The Stationary Ark by Gerald Durrell (1976)


"What we tried to do in Jersey is create a new sort of  zoo.  I think we have succeeded".  

In this important book Gerald Durrell describes his battles to create his vision of a new sort of zoo at Jersey, through to the mid 1970's, with descriptions of his successes and failures on the way with a liberal sprinkling of zoo animal tales.

"I was told that the inherent difficulties of keeping and breeding rare and threatened animals were enormous, insurmountable in many cases. Though I am not suggesting that breeding wild animals, is a simple operation, it can be done, as is proved by our breeding record which, for our size, is phenomenal and improving yearly".

Much of the Gerald Durrell's longstanding basic captive breeding and conservation vision, which may, in a new century, seem almost obvious, is set out here along with prophecies - just one almost throwaway instance "In our next step, we plan to form the Trust into a kind of mini-university of wildlife husbandry and breeding".

There is too much here for a summary to do justice but mention must be made of his explanation of how the layman, and even the zoos, themselves often misunderstands the housing needs of animals kept in captivity (the animals need for a "territory" rather than a design award), the dietary needs of animals (interesting and nutritional), zoo buildings houses enclosures and architecture theory, captive animal stimulation ("freedom from boredom"), breeding, record keeping  and much more. In short:

"The purpose of keeping any collection of wild animals in confinement should be threefold; first, to conduct as complete as possible a biological study of every species, especially those aspects which are too difficult or too costly to study in the wild and which may help in the preservation of that species in its natural habitat; second, to aid severely endangered species by setting up, under ideal conditions, protected breeding groups and, eventually, a reintroduction programme, so helping to ensure their future survival; thirdly, by the display and explanation of this work to the public, to persuade people of the vital necessity and urgency for the overall conservation of nature."

In this book Gerald Durrell established his ground rules for animal cages and enclosures - to strive to provide:-

1. A cage which constitutes a territory seemingly suitable to the animal and providing an area of security to which he can retreat when under stress.

2. A mate, or mates, considered suitable by the animal.

3. An adequate diet, which is considered interesting by the animal and nutritional by you.

4. As much freedom from boredom as possible, i.e. plenty of "furniture" in the cages and, if possible, a neighbour or two to have exciting, acrimonious, but unsanguinary battles and disputes with.

"You are not necessarily depriving him of his liberty, for territory is a form of natural cage and the word "liberty" does not have the same connotation for an animal as it does for a chest-beating liberal homo sapiens, who can afford the luxury of abstract ideas. What you are, in fact, doing is much more important, you are taking away his territory, so you must take great care to provide him with an adequate substitute, or you will get a bored, sick or dead animal on your hands.

The thing that turns a cage into a territory may be something quite slight, but it need not be size. It might be the shape of the cage, the number of branches or the lack of them, the absence or presence of a pond, a patch of sand, a chunk of log, which could make all the difference. Such a detail, trivial to the uninformed visitor, can help the animal consider this area his territory, rather than simply a place where he ekes out his existence. As I say it is not necessarily size which is of prime importance. This is where people who criticise zoos go wrong, for they generally have little idea what circumscribed lives most animals lead. ..."

THE STATIONARY ARK © Gerald Durrell 1976


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