Read Three Singles to Adventure: An Expedition to Guyana (Revival) by Gerald Durrell Free Online
Book Title: Three Singles to Adventure: An Expedition to Guyana (Revival)|
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The author of the book: Gerald Durrell
Date of issue: January 5th 2009
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Format files: PDF
The size of the: 35.49 MB
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Three Singles to Adventure is about Gerald Durrell's travels in search of exotic animals in South America.
"Adventure" is the name of a small village near Georgetown, the capital of Guyana. This early book by Gerald Durrell chronicles his 1950 expedition to what was then called British Guiana, to bring back a living collection of birds, mammals, reptiles and fish indigenous to that part of South America.
His first sighting from the ferryboat is of a vividly coloured lizard - an iguana - in its natural habitat. Durrell immediately contrasts this with the "dull lethargic greyish creatures in zoos" and the book continues in this vein, with breathtaking descriptions of the natural flora and fauna. The wild at that time was clearly very different from now with its unspoilt diversity.
Durrell has a way of describing in full technicolour; yet turn a few pages and his sense of the ridiculous is in full sway, with yet another hilarious anecdote about how a certain animal got the better of him, or how he found himself in a very dodgy situation. (view spoiler)[The horses for instance unexpectedly seemed to have a will of their own and were often uncontrollable. (hide spoiler)] In these early animal-collecting forays, Durrell would be relying on the local people both to help and to identify what generally lived there. So he (and we) would learn that a "pimpla hog" was the local name for what we call a coati-mundi, or tree porcupine, "barim" were anteaters, "sakiwinkis" squirrel monkeys, "crabdogs" crab-eating raccoons, a "water cumoodi" an anaconda - the aquatic constricting snake. (view spoiler)[(It seemed perfectly reasonable, incidentally, that this had to be carefully measured in order to decide how much was to be paid for him. As usual, it was merely a question of how.)
Opossums, or uwaries were disliked by all the local people as aggressive scavangers. There is a bloodcurdling description of 3 opossums being contained in a sack while Durrell prepared a suitable container to house them in temporarily - except that when he opened the sack there were only 2 oppossums - plus a few body parts. A chastened Durrell took notice of the local people's knowledge again and decided to obtain moonshine uwaries instead. He had been told that they were less aggressive, so he went to great lengths to obtain one - only to find that on the next stage of his journey they were very common. There were other animals which surprised him with their ferocity such as the 2-toed sloths and peccaries (a sort of pig.)
There are many wry descriptions of this type, of captures that weren't quite what they were intended to be. Flying to Rupununi, Durrell was assured that the store at Karanambo would be well supplied with everything he would need in the line of traps, ropes, wooden crates etc. only to find that having travelled there with minimum supplies there was nothing of this type available. In fact the whole trip has an ad hoc feel, with temporary containers hastily assembled to house the animals. One animal was brought to him at the last minute when they had already loaded the ferry. Durrell had no choice but to dash off the ferry and plead with a shopowner for a container. (To his credit, the shopkeeper immediately upended a carton of tinned goods.) Another time an electric eel which Durrell had been delighted to acquire, managed to escape on the boat, slipping back into the water as they all watched in helpless resignation.
A cayman he had spent a lot of effort in capturing was not allowed on the plane home due to lack of space. There were piranhas and caymans which he had been told "never attack", though Durrell tended towards a cautious approach here. Just as on one occasion he and a friend were happily having a rest, sitting in conveniently-sized holes on the sandy beach - but his description makes it clear that they would not have been so relaxed had they known that the holes had been made by stingrays. (hide spoiler)]
Many of these animals are familiar to us nowadays from wildlife parks, but it is worth remembering that they would have been unfamiliar to his readers in the 1950's. It is greatly through his efforts that we have the privilege to view them in the flesh. And even more importantly that he brought about better transportation regulations and huge improvements in zoos.(view spoiler)[ An example of an exotic animal which may now seem familiar is the capybara, or "waterhaas", that he found in Rupununi. This of course is the largest rodent, comparable with a medium sized dog. Its peaceful, friendly behaviour was not then well documented. We now know that it behaves much like its tiny relative, the guinea pig. There is a hilarious episode at dead of night, where the entire household was wakened by the eerie sound of a capybara thoughtfully pulling on the wire and releasing it so that cage bars vibrated like a harp. The capybara then thumped its hind feet on a tin tray, sounding like stage thunder. Anyone having kept guinea pigs would recognise this gnawing behaviour - and the animal's squeaking interest in the sounds it could produce.
The animals just keep coming: soldier rats with spines, bright red furred howler monkeys, ameva, who would shed their tail when stressed, tegu, the largest freshwater fish (6-7' long) called an arapainma, who Durrell was delighted to discover, exuded a milk-like substance from its head on which young "feed". There were huge frogs too, 2' long, but also some smaller than a fingernail. One tadpole they caught was 6 inch long! This was a "paradoxical frog" tadpole - and would most surprisingly "grow smaller" into an average-sized adult frog. There were pipa toads, whose eggs once laid sank into the female's back. Durrell writes a marvellous description of them hatching out through little flaps or manholes, guarded and watched with incredulous wonder by a crew of "hard-living, drinking gambling unemotional men".
The local people tended to keep wild animals as pets much as we do. All the macaws in Guyana seemed to be called "Robert", and could speak their name much like "Polly" parrot here. Durrell himself ended up making a pet of one or two of the animals. There was an overly affectionate curassow bird (a bit like a black turkey) who seemed to delight in sitting or leaning on everybody at the most difficult times, so that frequently a job was interrupted or abandoned. Both cat and dog-lovers may recognise this predicament….
Durrell's descriptions of the birds in their natural habitat in Guiana are beautiful. He pondered on why they have such conspicuous colouration - bright blue tangers, vivid red military starlings or yellow and black marsh birds, all against a leafy background, with no concession to the camouflage usual in this terrain. Other birds had parallels with ones more familiar to us. Jacana were like moorhens with their enormous splayed feet. He described them stepping across lily pads, with a dozen or so tiny fluffy chicks following all on one leaf, their miniscule weight not dipping the lily pad in the slightest. (hide spoiler)]
Gerald Durrell's fascination and respect for animals shines through every description, and it is this that forms the basis of his later philosophy. He believed that it is fundamentally wrong to remove animals from their natural habitat, unless it is to save them from extinction. In later years of course, Durrell founded his Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey, which has had some success in breeding species which are threatened in the wild. Marmosets, golden lion tamarins, Goeldi's monkeys and howler monkeys have all been part of this captive breeding programme, and by returning them to the wild some of what has been lost has been restored. This book is breathtaking in its vivid descriptions, entertaining and informative. With the wisdom of hindsight, we can acknowledge any scruples we may have about the ethics of "collecting" animals in this way, as being appropriate for the time. It also means that there is a tiny spec of optimism on the horizon when we consider animal conservation.
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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.