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Issue 12
, 2009
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People and Places/Gerald Durrell

Source: Wikipedia, Date: , 2009

In this edition's People and Places we pay tribute to Gerald ('Gerry') Malcolm Durrell, OBE (January 7, 1925 – January 30, 1995). A well known  naturalist and conservationist, Gerry ,as he was more fondly called by his friends and family,was also zookeeper,author, and television presenter all rolled into one.. He founded what is now called the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Jersey Zoo (now renamed Durrell Wildlife) on the Channel Island of Jersey in 1958, but is perhaps best
remembered for writing a number of books based on his life as an animal collector and enthusiast.

 Born in Jamshedpur, then Bihar Province, India on January 7, 1925 Durrell left India and moved with his family to England after his father's death in 1928. The family moved to the Greek island of Corfu in 1935 and stayed there till 1939 . . This interval was later the basis of the book My Family and Other Animals and its successors, Birds, Beasts, and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods, plus a few short stories like "My Donkey Sally".

Durrell was home-schooled during this time by various family friends and private tutors, mostly friends of his eldest brother Lawrence (who later became a famous novelist). One of them, the Greek doctor, scientist, poet, and philosopher Theodore
Stephanides, became Durrell's greatest friend and mentor.Together, they examined Corfu fauna, which Durrell housed in everything from test tubes to bathtubs. Another major influence during these formative years, according to Durrell, was the writing of French
naturalist Jean Henri Fabre.

Durrell left Whipsnade Zoo in May, 1946 in order to join wildlife collecting expeditions of the time, but was denied a place in the voyages due to his lack of experience. Durrell's wildlife expeditions began with a 1947 trip to the British Cameroons (now Cameroon) with ornithologist John Yealland, financed by a £3,000 inheritance from his father on the occasion of his turning 21. The animals he brought back were sold to London Zoo, Chester Zoo, Paignton Zoo, Bristol Zoo and Belle Vue Zoo (Manchester). He continued such excursions for many decades, during which time he became famous for his work for wildlife conservation.

He followed up this successful expedition with two others, accompanied by fellow Whipsnade zookeeper Ken Smith: a repeat trip to the British Cameroon, and to British Guiana (now Guyana) in 1949 and 1950 respectively.The publication of My Family and Other Animals in 1956 made Durrell a notable author, in addition, bringing him public recognition as a naturalist. Royalties from this book, which made bestseller lists in the United Kingdom, helped fund Durrell's next expedition.Durrell's initiative caused the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society to start the World Conference on Breeding Endangered Species in Captivity as an Aid to their Survival in 1972 at Jersey, today one of the most prestigious conferences in the field. 1972.

In the '70s Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust became a leading zoo in the field of captive breeding, championing the cause among species like the Lowland Gorilla, and various Mauritian fauna. Durrell visited Mauritius several times and co-ordinated large scale
conservation efforts in Mauritius, involving captive breeding programmes for native birds and reptiles, ecological recovery of Round Island, training local staff, and setting up local in-situ and ex-situ conservation facilities. This ultimately led to the founding of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation in 1984.

In 1978 Durrell started the training centre for conservationists at the zoo, or the "mini-university" in his words. As of 2005, over a thousand biologists, naturalists, zoo veterinarians, and zoo architects from 104 countries have attended the International Training
Centre. Durrell was also instrumental in forming the Captive Breeding Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union in 1982.
Durrell founded Wildlife Preservation Trust Canada, now Wildlife Preservation Canada, in 1985. The official appeal Saving Animals from Extinction was launched in 1991, at a time when British zoos were not faring well and London Zoo was in danger of closing down.

In 1989, Durrell and his wife Lee, along with David Attenborough and cricket star David Gower helped launch the World Land Trust (then the World Wide Land Conservation Durrell chose the Dodo, the flightless bird of Mauritius that was hunted to extinction in the 1600s, as the logo for both the Jersey Zoo and the Trust. The children's chapter of the Trust is called the Dodo Club. Following his death, the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust was renamed Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust at the 40th anniversary of the Zoo on 26 March, 1999.

A memorial celebrating Durrell's life and work was held at the Natural History Museum, London on June 28, 1995. Participants included personal friends like the famous television presenter David Attenborough and Princess Anne.Gerald Durrell always insisted that he wrote for royalties to help the cause of environmental stewardship, not out of an inherent love for writing.