Les Augres Manor on the island of Jersey is the headquarters of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (originally Jersey Zoo) and is the Menagerie Manor of the title. The book is about the founding of the zoo and the trials and tribulations of working with zoo animals – and visitors.
Each chapter of Menagerie Manor looks at a different aspect of life running a zoo. These range from getting appropriate food for the various creatures to finding mates for them, from dealing with illness and death amongst the animals to successfully breeding animals that are regarded as difficult (if not impossible) to breed in captivity. Throughout the book Gerald Durrell’s love for all living creatures shines through. He writes with real affection for all the animals he describes, from tapirs to tuataras, gorillas to bushbabies.
At the start of each chapter there’s a letter from somebody with an interest in the zoo. There are several from Durrell’s bank manager, complaining about the size of Durrell’s overdraft (a hazard of starting a zoo). One letter had me seething. It was from someone who thought Durrell was evil for ‘locking up God’s creatures’. I know conservation and captive breeding haven’t always been the hot topics they are now, and some zoos are little better than animal prisons, but the ignorance of the writer of that letter left me speechless. In contrast, I was delighted when I read how helpful the people of Jersey have been in providing food for the Manor. from surplus fruit and vegetables (as long as it isn’t rotten or mildewed) to unwanted bull calves (Jersey is famous for dairy cows – they don’t need many bulls).
The illustrations in my copy of Menagerie Manor are by Ralph Thompson, who illustrated some of Durrell’s books. Each picture captures the character of the animals beautifully. As with all Gerald Durrell’s books, this is a good read for anybody with an interest in animal conservation.