Steve's Herpetological Blog

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

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#StevesLibrary: The Aye-aye and I

The late Gerald Durrell is somewhat of a personal hero of mine, not least because he helped to reshape the course of conservation in the 20th Century along with other figures such as Sir Peter Scott. Unfortunately like most things I wish I’d got the chance to do such as flight on Concorde or to see Pink Floyd in concert, I was born too late to meet Durrell. Durrell passed away shortly before my 2nd birthday in late January 1995. Fortunately I am lucky enough to be studying at an institution that bears his name, the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) which is a close second.

I should have really had a look into things before I started reading The Aye-aye and I as I was unaware that it was Durrell’s final book before he unfortunately passed away. This was indicated early on by his new hip replacement playing up and his immobility throughout a lot of the following adventures running around Madagascar. However given that at the time of this final adventure he was in his late 60s, you’ve got to give him credit for getting out to Madagascar and ensuring that expedition to search for the species they needed to collect and conserve was successful. If I can still jet off to far-off lands and do something similar at that age, I’ll be pretty bloody happy.

Anyways back to The Aye-aye and I, a fairly upbeat and easy read as most of Durrell’s works are. Despite the heavy odds of trying to find species such as the the aye-aye to form a captive breeding population at Jersey Zoo, the team was successful and these animal are still going strong to this day. However the environment in Madagascar has only got worse since Durrell and the team were there. Unfortunately Madagascar is one of poorest countries in the world, with outbreaks of medieval diseases commonplace. Indeed one of my research trips during my Master’s Degree was cancelled due to outbreaks of the plague, despite the fact it can easily be treated with antibiotics. There have been concerted efforts in recent times to try to document all of Madagascar’s flora and fauna before it is too late and they are lost forever.

With the inevitable demise of Madagascar’s fauna without intervention, Durrell’s tone and thoughts not once pander on the pessimistic or angry. They are as every conservationist’s should be, hopeful and optimistic. For without hope, there is nothing. This is true more so than ever and I feel that anyone working in conservation who is feeling demoralised should give The Aye-aye and I a read and I’m sure it will help to put a spring back in your step. With the overall tone of the book being celebratory (as is evident by the amount of alcohol that was consumed) it is also sombre upon reflection as there isn’t a follow up to read authored by the great man himself. I guess that’s my fault for not double checking first but now my plans are to delve into his back-catalogue like someone who has just discovered The Division Bell and has fallen in love with Pink Floyd.

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