Sign up for our Free email Newsletter
and get all the latest wildlife news!

Gerald Durrell


Gerald Durrell was born in Jamshedpur, India, on 7th January 1925. Following the death of his father in 1928 the family moved back to the UK, but spurred on by Gerald's oldest brother, Lawrence, they soon returned to a warmer climate, this time the island of Corfu.

Here Gerald Durrell's interest in animals and all things living blossomed, fuelled by a friendship with Dr Theodore Stephanides, whose fascination with the animal world inspired the 10-year-old Gerald.

Honours and Honorary Degrees

  • 1956 Fellow of the International Institute of Arts and Letters
  • 1974 Fellow of the Institute of Biology - London
  • 1976 Diploma de Honour - Argentine Society for the Protection of Animals
  • 1977 LHD - Doctor of Humane Letters - Yale University
  • 1981 Officer of the Golden Ark
  • 1982 O.B.E. - Order of the British Empire
  • 1988 DSc. - Doctor of Science - University of Durham
  • 1988 Richard Hooper Day Medal - Academy of Natural Science, Philadelphia
  • 1989 DSc. - Doctor of Science- University of Kent, Canterbury
In 1939, with a war looming, the Durrell family moved back to the UK and settled in the coastal town of Bournemouth. Gerald started working in a local pet shop and then as a stable-hand and riding instructor. After the war, he became a student keeper at the Zoological Society of London's Whipsnade Park to gain experience with a wider variety of animals.

Author & collector
On his 21st birthday, Gerald inherited £3000 which he used to finance his first animal collecting expedition. For the next ten years he travelled the world collecting animals for the major British zoological gardens. Encouraged by his older brother Lawrence, he took up a second career as a writer, publishing his first book, ‘The Overloaded Ark', in 1953. In his lifetime he wrote 37 books, including the best-seller ‘My Family and Other Animals', which humorously documented his childhood years in Corfu. The book, which has never been out of print since it was published in 1956, has been translated into 31 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide.

In February 1951, aged 26, Gerald married Jaqueline Rasen, who accompanied him on numerous expeditions. Although the couple separated in 1976, it was Jaqueline who encouraged Gerry to follow his dream and create his own zoo with the animals he collected.

Durrell Zoo founded
In the mid-50s, to the despair of local neighbours, Gerald filled his sister's back garden in Bournemouth with exotic animals, but without having anywhere to take them. Following an unsuccessful two-year search for a site in England, Gerald eventually came to the Channel Islands where a retired major's house turned out to be the perfect place for his zoo. The Jersey Zoo opened to the public on 26th March 1959.

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

Built on 32 acres of beautiful farmland the Jersey Zoo has grown into an internationally renowned conservation organisation, fulfilling Gerald's original dream of creating a safe haven for animals. Since 1963, when the "zoo" was turned into a charitable trust, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has established breeding groups of many species of endangered mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, and pioneered the return of their progeny to the wild.

Lee Durrell

In 1977, whilst on a lecture tour, Gerald met Lee McGeorge, an instructor of zoology at Duke University in the US, where she was studying for a PhD. Following their marriage in 1979, they travelled the world together, visiting various conservation projects, making television programmes, giving lectures on conservation and collecting animals for breeding programmes in Jersey.

Gerald Durrell died on January 30th 1995, in Jersey, aged 70. He left an indelible mark on the conservation world and a valuable legacy for future generations. His mission and vision continue through the tireless work of Durrell's dedicated conservationists throughout the world, and his wife, Lee, who succeeded him as Honorary Director.

"His most important contribution to zoology was in the field of animal conservation and what became known as Durrell's Army- the people he ‘trained' from around the world to go back to their own countries and save animals for themselves." -Desmond Morris