While I have spoken to a lot of people and a good number of foundations, I hadn’t had the chance to speak to an animal welfare foundation and I’m thrilled to bring you my interview with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, named of course for their famous founder, author Gerald Durrell.
As a child, and now, I loved the books of Gerald Durrell, and I hope sharing this interview with you, I can in some way repay some of the joy he gave.
My great thanks to Ceri Pritchett, one of the volunteers at the Durrell Foundation, for her time and effort in answering my questions all the way from Jersey, Channel Islands!
What is the Durrell Foundation all about?
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust strives to save the most threatened species in the most threatened places around the world. We believe that biodiversity is an essential part of human survival, and our aim is to ensure that we can persist alongside the myriad of animals and plants that inhabit our planet.
Durrell is staffed by the most passionate professionals, and we’ve passed that passion on to over 3,500 conservationists from 137 countries. We’ve restored barren islands to thriving eco-systems that were ‘dead’ just decades before. Gerald Durrell (founder) changed the role of ‘zoos’ from attractions (or even animal prisons) to ‘arks’ for endangered species.
This is why our motto is a quote from Gerald himself, “Saving species from extinction”.
How long has the foundation been in existence?
Gerald & Jacquie Durrell officially opened Jersey Zoo in 1959, at Les Augrès Manor, Trinity, Jersey. Jersey Wildlife Park Trust was founded in 1963. On the 40th anniversary of the park opening, Lee Durrell renamed the park & the trust ‘Durrell Wildlife Park’ and ‘Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust’, in his honour.
How can people from other cities or countries become involved or support you?
On our website there is a “You” tab. Upon clicking this, you will find all the various ways that you can help support Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
|Black Lion Tamarin source www.durrell.org|
You can also support us by following us on Twitter, joining our Google+ circles, liking our photos on Instagram, and by liking our pages on Facebook. All likes, shares, pluses and retweets help to spread the conservation message to people that may not know about us and the work that we do.
What are some of the species that you have effectively helped?
We have helped all the animals that have been through our gates, and more. Here are just a few examples:
- Skinks – Telfairs; Orange-Tailed; and Bojers
- Round Island Boa
- Fruit Bats – Rodriguez; and Livingston
- Pink Pigeon
- Mountain Chicken Frog
- Echo Parakeet
- Ploughshare Tortoise
- St Lucia Parrot
- Nactus Durrelli (a gecko named after Gerald)
- Lac Aloatron Gentle Bamboo Lemur
- Mauritius Olive White-Eye
- Haitian Galliwasp
- Iguana – Lesser Antillean; and Cayman Blue
- Madagascar Pochard
- Pygmy Hog
- Mallorcan Midwife Toad
- Racers – St Lucia; and Antiguan
What would the impact on the environment be if we lost these species?
A lot of the animals we work with are fundamental in the survival of other animals and plants. The way that some animals convert enzymes, helps the larger animals that eat them. They can also help with seed dispersal.
Example: if we lost our frog population, then the impacts on the environment could be disastrous. It could result in us not knowing if a water source is safe to drink (they will not live in or near polluted water), it would affect the bird population, resulting in a loss of birds in the sky. And they are also aiding in medical research – from helping us grow new limbs to helping in the war against cancer.
What are some of the facilities or programmes you offer to facilitate conservation in today’s world?
We have some of the best conservation training in the world. As world leaders in conservation capacity development, we offer a unique experience for people who work in-situ and ex-situ.
Our courses all centre around conservation, including breeding, husbandry, leadership and management. We have our own graduate certificate – Durrell Endangered Species Management (DESMAN), which is a 12 week course to equip conservationists with various skills needed in the field.
You can view our course here.
We also offer education programmes for primary and secondary education, as well as Durrell Conservation Awards for children.
What can we the ordinary citizen do to facilitate conservation in today’s day and age?
If you don’t work in conservation, then the best ways to help is to raise awareness for all the conservation projects that are going on around the world. The best ways to do this is via social media, and by helping to raise money to help the projects thrive.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing conservationists today?
- The destruction of habitat – this can cause interbreeding and cross-breeding, it can cause a higher (and faster) spread of disease, and the loss of life for both animals and plants.
- Attitudes – changing the attitudes of people. Not only in the areas that we do conservation work in, but also on a world-wide scale.
- Funding is also a big challenge facing conservationists, especially for the less “cute” animals. We believe in saving all animals and plants, which means that we work with less desirable animals. We do a lot of work in Jersey, but also out in the field. And this is a huge financial commitment, but worth every penny if it will help bring back animals from extinction as well as helping the future of the human race.
You have some exciting things listed in your most recent activities. Walk us through some of them?
Madagascar Pochard Project: After rediscovering the pochards in 2006, after thinking that they were extinct, it has been reported that 96% of ducklings die before fledging, due to the unsuitable ‘last resort’ that they now inhabit. Working with Wildfowl & Wetland Trust and The Peregrine Fund, Durrell have hatched and reared 54 pochards (more than double the wild population), and are preparing to restore the wetlands, and other water bodies, before reintroducing the ducks.
Restoring Sight: Sam, a red-fronted brown lemur, developed cataracts. This was discovered due to him refusing to come down from a tree. Withink months of this, he had gone functionally blind. With the help of The Animal Health Trust, we were able to bring specialist equipment and knowledge to Jersey, and were able to remove the blinding cataracts.
|Pink Pigeon (Neosenas mayeri)
Source Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
Pink Pigeons: 1984 saw the first release of captive-reared Pink Pigeons into the skies of Mauritus,by Gerald and Lee Durrell. This summer, three Pink Pigeons were foster-reared at our bird propagation centre – thus providing a valuable safety net, should the population drop to critically low numbers again.
Top Ten Reptiles & Amphibians: Here at Durrell we have pioneered the approach to link and support field conservation programmes with breeding projects in our herpetological department. Having developed and led four conservation projects included in the TopTen and collaborating in a fifth gives testimony to our strategy; saving species from extinction is possible and needs to be taken seriously for the benefit of all of us. Of course, none of this would be possible without the help of the public and the many donations we receive.
The renaming of Jersey Zoo to Durrell Wildlife Park suggests that the zoo underwent some changes and became more focussed on conservation than providing a service to the public. Would you say this is true and what were those changes?
The renaming of Jersey Zoo to Durrell Wildlife Park was to honour the amazing work that was started by Gerald Durrell.
‘Durrell’, as our organisation is collectively known today, proudly bears the name of its founder, author and naturalist Gerald Durrell. Naturally, our story begins with his, and continues with his legacy.
I believe our own local zoo is doing a wonderful job with conserving animals and it has joined in the fight on rhino and other wildlife poaching. What can we do to change public perception about the majority of zoos?
Raising awareness of the conservation work that is done by a particular zoo/wildlife park – this can be done via social media, blogs, and the published papers that we contribute too. We can’t make people change their views overnight, but by showing the good that we do is the best way to help people see the good that zoos/wildlife parks do.
We are also associated with BIAZA, British & Irish Aquarium & Zoo Association, which regulates zoos/wildlife parks in Great Britain and Ireland. This is a good indicator that a zoo/wildlife park is regulated – but the conservation work that we do proves that we stand out among the others.
Is it true that he could talk to animals?
Everyone can talk to animals, but that doesn’t mean that they will understand you!
Gerald’s wife, Dr Lee Durrell MBE, has a degree in Animal Behaviour, and studies her PhD on the calls of mammals and birds in Madagascar.
What efforts does the trust take to carry Gerald Durrell’s legacy forward?
We carry Gerald’s legacy forward by continuing the work that he started. This involves the Wildlife Park, the Academy, and the conservation field programmes.
Are his books available at all today?
You can purchase Gerald’s book on our online store, at www.durrell.org
I am interested in the golden thread of humanity which runs through us all which is how the actor John Ritter who inspired this site wanted to be remembered. Celebrities through the things that they do can tweak this thread of humanity and make us think, feel and act. Gerald Durrell certainly did this and your foundation is continuing this legacy. What were some ways which he used to inspire people and what are some of the initiatives you employ today to reach people or inspire the youth – etc?
Gerald inspired people by just doing what he knew was right. He started an animal collection before he had somewhere permanent to house them. He helped to protect animals that other zoos didn’t think were worth showcasing.
Today, we continue this through the Durrell Academy – training others in conservation, helping them to gain the skills that are required to save all the species of the world. We also start the training young, through our Education department, with school trips and our two clubs, Dodo Club (0-11 year olds) and the Young Conservations (12-18 year olds). We also offer Gerald Durrell Awards for Conservation – which can be completed by children unable to visit the Wildlife Park.
We also have a new ‘Superman’ of an ambassador in Henry Cavill. Growing up in Bailiwick of Jersey, he spent many an afternoon at Durrell Wildlife Park (then Jersey Zoo). He has a passion for animals, and his celebrity status has helped Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust a great deal. We are very honoured that he has chosen to be an ambassador for DWCT.
Is there anything else you’d like to get across in this interview?
|Gerald Durrell with the Zoo’s first gorilla, N’Pongo
10 Things you didn’t know about Durrell
- Durrell is one of the very few wildlife parks in Great Britain and even Europe, with their own laboratory.
- Durrell not only saves animals from extinction but plants too.
- Durrell is one of the top three wildlife parks on the planet to grow the best variety of organic food crops for their animals.
- Durrell is a charity and spends up to half of its income on conservation.
- Durrell has more than 40 projects in 17 countries for 48 animal species
- Two Durrell staff, Dr Carl Jones and Jeremy Mallinson, were recognized in the Queens’s Birthday Honours and awarded OBEs.
- The first person to receive training at Durrell came to the Trust in 1977 and went on to become the head of the National Parks Department in Mauritius.
- For four of 16 bird species regarded as being saved from extinction between 1994 and 2004 Durrell was recognised as a key partner.
- Since its opening in 1959, over 13,000 animals have been born at Durrell.
- Gerald Durrell’s ashes are buried in the ground of the Wildlife Park under a memorial plaque with a quote from William Beebe, 1906, which reads: “The beauty and genius of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed; a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer; but when the last individual of a race of living beings breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again.”