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Book Title: Зоопарк в моём багаже. Поместье - зверинец|
The author of the book: Gerald Durrell
Date of issue: 1978
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Format files: PDF
The size of the: 546 KB
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A Zoo in my Luggage is Gerald Durrell's account of a six-month trip he and his wife made in 1957, collecting animals in Bafut, a mountain grassland region in Cameroon, West Africa. This was the author's third trip to what was then the "British Cameroons", which resulted in the founding of Jersey Zoo (now the Durrell Wildlife Park). The writing is typical of his lively humorous style. Durrell was a prolific author, publishing 37 books in all, of which this is the seventh. They include a few serious nonfiction books, and a few novels, but for the main part they are all similar to this one: factual accounts of highlights from his trips. They were written partly to educate, partly to fund his next expedition, but mostly to entertain.
This has all Durrell's wit and droll humour, but is not one of the best, for reasons which will become clear. Much of the book consists of conversations between the author and the hunters he has employed, or the author and the Fon of Bafut, whose hospitality he is enjoying. Right at the start of the book, Gerald Durrell expresses his worries about the Fon of Bafut, who was the traditional ruler of the town of Bafut and its adjoining areas in the Northwest Province: the local tribe leader. Durrell is concerned that that the Fon may be angry with him, and consider that he was represented disrespectfully in Durrell's previous books, as a figure of fun. To arrive in Bafut and find that the Fon, on the contrary, is overjoyed to see him again, and rekindle their drink-fuelled friendship, is a great relief. The episodes involving the two of them are extremely entertaining (although not strictly pertinent to a book about animals).
The reason for this book, Gerald Durrell asserts, is that it was all very well collecting animals for various zoos, as he had been doing for several years, but it was very hard to let them go. In the interim time, when he had to care for them whilst assembling the collection, he inevitably bonded with each individual, and formed very close relationships with his charges. Well-respected naturalist and animal expert that he was, there is always a fair amount of anthropomorphising of the animals in his books, especially the mammals. Gerald Durrell knows a very great deal about animal behaviour, but just as we find with our pets, it is very hard not to view them as members of the family.
Gerald Durrell also had a vision for his own zoo. He wanted it to be open to the public and to aim to become a “self-supporting laboratory” so that he could continue studying animals. He believed that ever-increasing human population encroaching on native habitats endangered so many animals that extinction of some species was inevitable. The only way to prevent this, he deduced, was to rescue some and breed them in captivity, in his planned zoo. Here he describes his approach,
“For many years I had wanted to start a zoo ... Any normal person smitten with such an ambition would have got the zoo first and the animals next. But throughout my life I have rarely if ever achieved what I wanted by tackling it in a logical fashion. So, naturally, I went and got the animals first and then set about the task of finding my zoo.”
This idea may also seem a precarious, perhaps irresponsible position to voluntarily put yourself in, but it is characteristic of Gerald Durrell's passionate and impulsive nature, flying as always by the seat of his pants. In earlier books he coped with lack of cash, appalling weather, lack of anywhere to put the animals (at least he know knew the wisdom constucting strong cages before the expedition!) and even coped with an internal political revolution in one book. Not actually having a site to put his zoo perhaps seemed a minor inconvenience. Perhaps in the end, it is precisely Durrell's dogged determination which got things done, rather than being forever bogged down in bureaucracy.
On the way to Bafut from the town of Mamfe, where he had been staying for ten days, Durrell obtained his first animal. Joyfully he bought a rare creature, a baby black-footed mongoose, from someone in a village where they had stopped to buy some fruit,
“The black-footed mongoose, although still only a baby, measured some two feet in length and stood about eight inches in height ... Her body, head, and tail were a rich, creamy white, while her slender legs were a rich brown that was almost black. She was sleek, sinuous, and svelte, and reminded me of a creamy-skinned Parisienne “belle-amie” clad in nothing more than two pairs of black silk stockings”.
Beautiful she may have been, but the baby mongoose proceeded to wreak havoc in the lorry, so in desperation Durrell tucked her inside his shirt where she,
"made several attempts to dig a hole in my stomach with her exceedingly sharp claws, and on being persuaded to desist from this occupation she had seized a large portion of my abdomen in her mouth and sucked it vigorously and hopefully, while irrigating me with an unending stream of warm and pungent urine."
The hot dusty journey culminated in Durrell marching up the steps of the house where he was to stay, with a mongoose tail dangling out of his shirt. Meeting several important-looking strangers, he attempted to appear nonchalant as he introduced himself. Nobody was surprised. They had apparently been informed by head office to expect an "animal maniac" two days previously.
This episode sets the light amusing tone - with more than a touch of absurdity - for the rest of the book. Within 24 hours, his host had not only the baby mongoose, but a squirrel, a bushbaby and two monkeys living on the verandah.
The first expedition was to try to catch "ipopo", a word which caused some confusion to start with until Durrell translated it excitedly as "hippopotamus". These are very dangerous creatures, and despite Durrell's confident claim that he had got within thirty feet of them to take photographs previously, the hunter insisted,
"Dis ipopo get strong head now, sah ... two months pass dey kill three men and break two boats."
The description of the failed attempt to catch hippopotamuses on the Cross River, via a frightening canoe ride, is both exciting and entertaining. Not all the daily expeditions were successful by any means, and most were started by word of mouth, or the slightest rumour of a sighting. These adventures describing their mishaps are perhaps even more hilarious than their successes! Another memorable encounter was going to catch a fifteen-foot long python in a very narrow cave. There was a search for the blue-scalped, bald-headed "Picanthartes" bird. And another occasion detailed the process of smoking out a hollow tree - just to see what they could find. In the event, they collected many paper-thin whip scorpions. Durrell's energy and excitement shines through these episodes, before the expedition heads deeper into Cameroon and the highlands. Despite everything there is an irrepressible optimism about the author, and even when a situation looks at its most dire, he finds a way to turn it round with both humour and humanity.
Durrell attempted to trace the hunters who had worked for him before. Word soon got round, and he was approached by several expert hunters who assured him they could collect "plenty beef". Sadly though, several had met with tragic ends,
"in my eight years' absence Old N'ago had been killed by a bush-cow; Andraia had been bitten in the foot by a water beef; Samuel's gun had exploded and blown a large portion of his arm away (a good joke, this), while just recently John had killed the biggest bush-pig they had ever seen, and sold the meat for over two pounds."
The book does contain rather too much conversation between Durrell and the hunters, pointing up the difficulties in communication in a mixture of English and Camtok. I would personally have been easier in my mind had the humour resulted more from the situations, rather than the fumblings towards understanding each other's various names, descriptions and negotiations.
Durrell has a skill for description and evoking a sense of place, which I feel he does not make enough use of in this book. Take a passage beginning,
"The only sounds were the incessant songs of the great green cicadas clinging to every tree, and, in the distance, the drunken honking of a flock of hornbills. As we smoked we watched some of the little brown forest skinks hunting among the roots of the trees around us. These little lizards always looked neat and shining, as though they had been cast in chocolate, and had just that second stepped out of the mould, gleaming and immaculate ..."
which follows on for several pages giving a beautiful description of flora and fauna, beetles, slugs, crickets and a strange insect,
"like a small daddy longlegs in repose, but with opaque misty-white wings ... trembling their wings gently, and moving their fragile legs up and down like restive horses. When disturbed they all took to the air ... they began to fly round and round very rapidly ... they resembled a whirling ball of shimmering misty white, changing its shape slightly at intervals ... they flew so fast and their bodies were so slender, that all you could see was this shimmer of frosty wings ..."
With such an eye for detail, and understanding of animal behaviour, how much more preferable in a book about animals, is a balance between anecdotes of "animal antics" and such informative and nuanced description.
Arriving in Bafut, Gerald Durrell was very relieved to find the Fon as delighted to see him as he had dared to anticipate. The Fon graciously welcomed them back, and soon Durrell, his wife, and staff, were settled into the rural compound of the Fon of Bafut and his many wives. Durrell joins his friend for many long evenings filled with talk, dance, and alcohol. The escapades Durrell has with his fun-loving, generous and uninhibited host, provide much of the entertainment for the readers in the middle section; some of the anecdotes being quite hilarious. Despite now being an old man in his 80s, the Fon still has an enormous taste and capacity for western alcoholic beverages, and is very keen on his whisky and gin. With the energy of a much younger man, the Fon is keen to laugh and party until sunrise the next day. The Fon of Bafut comes across as the life and soul of the party; the star of the show, although their escapades generally start out with quite a formal invitation. Here is an example of one written exchange between the two,
"My good friend, would you like to come and have a drink with us this evening at eight o'clock? Your friend, Gerald Durrell.
My good friend, expect me at 7.30pm. Thanks. Your good friend, Fon of Bafut."
Gleefully, both Gerald Durrell and the readers know full well that from this mild request, mayhem will ensue.
Running alongside these mischievously disreputable antics is the account of how gradually a collection of animals was amassed. Soon the Fon’s compound has filled up with hundreds more captive reptiles, birds, and animals. Durrell describes the highlights and disasters of each episode, collecting numerous mammals, birds and reptiles from various places, including sometimes as pets. They include seventeen monkeys, plus the endearing Bug-eye the bush-baby. One little troop of monkeys go into ecstasies eating grubs - but are terrified of them until they've bitten them in half!
Eventually Minnie, a five-year-old chimp and Cholmondely, a baby chimp, join the "family" providing even more hilarity, as they have such engaging personalites. Cholmondely, pronounced "Chumly" was such a gentlemanly type of chimpanzee, that he greeted Durrell with an outstretched hand, fully expecting it to be shaken. We also meet Georgina, another pet, a half-grown baboon, whose former owner had left her in a compound to be picked up. Amusingly, Durrell found this task almost as difficult as actually attempting to trap one in the wild, but it he makes it sound a lot of fun,
"Within half an hour she had eaten all the bananas and we had established some sort of friendship: that is to say we played pat-a-cake, we chased each other round the compound and in and out of her hut, and we climbed one of the trees together."
Caring for these animals on a daily basis, feeding them and making sure they stayed healthy, proved to be a round-the-clock task. Gerald Durrell and his wife often had animals sleeping in boxes near their beds. When these animals decided that it was feeding time, they quickly discovered the fastest way to get fed was to climb into the couple's bed.
Eventually Durrell had amassed more than 250 animals, some of which were very rare. It was time to give some thought to where to take them. We learn the logistics of building cages, packing them on trucks for the three-day trip back to the Cameroon coast and shipping them home. Even positioning the cages was important, so the animals did not spook each other. At all points it was paramount to keep them healthy and calm, so that they could be transported safely. At this point the book's title was decided, by a gobsmacked porter at a station, startled by the myriad of cages and boxes into exclaiming,
"You've got a zoo in your luggage!"
Someone always seemed to come to their rescue in Gerald Durrell's experience. During the expedition in Cameroon, they had the privilege of staying in the Fon of Bafut's Resthouse. Now they had the daunting task of trying to find a place to put all these rare animals. While they ruminated over the problem of finding a place to make a zoo, Gerald Durrell, his wife, and all the animals ended up incredibly staying in his mother's garden in suburban Bournemouth. The process took many weeks, to the dismay of the immediate neighbours. Still their difficulties had not really begun, since they had not yet secured a permanent place for their zoo, and winter was coming.
A department store came to the rescue, and Durrell managed to secure a safe home there for his animals, as a live exhibit over the winter season, while he continued his search. On one occasion he had a frantic call from a policeman, as Georgina had escaped and got up to mischief by rampaging through the store. She had always had a bad habit of jumping out on people to scare them for fun, but it was a different matter for a baboon to be loose in Bournemouth, running all around a shop floor.
In another amusing episode, Cholmondeley the chimpanzee surprised Durrell with his memory when they were travelling about in England. Even in such constrained and unnatural circumstances, Durrell displays his inveterate curiosity about animal behaviour, and expands both his and our knowledge by recounting anecdotes. Cholmondeley recognised the countryside as they were driving along, and as they got nearer to pubs where he had had attention lavished on him, he became very excited, and jumped up and down screeching. Cholmondeley also remembered how to get petrol into the Lambretta when they returned to the garage after several weeks.
Durrell’s account in this last third of the book provides as much adventure and hilarity as capturing them. After a whole year of trying to find a place, he has a stroke of luck. He was introduced to Hugh Fraser, a resident of Jersey. An invitation to visit Hugh's home resulted, serendipitously, in finding the perfect location for his zoo.
The reader may have some reservations about reading this particular book - or indeed, any "animal-collecting" books dating from that time. It is worth remembering that although now we are very conscious of the ethical considerations of taking a wild animal from its native habitat, had it not been for Gerald Durrell, ordinary people worldwide would never have had the opportunity to see or know of many of the creatures which are now so familiar to us from wildlife parks. He was almost singlehandedly reponsible for triggering many of the world's animal welfare and conservation programmes, and was a champion of better conditions in zoos, from a time when cruelty there was rife, and before the issue had ever occurred to many.
An added difficulty when approaching this book, however, is that it dates from Colonial times, when the country was "British Cameroon", and sometimes it shows. Gerald Durrell was a fair man, passionate and caring about wildlife, and dedicated to preserving it for the future. He was never afraid to poke fun at himself, or to "muck in", and took as many risks, if not more, than the hunters whom he employed. Considering that he was born in British India and grew up on the Greek island of Corfu, he was a forward-looking man, thinking mostly outside his class and culture.
Yet in many ways A Zoo in My Luggage is a book of its time. Even the language itself used by the inhabitants, Camtok, is referred to as "pidgin English" a name betraying a whole raft of prejudices. It dates from the 17th century British missionaries, and spread during the 18th century slave plantations owned by Britain and Germany. The official languages of Cameroon today are English and French, but 8 out the the 10 provinces speak Camtok, with its own set of rules and codes. However, Camtok continues to be discouraged and thought of as an inferior variety of English. Most inhabitants can speak at least two out of these three languages.
Camtok continues to be officially marginalised even by some first-language speakers who are educators. The most obvious reason for this linguistic prejudice is that the two languages are very similar and yet so different. This means that Camtok poses a permanent threat to Standard English. Frequently there is switching between the two. A book which relies partly on these linguistic differences as a source for humour, is on very dodgy ground indeed.
It has to be said that Gerald Durrell does seem to be fluent in Camtok, and mostly his reported conversations do not have colonial overtones, or display the patronising attitude which a present-day reader might fear. They are merely ... funny. It would be nice to think that the characters involved would have thought they were equally amusing. Certainly the Fon of Bafut was thrilled to gain world-wide popularity through Gerald Durrell's representation of his exuberant colourful personality. Ultimately we feel that Durrell has learned as much about life from the Fon, as the Fon has learned from Durrell and his animals. We get a sense of a fun-loving exhilaration, of people who like to see humour in everything.
The line illustrations by Ralph Thompson add to the enjoyment of the book. Many of these creatures now do seem familiar, and Gerald Durrell both established his zoo on Jersey, and went on to write many more books. He became famous on television too. There is no update or epilogue to explain what happened to Durrell's zoo after it was established, or details of the captive breeding programmes he established. This might have been a good idea, considering the valid criticisms made of zoos in the fifty+ years since Durrell wrote the book, and the progress made in animal welfare largely due to his outspoken efforts. He has done incredible work and created great interest in the conservation of various species. But still, this book feels a little dated.
By all means read it it you are a fan, and want to read the author's entire oeuvre as I do. He has a wealth of fascinating experience, a droll sense of humour, sensitivity, a delightful way of phrasing things, and a superb eye for detail. I guarantee you will find parts to delight you. But if you are looking for an introduction to his light informative reads, then I would advise choosing another one.
Note: I have also reviewed other books by Gerald Durrell, on my shelves.
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Read information about the authorGerald "Gerry" Malcolm Durrell was born in India in 1925. His family settled on Corfu when Durrell was a boy and he spent his time studying its wildlife. He relates these experiences in the trilogy beginning with My Family and Other Animals, and continuing with Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods. In his books he writes with wry humour and great perception about both the humans and the animals he meets.
On leaving Corfu he returned to England to work on the staff of Whipsnade Park as a student keeper. His adventures there are told with characteristic energy in Beasts in My Belfry. A few years later, Durrell began organising his own animal-collecting expeditions. The first, to the Cameroons, was followed by expeditions to Paraguay, Argentina and Sierra Leone. He recounts these experiences in a number of books, including The Drunken Forest. Durrell also visited many countries while shooting various television series, including An Amateur Naturalist.
In 1958 Gerald Durrell realised a lifelong dream when he set up the Jersey Zoological Park, followed a few years later by the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust.
Rosy is My Relative, his first novel, was published in 1968. Whether in a factual account of an expedition or a work of non-fiction, Gerald Durrell's style is exuberant, passionate and acutely observed. Gerald Durrell died in 1995.
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