xx My Family and Other Animals xx
Gerald Durrell was one of the pioneering conservationists of the Twentieth Century. His conservation and zoology efforts were funded through extensive and popular forays into television and writing. The most popular and enduring work being My Family and Other Animals the story of his childhood adventures in Corfu. This book sat on my shelf from an early age, but remained unread until about three years ago when I first ventured into his intriguing animal world.
The success of the writing lies in the brilliant blend of biography and zoology. Gerry’s dysfunctional family: the long suffering Mother; the eldest Larry a writer of frustrated genius; gun mad Leslie; and the acne-prone and unlucky in love Margo interact with each other, the locals and the wildlife that Gerry collects. They inhabit a series of villas where every matchbox could be the home of a family of scorpions; where dinner can be interrupted by an angry gull under the table; and where ‘magenpies’ can disrupt a room more thoughroughly than any thief. It is impossible for one to read without laughing and more importantly without learning.
With his wit and humour Gerald Durrell created a window into nature through his own childlike wonder as an eleven year old set loose in biological paradise that is Corfu. It is through the eyes of Gerry that we can appreciate and wonder that earwigs present different behaviour in guarding their eggs at night or that sea slugs squirt water from each end when you squeeze them in the middle. His intense fascination can lead even those disinterested in nature to appreciate the need to preserve our unique ecology.
This message was also reinforced by Gerald Durrell’s success in creating his own zoo and education facility as a base for his worldwide conservation projects. Durrell Zoo in Jersey (Channel Island) is run by the charitable Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and is a fitting memorial to the man who preceded David Attenborough as the voice of conservation.
My Family and Other Animals occupies significant part in popular history. There has been a successful BBC telemovie adaptation and many printed editions, including in the Popular Penguins series. So read, laugh and learn about the world we should be striving to protect.