Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Time Capsule Letter to a Seal

It's the birthday of the British zoologist and writer Gerald Durrell, born in Jamshedpur, India, in 1925. He grew up in Greece, then in England, and he loved animals. Then he worked for a while collecting animals for zoos, but his methods clashed with the zoology ideas of the day — he wanted to get rare animals and increase their populations, not just get the showy animals that people would pay a lot of money to see.

His dream was to open a zoo of his own. His older brother, Lawrence Durrell, was a successful novelist, and Lawrence suggested that Gerald should write an autobiography in order to raise money. So in 1953 Gerald published The Overloaded Ark, a huge success in Britain and America, and he went on to write 32 more books, mostly nonfiction, many of them best-sellers, including A Zoo in My Luggage (1960), A Bevy of Beasts (1973), and My Family and Other Animals (1956), a memoir of his childhood.

With the money from his books, he succeeded in opening his own zoo, on the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands. He thought that zoos should be more than places for people to gawk at exotic-looking creatures. He thought that animals should be in zoos as a means to save them from extinction. He believed in housing animals in habitats that would be comfortable environmentally and socially, not just big cages.

The dodo is the symbol of the zoo. Statues of dodos stand at the gateways of the zoo.

Gerald Durrell wrote a letter to seal in a time capsule, and he said: "The world is to us what the Garden of Eden was supposed to be to Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were banished, but we are banishing ourselves from our Eden. The difference is that Adam and Eve had somewhere else to go. We have nowhere else to go. We hope that by the time you read this you will have at least partially curtailed our reckless greed and stupidity. If we have not, at least some of us have tried. … All we can say is learn from what we have achieved, but above all learn from our mistakes, do not go on endlessly like a squirrel in a wheel committing the same errors hour by hour day by day year after year century after century as we have done up to now. We hope that there will be fireflies and glow-worms at night to guide you and butterflies in hedges and forests to greet you. We hope that there will still be the extraordinary varieties of creatures sharing the land of the planet with you to enchant you."

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