo and Larry. Theo would have supplied the classical history and Larry would just have, well, argued. There are lots of owl like sketches and owl caricatures around drawn by Gerald and, again, I'll bet that somewhere here lies the origin of them in Gerald's mind.

In Birds Beasts and Relatives (Kontokali: Owls and Aristocracy) Gerald acquired a Barn Owl he called Lampadusa who was totally unwilling to make friends with Ulysses. Gerald thought Lampadusa drifted through the night on silent wings like flakes of ash but Larry thought it sounded like a battalion of tanks crashing around or a one owl jazz band.

Back to Ulysses the Scops Owl. What a pity no picture exists of this:-

"Since he had proved himself an able fighter, Ulysses became fairly friendly towards Roger, and if we were going for a late evening swim I could sometimes prevail upon him to honour us with his company. He would ride on Rogers back clinging tight to the black wool; if as occasionally happened, Roger forgot his passenger and went too fast, or skittishly jumped over a stone, Ulysses's eyes would blaze, his wings flap in a frantic effort to keep his balance, and he would click his beak loudly and indignantly until I reprimanded Roger for his carelessness."

Fast forward nearly half a century to Gerald revisiting Corfu Town in the early 1980's and this:-

"It was very late when we walked back along the seafront to the hotel. The moon was high and clear, her craters and mountains showing as faint shadows on her face, making her look somehow opalescent like a circle of mother-of-pearl, her light striping the dark velvety sea. Somewhere two Scops owls were chiming at each other, like tiny bells in the trees, and the warm air was redolent of sea and flowers and trees." [How to Shoot an Amateur Naturalist 1984]

"[Athena was the] wise ally of Ulysses when he tried to get home after the Trojan War to wife Penelope and son Telemachos. The ancient Greeks worshipped Pallas Athena, the daughter of Zeus, as the goddess of wisdom and the patron of the articultural arts and of the crafts of women, especially spinning and weaving. Among her gifts to man were inventions of the plow and the flute. She was also associated with birds, especially the owl. Athena also known as Minerva to the Romans, sprang fullgrown and armored from the forehead of the god Zeus and was his favourite child. He entrusted her with his shield, adorned with the hideous head of Medusa, his buckler, and his principal weapon, the thunderbolt. A virgin goddess, she was called Parthenos (the maiden). Her major temple, the Parthenon, was in Athens, which according to legend became hers a result of her gift of the olive tree to the Athenians."


GD said that one of the most dangerous animals to let loose in a zoo was an architect. In The Stationary Ark (1976) he describes the reaction of a visiting continental zoo director to a brand new elephant house which looked like "a deformed cathedral" (not at JZ of course but not too difficult to guess):

"What for the roof so high?, uh? They think sometimes maybe the elephant is meaning to fly up at night and be roosting?"

Time has moved on and JZ boasts some great new buildings etc most notably, their wonderful Orang-utan and Gibbon Habitat. As in the Gorilla House you can (especially if the weather is bad) find yourself standing only a few feet from a standing full grown male Gorilla or Orang-utan separated only by armoured glass and then you can appreciate, and be struck dumb, by the size and strength of these fabulous creatures. I bet you could spend a year in a tropical rainforest and never get as close as this. You are so close you can wonder about the strength of that armoured glass. I know a Bank which was having something of the type installed - guaranteed bullet bomb acid cosh proof - unfortunately the installers left it leaning it against a radiator and cracked it. Anyway I digress.


Have you ever tried to photograph a frog? I think frogs lead a pretty stationary existence. I suspect they almost never move. The odd thing, though, is that if you get your camera focused on them, frame, check your lighting and whathaveyou you can be pretty sure that, just as you are about to click, they jump. Through the camera viewfinder it happens instantly (one moment there is a frog the next puzzling empty space). I do not know how they know the right moment - perhaps there is a mystery sense that they possess that scientists could profitably study. Whats more if the photograph you are taking is a Poison Dart frog in a public place like Jersey Zoos reptile house you seem to attract a crowd to watch (and jostle) and the sudden departure of your photographic subject is greeted with much hilarity for some reason. This warped group of people goes their separate ways in a much better humour than they gathered, grateful for the little extra colour you have brought to their day.

I was reminded of this today as I was checking a link to a live Frog Web(bed?) Cam in Holland at :-

I have checked this site quite a bit. It makes a nice change from Orang-utans and Lowland Gorillas. The trouble is there is never a frog to be seen. You can look back at recent web cam pictures just before you arrived and see frogs and I strongly suspect (but cannot prove) they will hop back into the picture immediately you leave.

The Dutch must have a strange sense of humour because they feed the frogs at the same time every day and in the very spot you are looking but they do not tell you what feeding time is. Has anyone ever seen feeding time here? Would anyone care to volunteer to "stake out" the web site for a day and let us all know feeding time so we can see it?


Can I wrench your thoughts, for a few minutes, away from problems of daily existence, to think about Theodore Stephanides.

Theo, I will call him for short, comes and goes in the story of Gerald Durrells life.

But for a chance encounter between Gerald and Theo on Corfu in the 1930s the global development of the wildlife conservation movement would certainly have been different.

Basically a late Victorian naturalist, with an immense knowledge of the Greek classics, who qualified as a Doctor with various specialities, his life happened to span the momentous events of the two World Wars in the Mediterranean last century. This alone would have made his life extraordinary and fascinating even without the chance encounter with Gerald.

I will get to my point in a moment but he had a sense of humour as these quotes from My Family and Other Animals testify:-

"Here in Corfu .... anything can happen"

"As you know, here in Corfu nothing is ever done the correct way. Everyone starts out with the ... er ... best intentions, but something always seems to go wrong. When the Greek king visited the island some years ago the .... er .... climax of his tour was to be a ... er ... sort of stage show ... a play. The climax of the the drama was the Battle of Thermopolyae, and, as the curtain fell, the Greek Army was supposed to drive ... um ... the Persian Army triumphantly into the ... what do you call them? Ah, yes, the wings. Well it appears that the people playing the part of the Persians were a bit disgruntled at the thought of having to retreat in front of the king, and the fact that they had to play the part of Persians also ... you know ...wrankled. It only required a little incident to set things off. Unfortunately, during the battle scene the leader of the Greek army ... um ... misjudged the distance and caught the leader of the Persian Army quite a heavy blow with his wooden sword. This, of course, was an accident. I mean to say, the poor fellow didn't mean to do it. But nevertheless it was sufficient to ... er ... inflame the Persian Army to such an extent that instead of ... er ... retreating they advanced. The centre of the stage became a milling mob of helmeted soldiers locked in mortal combat. Two of them were thrown into the orchestra pit before someone had the sense to lower the curtain. The king remarked later that he had been greatly impressed by the ... um ... realism shown in the battle scene."

Information about Theo's life is scattered about. If anyone has information about his life or sources of information I would be delighted to hear about it. I cannot trace a biography at all.


You might like to look at this US Site about release of lemurs back into the Madagascan jungle:

Reference to Janus dying after breaking his neck reminds me of an odd story I heard about release of tamarins by Jersey Zoo back into the Brazilian forest. Jersey tamarins use real trees in the zoo and did not have this problem but apparently some other tamarins released from elsewhere fell because they did not realise that they they could not climb right to the end of a natural branch where their weight bent it down. In fact as you can see from one of Brourias photos they are "hardened off" in a small outside wood before release. They have a heated shed they can nip back to if it gets too cold.


In the 18th and 19th Century, down near Mevagissey on the mild, Gulf Stream washed, South coast of the English County of Cornwall, in a place called Heligan the Tremayne family owned a grand house with over 50 acres of ornamental and fruit gardens with their own "jungle". By August 1914 the gardens were in their prime employing perhaps a dozen gardners under a Head Gardner. The outbreak of the First World War changed that. The house and garden staff left to go to war and, for over half of them, the only records left now are their names to be seen carved on war memorials, commemorating the dead of Flanders, in nearby Parish churches.

The gardens were neglected and became so overgrown with bramble ivy laurel and fallen timber that they went to sleep, forgotten for the next 75 years. Then by chance Tim Smit and his partner found them and took up the challenge of restoring them from 1990 onwards. They are now one of the major gardens of England with five walled gardens, glasshouses, a kitchen fruit and and vegetable garden, pleasure gardens and a jungle which is the home for the largest collection tree ferns in Europe and as well as a sub-tropical paradise for palms bamboos and other exotic specimen trees. Oh, and I nearly forgot (the bit some of you will like),its very own ghost(s), or so the present day gardners will swear they have seen (if you ask them), after the visitors have gone home at night.

You would think that the restoration of Heligan would be enough of an achievement in a decade (or a lifetime perhaps) for one person but down in Cornwall, not so far away from Heligan near St Austell, Tim Smit has just achieved his next ambition - the £80 million Eden Project has opened in the last few days. There is not enough space to describe this here but it is one of the most spectacular looking constructions and ambitious projects you are likely to come across:

This is the URL for the Eden Project for more information.

The incredible technical details for the construction of the "biomes" are fascinating and may interest some of you:-


Environmentalists in Brazil are celebrating the birth of the 1,000th golden lion tamarin monkey in the wild, a milestone in the fight to preserve the orange rain forest species.

The tiny tamarin baby, weighing about 2.5 ounces and measuring 4 inches long, was born last month, but the World Wildlife Fund made the announcement Wednesday.

Though scientists track the tamarins closely with radio transmitters, the milestone is based on an estimate of the population, said Denise Rambaldi, director of the Golden Lion Tamarin Association, a WWF-affiliated group.

`"We consider reaching 1,000 animals in the wild a big victory,'' Rambaldi said. ``It shows that if we work over the long term, extinction is not inevitable.''

Biologists say that the tamarins, which grow to 8-13 inches long, declined in number during the 1950s and 1960s because of destruction of their habitat, the South American rain forest. They were also captured and sold as pets.

When efforts to save the monkey began 30 years ago, there were only 200 tamarins living in isolated patches of rain forest across Rio de Janeiro state and parts of neighboring Espirito Santo state.

Today there are five times that many, concentrated in an area around Poco das Antas biological reserve, 80 miles northeast of Rio.

Since then the tamarin, a flash of orange in the forest, has had its tufted face printed on everything from T-shirts to postage stamps as a symbol of Brazil's endangered wildlife.

But Rambaldi says the battle is only half won. To ensure genetic diversity, the tamarin population must double over the next 25 years or face extinction from inbreeding.

Scientists have been trying to diversify the gene pool. Over the past 17 years, 174 tamarins from foreign zoos have been successfully reintroduced.

But conservationists face another problem - where to put the multiplying monkeys.

Rambaldi says to sustain a population of 2,000 tamarins would require some 62,000 acres of forest - about twice as much as they now have.

"The next 25 years are going to be more difficult. ... Now we have to find more forest for them to inhabit,'' said Garo Batmanian, director general of the World Wildlife Fund in Brazil.



In 1962 GD published a book called "My Favourite Animal Stories" this was 5 years after "My Family and Other Animals". Amongst his selection of 13 stories were selections from James Thurber (twice), Tarka The Otter by Henry Williamson, The Jungle Book and Moby Dick.

One of the most interesting selections was "Python Up a Tree" by David Attenborough. This comes from DA's "Zoo Quest For a Dragon" one of a series of six books he was wrote about his animal collecting which paralleled and criss-crossed in time and even, once, in place (when they actually met) GD's own expeditions.

A year or two back I did read through all the DA's "Zoo Quest" series of 6 books and they stand up well as good reads (with many wonders in them) even after all this time. I am not the only one to think so as they are staging a bit of a come back because recently, with DA as the reader, they are being issued as abridged talking books by the BBC. "Zoo Quest for a Dragon" as a tape I can recommend heartily as being both funny and exciting. The trip in an open fishing boat to the Island of Komodo with a useless, gun running, Captain and crew sticks in my mind as really thrilling "Indiana Jones" stuff!

It seems to me that DA could never make up his mind what style he preferred, chopping and changing, and occasionally he tried GD's comedy "knockabout" style, although on the whole it never quite suited him and he seemed, sadly, to abandon it.

"Python Up a Tree" (about catching a 12 foot long python for London Zoo 30 feet up a tree, with the then athletic DA climbing a tree, cutting the branch it was on and then clambering down to grab wrestle and bag it with his local "helpers" looking on) was probably the best example. So the selection of this particular story by GD was part of a sort of mutual acknowledgement between authors.

Anway I digress. GD chose one of his own stories for the collection and he chose the chapter "The Chessboard Fields" from "My Family and Other Animals" so it is probably safe to assume this was a particular favourite for him and worthy of a little extract.

GD, out reptile collecting in the Chessboard Fields, meets Kosti and his vicious Black-backed gull Alecko (who knows his own name and is soon to join GD's menagerie at home):-

"My name's Kosti," he said "Kosti Panapoulos. I killed my Wife." ... "I come from here - from the hills, but I am now at Vido"

The reply puzzled me, for Vido was a tiny islet lying off the the town of Corfu, and as far as I knew it had no one on it at all except convicts and warders, for it was the local prison island. I pointed this out to him.

"Thats right, he agreed, stooping to pat Roger as he ambled past, "that's right - I'm a convict."

"I thought he was joking, and glanced at him sharply, but his expression was quite serious. I said I presumed he had just been let out."

"No, no worse luck," he smiled. "I have another two years to do. But I'm a good prisoner you see. Trustworthy and make no trouble. Any like me, those they feel they can trust, are allowed to make boats and sail home for the week-end, if its not too far. I've got to be back there first thing Monday morning."

Once the thing was explained, of course, it was simple. It never even occurred to me that the procedure was unusual. I knew one wasn't allowed home for week-ends from an English prison, but this was Corfu, and in Corfu anything can happen.

It turns out that Kosti found Alecko on an away-weekend trip to Albania in his sailing boat!

GD's "Family", of course, were not amused as usual:-

"A murderer?" said mother aghast. "But what's he doing wandering around the countryside? Why didn't they hang him?"

"They don't have the death penalty here for anything except bandits", explained Leslie; "you get three years for murder and five years if you're caught dynamiting fish."

"Ridiculous" said Mother indignantly. "I've never heard of anything so scandalous."

"I think it shows a nice sense of the importance of things," said Larry. "Whitebait before women".


'He seems such a nice man,' Mother said, when Kosti had taken his leave; 'he doesn't look a bit like a murderer.'

'What did you think a murderer looked like?' asked Larry - 'someone with a hare lip and a club foot, clutching a bottle marked POISON in one hand?'

'Don't be silly, dear; of course not. But I thought he'd look . . . well, you know, a little more murderous.'

'You simply can't judge by physical appearance,' Larry pointed out; 'you can only tell by a person's actions. I could have told you he was a murderer at once.'

'How, dear?' asked Mother, very intruiged.

'Elementary,' said Larry with a deprecating sigh. 'No one but a murderer would have thought of giving Gerry that albatross.'



Fireflies and the Virgin Mary and Child

That title should have rivetted your attention now this extract, the childhood part of which really deserved to have gone into My Family and Other Animals, comes from GD's 1981 How to Shoot an Amateur Naturalist. GD revisits Corfu and the now run-down Snow White Villa:-

"About a hundred yards from the [Snow White] villa there stood a family chapel, one of those charming miniature churches that you so frequently find dotted about the Greek countryside, built god knows when and dedicated to some obscure saint who had performed some miracle or other. This one was painted pink outside and was the size of a large room, with curious fold-back seats for the congregation at one end, over the altar a picture of the Virgin Mary and Child. Now it was all faded and forlorn, and a drift of old winter leaves half wedged open the doors and spread in piles across the floor. In my day, the floor had been swept and garnished, the seats polished, and two tiny oil lamps had been constantly burning with just enough light to illuminate the Virgin and Child, and fresh flowers were always kept in a vase below the portrait. Now all smelt of decay and there were no lamps to light and no flowers.

I remember once returning from some expedition of mine after dark and I saw that the doors of the little church had been accidentally left open. Putting down my butterfly-net and collecting bag, I went to close them and came upon an astonishing sight. It was the season of the fireflies, and when I got to the doors and looked into the little church there was the picture of the Virgin illuminated - seeming almost to float - in the daffodil-yellow light of the tiny oil-lamps, but as well there were dozens and dozens of fireflies that had flown in through the open doors and now drifted like greeny-white flashing stars around the interior of the church and others crawled over the seats and walls. A few had landed on the Virgin's portrait and decorated it like some pulsating, moving jewels, Enraptured, I watched this beautiful and eerie sight for a long time and then, fearing to lock the fireflies in the church in case they died, I spent an exhausting half-hour catching them with my butterfly net and releasing them, and as I did so I felt the portrait of the Virgin must have been sorry to lose such an exquisite decoration to her church."


Tropical Forests/Jungles in Literature

I've put these quotes together to "contrast and compare". Members might like to add to them and some photos would be terrific anyone??

The first author needs no introduction at least.

THE FOREST BY DAY by Gerald Durrell from The Overloaded Ark West Africa)

"The forest is not the hot, foetid, place some writers would have you believe; neither is it so thick and tangled as to make it impenetrable..."

"As you enter the forest, your eyes used to the glare of the sun, it seems dark and shadowy, and as cool as a butter dish. The light is filtered through a million leaves, and so has a curious green aquarium-like quality which makes everything seem unreal..."

"There is no life to be seen in the great forest, except by chance, unless you know exactly where to look for it"

THE SCHOOLING OF A HUNTER by Adrian Cowell from The Heart of the Forest (S. America)

"He (the Indian) knows that ... in the jungle things go up and down and they do not go along. Self-centred beings, we civilizados, tend to assume that all life proceeds on the same plane as our own, that of the horizontal, whereas in the forest most life struggles up towards the sun and at death drops away from it. It is the rhythm of living. ... The forest is, in essence, the trees that grow in it, and not, as we assume the ground which holds them at the roots. It would be more accurate to conceive of jungle animals as living in skyscrapers rather than on a piece of bush-covered soil."

Not convinced its safe? Would it be a good idea to take a gun with you into the jungle. Here are a couple of tips:-

EXPLORATION FAWCETT by Col. P H Fawcett (S. America)

Fawcett - the famous Amazon explorer - favoured leaving your rifle at home. Mind you this might have been the biggest mistake he ever made. Here's the theory:-

"It is far more dangerous to shoot a large beast than to leave it alone and as for savages - well the savage who is intent on killing you is invisible; and a rifle cannot compete with poisoned darts or arrows in a forest ambush!"

I'd like to finish with Gerald Durrell but I cannot resist this which I think he would have liked (and Leslie Durrell?). Redmond is worried about Borneo cannibals and has decided to take a Smith & Wesson pistol "just in case" with him but he has to get it through airport Customs on arrival.


"Why you bring gun?" asked the Malay officer with a weary grin.

"Its-er-for shooting wild pig"

"No, no its because you think we all just down from the trees here. You think only England civilised country."

"Er-not at all-this is a wonderful country."

"Very true, my friend. So you not need gun. I take it for store. You make British Council write for you. We let you take it away - when you go away."


"There is a rather poignant story about GD and the Jersey tamarins just before GD died but I cannot track it down just at the moment in the Botting Biography - maybe Fonofbafut could relate it when he gets there." Shoarns

OK, I finally got there, on a 747 to Singapore.

"A couple of times Lee was able to drive Gerald about the zoo. At one point three little golden-headed lion tamarin monkeys climbed through the open car window and sat on Gerry's lap, to his intense delight and joy - after almost a year, ashen and haggard, he was back in the world of his beloved animals where he most truly belonged."

I was prepared for despair as Gerry died, but reading this book gave me hope. He fought and survived long enough to set in process his life long dreams.

Can we do as much?



Madagascar - Solar Eclipse

On Thursday 21st June 2001, the moon passed in front the sun and through a coincidence of celestial mechanics and geometry its shadow exactly covered the sun along a 125 mile/200 kilometre wide band of the world's southern hemispere. Travelling at about 1,500 mph (2,400 kilometres per hour) darkness fell for a short period as a total eclipse crossed the Southern Atlantic Ocean making landfall in Western Africa in Angola, angling slightly south, passing through Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Madagascar, finally ending in the Indian Ocean..

In southern Madagascar the eclipse occurred quite late in the evening with the Sun 12 degrees or less above the western horizon. The central duration of the total eclipse was 2 minutes 35 seconds as the shadow stretched across the entire breadth of the island.

Madagascar separated from the African continent some 20 million years ago, marooning its now unique wildlife, like the mainly nocturnal lemurs. No doubt observers on Madagascar will be studying the effect of the unexpected nightfall on the local wildlife.

As a matter of interest the interval between total eclipses, in any one place, is on average 375 years. The interval can be as long as a 1000 years in some places though. At the other extreme there is a place in Angola which will see a total eclipse on Thursday and another on December 4th 2002. The inhabitants will be wondering at the chances of this happening to them.

Theodore Stephanides, Gerald Durrells Corfu tutor, was keen on astronomy. He had a telescope "its nose to the sky like a howling dog" in his much envied study. He wrote much about the subject later in life but he is famous for his "impish" humour so here is a little sample of Theo that combines the two:-

How sad it looks, the rising moon,

How sorrowful its face;

I wish a gleam of happiness

That anguish could replace.

Yet I would get a nasty shock,

My brain would reel and spin,

Were I to see the full moon rise

One evening with a grin!

© Theodore Stephanides

Gerald Durrell dedicated The Amateur Naturalist to Theo. Observing wildlife behaviour during an eclipse would be just the sort of thing that The Amateur Naturalist was written to encourage.

I have tried to find a well known author who was keen on natural history and made observations during a total eclipse. This is a tall order because, apart from paucity of opportunity, only the keenest of Amateur Naturalists would, of course, be able to ignore the eclipse itself. But not impossible!

If you want to remember just two things about Arthur Ransome's extraordinary life (1884-1967) they are that he wrote the Swallows and Amazon series of books "for children of all ages" set mainly in the English Lake District and Norfolk Broads and that he married Trotsky's Secretary. He was also, less memorably perhaps, once on the reporting staff of the English newspaper The Manchester Guardian.

In 1927 there was a Total Eclipse of the sun over England and, of course, it was cloudy over most of England but Ransome was fortunate enough to find himself in one of the rare places with a clear sky - Yorkshire. What did he do? He went fishing of course - what else? He reported on the event afterwards to his readers.

"A Naturalist should also be an an assiduous note-taker, recording every detail of his job with accuracy and neatness. He knows that a simple note made now may be of great value in solving a problem in the future. The majority of great Naturalists have been enormously modest, seeing themselves as very privileged to live in this modest and complex world and to be given the opportunity of unravelling some of its secrets. Towards the end of his life Darwin, having completed his mammoth works ... wrote to a friend and said that he wished he could have been of greater help to the world."

Gerald Durrell The Amateur Naturalist (1982)

"During previous eclipses it had been observed that cattle stopped feeding, and that birds, mistaking the approaching shadow for evening, flew to their resting places. Hens are said to be much worried by such phenomena. I had a sort of hope that fish would show their feelings in some remarkable way. ... I could find no mention of the effect of the eclipse on fish, but, if cattle stopped feeding that would not necessarily mean that fish would do the same, and if birds flew to their roosting place that would seem to mean that they thought night was upon them, and, if fish should reason in the same way, there might, at 6.24 in the morning of June 29 1927 be a very satisfactory Evening Rise.

At 5:40 I saw a good splashing rise and a fish came half out of the water. The sun showed through the clouds like a bright saucer out of which some mad hatter had taken a bite. A wind came up. I pulled into the middle of the tarn. Fish were still feeding, and I caught a small one under half a pound who went back, not to be deprived of the experience that was coming, ... The light was waning, but not much more noticeably than it often does under a thunder-cloud. The geese, up on the hillside, moved off rapidly. ... The sheep stopped feeding and moved restlessly about in little groups. Fish still rose. Then the speed of events seemed to quicken. Everything went suddenly dark. The noise of the curlews, peewits and small upland birds stopped. There was absolute silence, and it was as if a roof had been put over the tarn. I had a glimpse of the shrouded sun. but no attention for it casting carefully in places where a few moments before the fish had been rising, and watching and listening for the movement of a fish. The tarn was dead. I saw no rise and heard no rise. It was exactly like fishing a pool in a river over which a fisherman has inadvertantly moved his own shadow.

That, I think, is what the eclipse seemed to the trout. It was like the sudden passing of a tremendous shadow ... of a solid body ... and they ... buried themselves in the weeds or deepest water.

The shadow passed and the tarn was again in daylight, but it was twenty minutes later that I saw the first fish rise."

©Arthur Ransome (1927)



DB © Douglas Bottings Gerald Durrell The Authorised Biography

GD © Gerald Durrell

DA © Sir David Attenborough

JZ Jersey Zoo © DWCT

MM Menagerie Manor© Gerald Durrell 1964

MOM Marrying Off Mother & other stories (1991)

SO The Stationary Ark © Gerald Durrell (1976)

HTSAAN How to Shoot an Amateur Naturalist © Gerald Durrell (1984)

TAA The Arks Anniversary © Gerald Durrell  (1990)

MFAOA My Family and Other Animals © Gerald Durrell  (1956)

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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.

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