Mar 7, 2018

Menagerie Manor

by Gerald Durrell

This wonderful book is about a young zoo. Durrell was determined to start his own zoo against all odds; he parked his collection of wild animals in his sister's back garden and simply went looking for a location. Happily acquired the grounds of an expansive estate to convert into his zoo. Some of the book is about the management, brief purchasing trips to foreign countries, public relation efforts and necessary fund-raising. But most of it is just about the animals, which delights me. Durrell describes with obvious fondness the antics and behavioral quirks of many of his wild charges, as well as their efforts to provide the proper diet, improve housing, treat diseases, deal with accidents and breed rare species. There's an amusing account of trying to catch a tapir that escaped and rampaged through a neighbor's fields (at night, in a rainstorm), and another of baby coatis that constantly squeezed out of their cage to romp on the main driveway, and a funny bird that seemed to think its role in the zoo was to welcome every new animal that arrived (a few of them did not appreciate its company). Some of the more interesting animals featured include a spectacled bear, a pair of tuatara, surinam toads, a very grumpy crested porcupine, some wonderfully amusing marmosets and a wide variety of apes, monkeys and smaller primates. A chinchilla that liked to ride on the backs of giant tortoises and steal their food. An overweight skunk who needed a mate to encourage her to get enough exercise. And more. Near the end of the book Durrell realizes that the zoo's purpose should be to keep more rare specimens and attempt to breed them to aid conservation efforts, and he closes with an environmental appeal in particular asking for donations to further the zoo's cause and hopefully slow the extinction rate of wildlife.

As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the animals' behavior, and efforts made with their care and husbandry. There's plenty of very amusing passages as well which had me laughing aloud. Durrell has a real knack for telling a story. The book has some beautifully expressive pen-and-ink drawings by Ralph Thompson illustrating nearly every other page. I love that so many were included, and found through one of the descriptions that the artist made at least some of these drawings (perhaps all?) from life, which you can tell by their liveliness and quality.

Rating: 4/5                 180 pages, 1964

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