Durrell - More than a pretty face
Gerald Durrell had a vision, a grand plan to save the world's rarest and most endangered animals. He was most famous as an author, and founder of the Jersey Zoo, but he was also amongst the very first people to foresee the need to conserve our natural world, and the species therein. And he didn't just see the need, he did something about it too. Having worked at several zoos, Durrell became disillusioned with the way that they were run, and determined to run his own zoo as an ‘ark'; a place where rare and endangered species could be kept, studied, bred, and, if necessary, reintroduced back into the wild.
Gerald Durrell died in 1995 but his work goes on, and the goals he set for himself have now been adopted by people the world over. To achieve his vision, he founded the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which is based in Jersey but whose work is mostly undertaken in far flung corners of the globe.
Gerald Durrell also envisaged a centre of learning and excellence, where subsequent generations of biologists, zoologists, conservators and vets from all over the world could come to learn what they needed to know to continue the work, and to take those skills back to their own countries. The first person to receive training at Durrell, Youssef Mungroo, came to the Trust in 1977 and went on to become the head of the National Parks and Conservation Service of the Government of Mauritius .
One 'Gerry's' greatest legacies is the International Training Centre (ITC), where students from all over the world study and learn the latest techniques in conservation. The students then take their newly acquired knowledge back to their own countries, and from their they often help train more local staff and trainees. And as this learning takes root, Durrell in Jersey will become more and more a centre of excellence and a seat of learning. The staff at Durrell make regular field trips to their overseas projects, and their overseas staff make regular trips back to Jersey; all designed to keep a regular flow of information and data passing around their different centres of expertise.
A major part of Durrell's work happens overseas, in Madagascar, Mauritius, Montserrat and other non-alliterative islands, thousands of miles from Jersey. Durrell have a field staff that are constantly working all over the world on the projects to save many of the world's rarest and most endangered species, and they have been credited with saving many of the world's most endangered species from extinction.
SOME SPECIES SAVED FROM EXTINCTION BY DURRELL
Pygmy hog - Thought to be extinct in the 1960's a tiny remnant population was discovered on a tea plantation in Assam. Starting with only six hogs caught from the wild, the Durrell team established a breeding centre in Basistha near Guawahati. Several families have recently been reintroduced into the wild.
Round Island boa - The boas suffered from the loss of their habitat, but a restoration programme for Round Island run by Durrell and its partners has removed introduced goats and rabbits from the island and allowed native habitat to regrow. This in turn has helped numbers of the boas' natural prey - small reptiles - to increase, and the boa population has climbed from about 250 in the 1990s to about 1000.
Mauritius Kestrel - In 1974 just 4 of these birds were know to exist. Durrell's captive breeding and management means there are now more than 800 wild birds.
Mauritius pink pigeon - By 1991, just 10 Pink pigeons were left in the wild, but Durrell's work in Mauritius had already started, and a captive breeding population had been secured. There are now more than 350 wild birds, and a secure captive population.
Blue iguana - This beautiful dragon-like lizard, endemic to the island of Grand Cayman was on the brink of extinction in 2000. With support from Durrell and other international partners, the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme has been successfully breeding the iguanas in captivity since 1990, and has begun reintroducing the animals into the wild. In 2005 there were only five animals left in the wild - now there are more than 200.
Madagascar pochard - Thought extinct, but rediscovered in 2006. In 2009 it was estimated that there were only 20 Madagascar pochards left in the world and Durrell, in partnership with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, The Peregrine Fund and the Madagascar Government began an emergency operation to save the species from extinction. Three clutches of eggs were collected from the wild and 23 ducklings were reared. These birds will now form the basis of a captive-rearing project in Madagascar with the aim of one day returning this duck to other parts of Madagascar