Gerald Durrell, OBE (19251995)

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  • Gerald Durrell, OBE (1925-1995)

    Gerald Durrell was born in India on 7 January 1925 and died in Jersey 3 weeks after his 70th birthday. He was a writer and con- servationist of international status who had been a member of the BOU since 1960.

    The unusual zoo that he founded in Jersey in 1959 became, 5 years later, the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust and took as its emblem the extinct Dodo of Mauritius Raphus cucullatus. The Trust specializes in the breeding in captivity of rare animals endemic to various of the worlds islands, and in the training of local persons who are responsible for the maintenance of those islands habitats and nature reserves. The Trusts success in bringing the Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus from a low point of just 4 individuals to the 80 pairs now in the wild, and the Mauritius Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri from 15 to the present 150 is well known. What is not so well know is that the head of the National Park in Mauritius, created at the behest of Gerald Durrell to provide a home for the pigeon, the kestrel and the Echo Parakeet Psittacula echo, was trained in Jersey. Other endangered bird species that Jersey Zoo has researched and bred include the Waldrapp Ibis Geroniticus eremita, Bali Starling Leucopsar rothschildi. Mellers Duck Anas melleri and St Lucia Parrot Amazona versicolor. The University of Kent has established the Dur- re11 Institute of Conservation and Ecology in his honour.

    To the world outside ornithology, Gerry was known mainly for his huge success as an author. His first book, The Overloaded Ark (1953) was written so he could finance his work as an animal col- lector for zoos. Its amusing style made it a best seller. The Bayfoot Beagles (1994) and My Family and Other Animals (1956) followed, the latter being later adapted for a television series and selected as an 0-level English text for schooI children, thus ensuring even more

    Gerald Durrell. releasing a captive-bred Mauritius Kestrel.

    fans of his funny insights into animal behaviour-a little anthro- pomorphic at times, but heart-warming and wonderful propaganda for zoology and for conservation in the field. His books, 37 in all, did not have the prestige of those of his brother Lawrence, but were read by a wholly different audience many of whom, to judge by the letters that reached Jersey after his death, had been touched by his charisma and felt him to be a personal friend.

    He was indeed, a delightful friend, perfect host and witty letter- writer and raconteur. In 1959 he married Lee McGeorge, an Amer- ican zoologist, who provided him in great measure, with the love, security and happiness that he deserved.

    Janet Kear

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