Menagerie Manor

Gerald Durrell

Menagerie Manor.

In last month’s Newswire, we visited the Cameroons via the words of Gerald Durrell in his book, The Bafut Beagles. This month, we travel to a somewhat less exotic locale, the English Channel island of Jersey, where Mr. Durrell was eventually able to found the zoo he’d hankered for since the age of five or so. In Menagerie Manor, the author recalls some of the trials and tribulations involved in establishing and running a private zoo. The Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, as Mr. Durrell’s zoo is known, is not only a place to see wonderful animals; it is dedicated to saving endangered species by establishing breeding programs for as many of them as it can. There was great excitement at the zoo when the first pair of cotton-eared marmosets produced twins:

“...Instead, very early one morning, Jeremy burst into my bedroom with the news that he thought the marmoset was about to give birth, so, hastily flinging on some clothes I rushed down to the Mammal House. There I found the parents to be both unperturbed, clinging to the wire of their cage and chittering hopefully at any human who passed. It was quite obvious from the female’s condition that she would give birth fairly soon, but she seemed infinitely less worried by the imminence of this event than I. Getting myself a chair, I sat down to watch. I stared at the female marmoset, and she stared at me, while in the corner of the cage her husband - with typical male callousness - sat stuffing himself on grapes and mealworms, and took not the slightest notice of his wife.

Three hours later there was absolutely no change, except that the male marmoset had finished all the grapes and mealworms. By then my secretary had arrived and, as I had a lot of letters to answer, I made her bring a chair and sit down beside me in front of the marmoset cage while I dictated. I think that visitors to the Zoo that day must have thought slightly eccentric the sight of a man dictating letters, while keeping his eyes fixed hypnotically on a cageful of marmosets. Then, about midday, someone arrived whom I had to see. I was away approximately ten minutes, and on my return the father marmoset was busy washing two tiny scraps of fur that were clinging to him vigorously. I could quite cheerfully have strangled the female marmoset; after all my patient waiting, she went and gave birth during the short period I happened to be away.

Still, I could watch the father looking after the babies, and I had to be content with that. He looked after the twins with great care and devotion, generally carrying them slung one on each hip, like a couple of panniers on a donkey. His fur was so thick and the babies so small that most of the time they were completely hidden; then, suddenly, from the depths of his fur, a tiny face, the size of a large hazel nut, would appear, and two bright eyes would regard you gravely....”

Like all Durrell’s books, Menagerie Manor enchants, entertains, and educates us, asking readers to take a long look at, and consider the lives of the creatures with whom we share this small planet - the fate of the extinct ones could be ours. Be sure to read all about it.

Copyright © 2003, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.