At the age of three he moved to England and later spent four idyllic years growing up in Corfu with his mother, sister and brothers. In the 1940s he worked at a pet shop, on a farm near Bournemouth and at Whipsnade Zoo. His two main ambitions were to become an animal collector and to set up his own zoo.
He wrote seven popular books in the period 1953-1958 about his experiences studying and collecting animals, all the while developing plans to establish a charitable Trust for the breeding of endangered species as an aid to their survival, assisted by research, training and education.
Jersey Zoo had a fine collection of animals from the beginning. There were numerous rare monkeys and other mammals, as well as birds and reptiles. Even before the zoo opened to the public, a number of animals had bred. Gerald’s book Menagerie Manor recounts the early days of the zoo.
A governing Council was set up, and ownership of Jersey Zoo passed to the new Trust. Gerald continued to antagonize the British zoo establishment with what it considered his ‘peculiar’ notions of breeding threatened species for conservation, particularly concentrating on the smaller, less showy species.
This was the Trust’s first major successful breeding programme for a threatened species, significantly increasing the world captive population. The Trust’s reputation was growing, and the breeding record was impressive: 30 species of mammals, 49 species of birds and 4 species of reptiles. Research and education programmes had begun.
More than 300 people attended this groundbreaking conference. It was a huge success, bringing into focus the pioneering work of the Trust, and an important step in the movement for zoos to contribute to conservation rather than be a drain on wildlife.
The baby gorilla was a male called Assumbo, born to Nandi and Jambo. Assumbo is now the silverback leader of the gorilla family at a zoo in Germany. Jambo’s descendants number well over a hundred in zoos around the world.
Two years later, on May 24th, Gerald and Lee were married in Memphis in her parents’ back garden. Over the next decade they travelled the world making television documentaries and writing books about animals and conservation.
Celebrations included the Trust’s Patron, Princess Anne, who officially opened the International Training Centre on 5th October, followed by the Festival of Animals at Fort Regent in which many of Gerald’s famous friends participated.
Species collected were the elusive aye-aye, a most bizarre lemur; the Lac Alaotran gentle lemur, a marsh-dwelling animal; and, from the west, the giant jumping rat and the flat-tailed tortoise. All of them settled down quickly in Jersey and began to breed.
In June a memorial celebration was held in the great hall of the British Museum of Natural, attended by more than one thousand people. Gerald had a unique charisma, which opened many doors, and a particular talent for persuading people to help the cause. He left an extraordinary legacy in the field of species conservation.