Saving species from extinction

Gerald Durrell O.B.E.

7 January 1925 - 30 January 1995

Gerald DurrellGerald 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.

To learn more about Gerald and the Durrell family in Corfu, please see Durrell School of Corfu.

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.

Gerry with baby GorillaAt the age of 21 he inherited £3,000 with which he financed, organised and led his first animal collecting expedition – to the British Cameroons. For the next ten years he travelled to many lesser known parts of the world, acquiring animals for the major British zoological gardens. 

During brief interludes between expeditions, Gerry launched his second career. Encouraged by Lawrence, he began writing stories of his animal escapades for magazines and radio broadcasts, publishing his first book, The Overloaded Ark, in 1953. He eventually wrote 33 books, including the best-selling The Bafut Beagles, A Zoo in My Luggage, Catch Me a Colobus, The Stationary Ark, The Ark’s Anniversary and, his final book, The Aye-aye and I, published in 1992.

Spider web Gerald Durrell quoteGerry’s unique insight into the animal kingdom and the engaging humour with which he described his adventures made him one of the most widely read authors of animal stories. His humorous account of his Corfu childhood, My Family and Other Animals, has sold millions of copies worldwide and his books have been translated into 31 languages.

Gerry also hosted seven television series as well as making numerous appearances on television and radio programmes. His early years of collecting expeditions were filmed by the BBC Natural History Unit. Later series, including The Amateur Naturalist and Durrell in Russia, were filmed by independent producers for Channel 4 and subsequently sold to networks and satellite stations in over 40 countries, reaching 150 million viewers.

 

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. Gerry’s mission and vision continue through the tireless work of Durrell’s dedicated conservationists throughout the world.

“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

Honours And Honorary Degrees

Year Achievement 
1956Fellow of the International Institute of Arts and Letters
1974Fellow of the Institute of Biology - London
1976Diploma de Honor – Argentine Society for the Protection of Animals
1977 LHD – Doctor of Humane Letters – Yale University
1981Officer of the Golden Ark
1982O.B.E. – Order of the British Empire
1988 DSc. – Doctor of Science – University of Durham
1988Richard Hooper day Medal – Academy of Natural Science, Philadelphia
1989DSc. – Doctor of Science – University of Kent at Canterbury