The Independent Archive: `I am sort of caged in my own zoo'
8 September 1990 For the series `From My Window', Gerald Durrell tells Nicholas Rowe about the pleasures - and the disadvantages - of his home in Jersey
Wednesday 08 September 1999
This is the middle of the zoo in the manor-house where I have a flat at the top. In fact, I wish we could get rid of the term "zoo" because it always irritates me: if people keep two guinea-pigs and a rabbit they call it a zoo. This is the headquarters of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust and we've got 200 different species here, most of them gravely in danger in the wild state.
I look out on to the forecourt, which is very beautifully done with flowers and little box hedges and fuchsias and other flowers along the side of the house. There are masses of flowers but not done in rows; it's more as though someone has upset a florist's shop.
I have great fights with the gardener - I think gardeners should be shot at birth, except mine: they are terribly stubborn about what they want to do and so on, so occasionally I have to issue little edict and say, "Well. After all, it is my living space and I have to look at the damn view so I want it done my way."
There are two 15th-century granite archways leading into the forecourt and beyond that is a yew hedge and over the hedge I can see the water valley, which is a little stream that we've dammed up in this valley so it's formed a series of pools.
We've got a variety of ducks and cranes and flamingos there . . . I can see African Crown Cranes at the moment with the sort of head-dress that makes them look as if they've just come from Ascot: grey with white cheek patches and the feathery crest which is sort of barley-sugar colour.
Then beyond the stream and the little pond the ground slopes up and there's a magnificent old chestnut, which, thank God, we didn't lose in the great storm, although we lost a hell of a lot of trees.
The zoo covers 25 acres and the public can wander all over it. Beyond the tree the ground goes up a little bit there and I can see the Celebes macaque monkeys, which are jet-black and their behinds are shaped exactly like the heart on a Valentine card. In fact, I once photographed one of the behinds and sent it to a chap I know who is very keen on monkeys. He no longer speaks to me.
To the left in the very far distance I can see the gorilla enclosure. I can't see anything at the moment. It just looks like a great green mound covered with fallen trees, but it's lovely when you can see them. They all go and sit on top in the sun and the little ones have a marvellous time running around and wrestling with each other and rolling down the slopes and swimming in the little pond. The male has got three wives, he's the most prolific gorilla in captivity.
Over to the right, past the horses, it's all mainly trees where the stream goes down into another valley. All the people must be at the other end where I can't see them.
I am confined to the house here, in fact. I can go out and walk round before 10 o'clock when we open, or after half-past-five when most people have gone, but between then they come up and ask for autographs and treat you as though you're their property and you can't be rude.
It even happens if we use the little golf cart, which we call the Dodomobile: when we stop we're immediately inundated by autograph hunters. I am sort of caged in my own zoo.
But I find the view very tranquil and soothing. I always had an ambition when I was tiny to have my own place and my own animals and so on. But I never thought it would come to anything.
Now, actually living in the middle it all, it's a constant surprise to me that I've achieved it.
From the Landscapes pages of `The Independent', Saturday 8 September 1990
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