Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#StevesLibrary: Pink Pigeons and Golden Bats

Gerald Durrell is one of those figures that I’ve always wanted to meet, unfortunately along with my chance to fly on Concorde – I was born too late. As well as being the founder of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (my current department) and further accolades – Durrell was an avid writer. For a man that spent every waking hour working hard to save endangered species, Durrell sure wrote a lot! Further to this, his books are memorising accounts of his adventures and efforts to do the impossible, claw species back from the edge of extinction. Pink Pigeons and Golden Bats is no exception to this rule!

As the title suggests, Pink Pigeons and Golden Bats takes place the wondrous volcanic island of Mauritius and the surrounding islands. As someone that has just described a new species from the area (find out more here), the book was quite fascinating. This was also due to the number of endemic reptiles that Durrell and his team were collecting to take back to Jersey to form captive breeding populations, such as Telfair’s skinks and Gunther’s geckos. Durrell risked his life, sanity and sandwiches in order to secure the animals on his trips to Mauritius – a very noble feat!

Even in the 70’s as Durrell was transforming the world of zoos to be more conservation focused, he recognised that a number of unique species had vanished from Mauritius. This spurred his mission to the archipelago to take a representative of the population of certain species to breed in captivity. He knew the risks of taking too many (the potential collapse of the wild population) and the need to take just the right number into captivity to preserve genetic diversity. This is easier said than done with species that fly, not too much of a problem for relatively sedentary lizards and snakes.

Aside from the accounts of catching pink pigeons and golden bats (which were as hard as you’d imagine), Durrell also had some time to explore other ecosystems such as a coral reef. The description of the multi-coloured fish and reef is like something out of a Jules Verne novel, it’s almost as if you’re there. I think this is one of the main reasons that makes Durrell’s writing stand out. He was as good at telling stories and setting the scene as he was at helping species recover from the threat of extinction. In today’s age, this is a skill that is worth it’s weight in gold in trying to engage people in the need for conservation.

A final reminder that it’s my birthday in a weeks time (on the 26th April). If you’d like to buy me a book to read and review on this part of the blog, you can do so by visiting my Amazon Wishlist. Thanks in advance!

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