by Gerald Durrell
Charming little book about the last collecting trip Durrell made to bring rare, endangered animals back to his European zoo for a breeding program. His main purpose in visiting Madagascar was to find the aye-aye, a strange nocturnal lemur at risk of going extinct. They also searched for and collected snakes, endemic tortoises, gentle lemurs, a jumping rat and spiny-tailed iguanas. As always, Durrell\’s writing is interesting and humorous. He describes the difficulties they had navigating bad roads, finding accurate sources of information, getting local men in power to allow them access, dealing with breakdowns and scant supplies, etc. All the logistics involved in finding, feeding, and safely transporting the animals home. Coaxing newly-caught, frightened lemurs to eat. Scrambling to find medical care when one of the team members became ill. The descriptions of the red, pothole-strewn roads, the upright brick houses and the gentle native people are vivid. He also describes beginning attempts at conservation, the plans they made with local government to set aside wildlife refuges, do something about severe deforestation and protect the wildlife- many animals were illegally caught to be eaten or sold as pets, with no law enforcement in place. Aye-ayes were often killed outright by local people, who had strong superstitious fear of the animal. They did a lot of work to educate the people on the true nature of the wildlife, and to teach the local children about animals they had heard many fables of, but never actually seen. I think my favorite passage of the book was Durrell\’s description of a fossa- he was sitting quietly by himself one day while the team went ahead, when the animal walked into the road, treating him to a personal, rare encounter.
The end of the book has a sudden switch to the island of Mauritius, where Durrell and part of his team stopped on their way home from Madagascar, to check on a program they had put in place there years earlier to save some rare animals, especially the pink pigeon. I haven\’t read the book about the Mauritius trip yet, although it\’s on my shelf. Finally, Durrell sees the newly acquired animals safe home from their trip, settled into quarantine quarters at the zoo. There is an afterward by a Mammal Keeper from the zoo, who gives more details on how the animals fared after the expedition, and more information on the conservation and breeding programs set in place by Durrell.
Rating: 3/5 184 pages, 1992