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How the "zoo in Durrell's luggage" became the Jersey Zoo.
on 13 July 2005
Naturalist/writer Gerald Durrell, with a writer's eye for unusual detail, a great sense of humor and absurdity, and an unquenchable enthusiasm for finding unique animals, recounts his third animal-collecting trip to the Cameroons in this classic 1960 memoir, recently reprinted. Supplying other people's zoos for many years, Durrell, on this trip, intends to collect specimens for his own zoo, one which will be open to the public and which will become a "self-supporting laboratory" with a captive breeding program to prevent the extinction of these species.
Arriving on the west coast of Cameroon, Durrell uses pidgin to converse with the Africans and refers to all animals as "beef," but he soon acquires many rare animals from the local population. A frightening canoe ride through hippo-infested waters, an attempt to capture a fifteen-foot python, a search for the blue-scalped, bald-headed Picanthartes bird, and the experience of smoking out a hollow tree keep Durrell and his staff energized and excited before they head to the highlands. There, Durrell stays with the charming Fon of Bafut, a elderly king with many wives, and he and Durrell enjoy many long evenings of talk, dance, and whisky. Soon the Fon's compound fills up with hundreds more captive reptiles, birds, and animals, including a half-grown baboon, a five-year-old chimp, and a baby chimp, all of which provide innumerable, often hilarious adventures.
Durrell provides details about the caring and feeding of these animals, and he and his staff prove to be very "hands-on" caretakers, often having animals creep into their beds. The logistics of building cages and, eventually, packing them for the trip home, reveal the level of detail necessary to keep these animals healthy and calm so they can survive the trip to England. Upon his return, Durrell then begins the daunting task of trying to find a place to house these rare specimens, a task he neglected ahead of time.
A lively writer with a commitment to conservation but a tremendous sense of fun, Durrell gives the flavor of the whole trip, not just the academic details, providing realism at the same time that he reveals irrepressible humor, much of it directed at himself. His sensitivity to his surroundings, which he conveys through vibrant descriptions, makes the countryside come alive, while his anecdotes about the animals and the people he meets show his interest in expanding his knowledge while fully participating in events around him. Though there is no epilogue to bring the reader up to date on the success of Durrell's zoo or its captive breeding program, this information is readily available at: [...] Mary Whipple