Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Stationary Ark by Gerald Durrell


First Line: This is a book about zoos in general, and one zoo in particular-- the one I started on the Island of Jersey.

"Zoo" was the first word Gerald Durrell could enunciate clearly, and if his nursemaid deviated from their daily walk to the local zoo, he would throw a tantrum. Years later, Durrell set up the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, and he didn't want it to be like any other zoo. His writing was one of the primary ways he financed his zoo.

The Stationary Ark is a quick yet fascinating read, all about Durrell's experiences and opinions of what a proper zoo should look like and what it should be doing. First published in the 1970s, Durrell doesn't hold back on his opinions, such as that most zoos of the day were a disgrace. Zoo design, to him, should consist of four things in strict order of importance: (1) the needs of the animal, (2) the needs of the person looking after the animal, (3) the public who wish to see the animal, and (4) the aesthetic aims of the architect and of the gardener who has to tend it. Most zoos, Durrell believed, had those four priorities in reverse order. He also believed that a zoo's primary function should be in the areas of conservation and research, not of entertaining the public. And don't even get him started on the subject of safari parks! No, he didn't hold back with his opinions, but he also didn't name names-- which made me wonder if I've ever visited any of the zoos Durrell had low opinions of.

But The Stationary Ark isn't just about Durrell's opinions. He shares how he started his own zoo on the Island of Jersey-- how he obtained animals, how he transported them to the zoo, how the animals were taken care of when they became ill, etc. One thing I'd never realized is how little was really known about almost any animal in a zoo because no research was available and because for so long zoos kept no records of the daily care and feeding of their animals. (If the animal died, they could always send someone out to get another from the wild.)

This is a fascinating little book that I'm so glad I read. Now I want to learn how present-day zoos stack up against Durrell's criteria-- criteria that put the needs of the animals front and center where they should be. 


The Stationary Ark by Gerald Durrell
eISBN: 9781504042840
Open Road Integrated Media © 2017
Originally published in 1976
eBook, 145 pages

Non-Fiction
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon

8 comments:

  1. He was an incredibly interesting and intelligent man. He used to be on TV when I was child so I kind of grew up with him and his documataries and books. Teachers who could see you'd grown out of kids' books would always recommend Gerald Durrell and Agatha Christie, for good reason. I've read quite a few of his other books and own a few nice illustrated ones, but have not read this one.

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    1. Thanks for this, Cath. I'd only known him as the author of the Corfu trilogy novels, and it sounds as though I definitely want to read more about the "zoo" side of his life.

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  2. Sounds like an interesting book. His priorities are right, in my opinion.
    But the ethical issue arises: Do we need zoos or should animals be left in their original habitats?
    I don't have an answer to this, but had a friend who believed animals should be left where they lived.
    I like zoos that prioritize the animal's needs and give them room to run and climb.

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    1. In a perfect world, animals should be left in their native habitats, but this isn't a perfect world. Durrell knew this and advocated research and conservation, part of which consisted of breeding programs-- especially for animals that are on the brink of extinction. That way, if we humans ever get our acts together, these animals can return to their true homes and learn how to live there.

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  3. What a fascinating topic! Going 'behind the scenes' like that is really interesting, and it sounds as though he's had some amazing experiences. Definitely one to think about next time I want some non-fiction...

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    1. If you're an animal lover, you'd like it, Margot.

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  4. Oh, gosh, where is the library now that I need it?

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