Steve's Herpetological Blog

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


#StevesLibrary: The Drunken Forest

I had to end 2021 on a positive note, and so I chose to read The Drunken Forest by Gerald Durrell, for the simple fact that Durrell’s writing is always something that helps fill you with optimism and hope. Durrell had a skill, that meant that he was able to convey even the most potential outcomes as a positive, something we could have done with over the past couple of years. I wonder how he would have spun the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s effects on conservation. In The Drunken Forest, Durrell and his small team head to Argentina and Paraguay to collect rare (and potentially endangered) animals to take back to Europe, in order to help establish captive populations. Many people despair at zoos for catching animals and ‘imprisoning’ them, but Durrell was one of the first to recognise the value of captive breeding and release strategies to help boost the number of endangered species in the wild. I’m sure things were very different to the way we know them now back in the 50s when Durrell undertook the expedition, but The Drunken Forest is another great example of his unique writing style.

As always, we learn a lot about the local people, their attitudes to nature, and how they feel about a westerner coming to their neck of the woods to collect animals. It’s also great to meet all of the different characters throughout, Durrell described them with such skill that you can visualise them perfectly. As with most of the previous other expeditions Durrell undertook, as soon as word spread that he was on the looking out for any wild animals (bichos), the locals quickly flooded him with potential specimens. These included everything from frogs, snakes, birds, and deer. Something that Durrell also touches on, is his other job while on these expeditions, to film some natural history pieces. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen many of Durrell’s films as they are no longer widely available, however, if the opportunity ever arose then I would love to see them! We’re all familiar with the work of Sir David Attenborough who started out doing something similar, I’d love to be able to compare the two. The book gets its title from the trees that have grown on the wonk in the areas where Durrell visited, looking as though they are drunk.

Towards the end of the book, catastrophe strikes. There is a revolution in Paraguay, which means that Durrell and his wife (Jacqueline) had to release a large number of their animals, as they couldn’t take them with them. I’m glad to know that such situations also affected Durrell, as he usually has a way of working around these sorts of situations (which he explains in detail in his other books). On arrival back in Argentina, the Durrells quickly re-amassed their collection (it was mainly birds they released), by visiting bird dealers and with the locals aware that they were looking to buy bichos for a healthy price. I guess if you’ve got the money, then you really can make the most of a bad situation!

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