If you have been wondering why I haven't been commenting on blogs for a while, I've been on the island of Jersey, and just too darn busy, falling into bed tired out each night. I'm still researching this book about Gerald Durrell. Jersey is where he founded the Durrell Wildlife Preservation Trust and zoo. The Trust does lots of wonderful work abroad protecting highly endangered animals and, equally importantly, restoring their habitats. What's more, some particularly rare creatures have been returned to Jersey and bred in captivity, just to keep the species going. This is all part of a much larger and even more fascinating aim of re-creating ecosystems, in which every creature has a part to play - but more of that another time.
The zoo is a lovely landscaped wildlife park in the grounds of an ancient manor house, with lots of different types of enclosures designed for the creatures' wellbeing. It's highly specialised, keeping only rare animals, and so I thought you might like to see some of those that caught my eye.
My favourite bird was probably the Palawan Peacock-Pheasant, polyplectron napoleonis. It is hard to convey how beautiful it is, its tail looks as if it was designed by William Morris and its feathers are deep blue iridescent and seem to shine in the dark. It lives only on an island off the Philippines and although it is supposed to be protected, a lot of its forest habitat is leased to loggers, and the birds are extremely threatened.
I was intrigued by the bird below, even though it's not as rare as the peacock-pheasant. It's a hamerkop, from South Africa and Madagascar, and is the only member of its genus which has not become extinct. Personally I think it looks a bit prehistoric. Since it was a dark day and it was in a shady compound, I couldn't get a good picture, but this photo, from www.africanbirdclub.org will show you how odd it looks. As a result of its strange appearance, many people consider it uncanny, which protects a bit from being hunted in the wild.
The zoo has an excellent reptile house, where I saw some of the rare creatures saved in Mauritius, most of them a little dull looking although it is crucially important to stress that they are every bit as important as more colourful creatures, because the whole of nature is a system in which everything has an important part to play.
I liked this blue poison dart frog, Dendrobates azureus, (not from Mauritius I might say, but from Suriname.) Its secretions were once used by native hunters to tip their arrows, so the frogs are definitely "hands-off" for visitors. Their shiny skin looks somehow like beautifully glazed old ceramic, and it shone as the little creatures hopped around on bright green moss and explored fallen leaves on the ground.
The photo below is of a splendid Andean Spectacled Bear. It's South America's only bear, and its diet is mostly vegetarian. It was scooping something out of the river with its paw, and I was mesmerised by the rippling of its glossy black fur as it moved. It did make me want to stroke it although needless to say I didn't try...
And here was another, climbing a tree. It had previously entertained me greatly by climbing up a supposedly bear-proof pole and destroying the little platform at the top with great blows of its claws, then sliding down the pole fireman-style, and strolling away nonchalantly.
The Golden Lion Tamarins, who are highly endangered creatures from Brazil, also have thick and wonderful fur , but their is the most splendid, burning red-gold, like fire, and they leap around their forest home with grace and speed like flying sparks.
The ring tailed lemurs below are from Madagascar, one of many sorts of lemurs found there and nowhere else. This pair has long, long stripy tails, and here they are grooming each other. These delightful creatures like to sit in a window of their house in the sunshine when they are not swinging lightly and gracefully through the trees outside, using their extremely long tails for balance.
I bought a couple in the gift shop for the twins - only plastic, though, and about an inch and a half long. Come to think of it, they are a rather odd colour, but I don't think the twins will either know or care.
And here, finally are some Chilean flamingoes, who look as if they have just dressed up for the party of the year with elegantly dishevelled feathers ranging from brilliant orange to palest pink. I think those are red-breasted geese among them but I'm not sure. Whatever they are, they make a wonderful contrast.
Normally I'd have made time to explore some more of Jersey. It's one of the islands in the English Channel, but it is much nearer France, in the sea between Normandy and Brittany. Jersey passed under English control in the 13th century, but is a Crown Dependency. and not part of the UK Most of the places there still have French names which my satnav wasn't too happy with at all!
I was staying about half an hour drive from the zoo and was REALLY glad I had hired the smallest possible car because some of the roads (two way, with steep slopes and sharp bends) were tricky to navigate. Believe me you don't want to be grinding up this in first gear and only to meet a truck coming down!
I've visited Jersey before and know it has some really quirky small attractions, including a house covered in mother-of-pearl shells, and a full time "sand wizard." But this time I spent all my time in the zoo...and I selling tickets at the front desk, I did meet a guy called Will Highfield, aka "Jersey Gorilla."
Although he works full time and volunteers a day a week looking after the zoo's gorillas, Will also does a lot of running and plans to run the Jersey Marathon in a gorilla suit in aid of a new gorilla house for the zoo. He's set up all kinds of publicity, ranging from giving free talks to local kids, to persuading local businesses to donate raffle prizes to support his fundraising, to doing fundraising quiz nights. What a dynamic guy. Who said one person can't do much? If you can access Facebook take a look here and see how he looks in his gorilla suit.
I was glad I was staying in a nice hotel. It was called the Somerville and was really comfortable, a big old house on the hillside, with nice staff and a restaurant and bar with long windows overlooking the bay. It was a good place to relax after days of hard work and what was (to me) stressful driving.
Now, I'm transcribing many hours of interviews, which will take me quite a while. I will be visiting blogs when I can, to see what you all have been doing.