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Catch Me a Colobus (1972)

by Gerald Durrell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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463554,715 (3.75)6
A pot-pourri of humorous animal anecdotes concocted by the famous wildlife lover, leading conservationist and award-winning author, Gerald Durrell. Hectic, hilarious days at his Jersey zoo and forays to various corners of the earth to rescue animal species in danger of extinction provide a series of wonderful stories that are wry, witty and wonderful. Apes get loose, tigers get pregnant and women fall by the droves for a handsome zoo keeper. Endearingly funny, occasionally outrageous, "Catch me a Colobos" is classic Gerald Durrell.… (more)
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Showing 5 of 5
"When you start talking about conservation, people immediately leap to the conclusion that, as you are an ardent animal lover, what you mean is that you just want to protect the fluffy koala bear or something similar. But conservation doesn't mean this at all. Conservation means preserving the life of the whole world, be it trees or plants, be it even man himself. It is to be remembered that some tribes have been exterminated very successfully in the last few hundred years and that others are being harried to extinction today - the Patagonian Indians, the Eskimoes, and so on. By our thoughtlessness, our greed and our stupidity we will have created, within the next fifty years or perhaps even less, a biological situation whereby we will find it difficult to live in the world at all. We are breeding like rats and this population explosion must be halted in some way. All religious factions, all political factions, the governments of the world, must face facts, for if we persist in ignoring them then, breeding like rats, we will have to die like them also."

Catch me a Colobus follows Durrell as he travels around the world to catch animals for his zoo, interspersed by tales of what running his zoo entails. While I keep telling myself that this was a different time, I must say that I found the descriptions of capturing animals, especially in Sierre Leone, rather sad. I can tell that he cares for the animals he captures and those in his zoo, but as a biologist, there is something uncomfortable about how he just asked for anything and everything. at times his actions seem rather irresponsible. One example that stands out to me is with the colobus monkeys. While I'm incredibly glad that he released those that wouldn't eat in captivity, creating new artificial social groups takes far more than he implies. Colobus monkeys form tightknit groups and taking only parts of troops feels wrong. And then randomly just putting them together? They could have died. Maybe he did more than the book describes, but it upsets the biologist in me.

Despite my complaints, this was a fun book to read and I enjoyed the author's style. I very much appreciated that he talked about the importance of conservation being seen as something more than protecting the cute and majestic animals (although that is what he does himself). I feel like these views were pretty advanced for a zookeeper at the time. I also very much related to his fascination at everything and his distractedness when in nature - definitely something I also experience. ( )
  TheAceOfPages | Jan 26, 2023 |
I love Gerry Durrell and all his books, also this one.

Gerry loved animals, and his main aim was to stop the extinction of as many animals as possible by going on expeditions to Africa and South America in order to catch threatened animals and bring them to his Jersey zoo (when this had been established) in order to breed and thus preserve them.

He wrote these wonderful books, not for the love of writing them (in fact he mostly hated it), or to become a famous author, but to finance his animal—catching trips.

Gerry begins each chapter with an example of a hilarious letter or note he has received asking for help or advice.

In the period described in the book Gerry was married to Jacquie.

Caching the animals was the least of Gerry’s problems; afterwards there was the matter of finding food they would eat, and hopefully enjoy, and finding out what on earth to do when they refused to eat anything at all.

Sometimes the animals escaped, went on a rampage and had to be captured again.

If Gerry succeeded in obtaining a couple of a certain species, one of each sex, there was the problem of getting them to like each other, so they would mate.

We are reminded of the fact that animals all have individual personalities, just like we humans.

Gerry is one of the funniest writers I have encountered.

Here’s an example of Gerry’s humour

“He (a Cornish Chough) liked to sit on Jacquie’s shoulder and run his beak delicately through her hair, presumably in the hopes of finding the odd woodlouse or some similar delicacy and one day … he rammed a piece of paper into my ear … presumably some frustrated nest-making attempt …”

He provides us with a few examples showing that the speech of talking birds is not just haphazard parroting, but exceedingly apt.

There was one man who insisted that parrots couldn’t talk at all.

He walked up to a parrot in the room (an African Grey parrot) and said “You can’t talk, Polly, can you?”

“The parrot regarded him for a moment … and said, in clear and unmistakable tones, ‘Kiss my behind’. … The parrot had never used that phrase before and, indeed, never used it again, but it had said it as clear as a bell and there was no getting round it … The man, white with rage, left the party, saying he wasn’t going to stay in a house where guests were insulted.”

I’m sure Gerry loved the parrot getting its own back on the rude, unbelieving man who denigrated its abilities.

I confess to having a similar experience myself, when my daughter and I were discussing Misser, my cat, in her presence. In some strange way the conversation got round to the unlikely topic of whether she could understand French, and I unkindly remarked “how could she, when she can’t even understand Danish (the language we were conversing in). At that Misser promptly jumped over to me and bit me on the finger (and she had never done that before nor did again). Misser thereby proved to me beyond any doubt that she could in fact understand Danish.

The book is filled with absorbing stories and illustrated with a host of animal drawings by Edward Mortelmans showing us the appearance of the rare species discussed.

In short, this is another amusing and informative book by Gerry Durrell, which I highly recommend. ( )
  IonaS | Jan 6, 2019 |
Here Durrell has his own zoo established, but is working on a tight budget so he outlines how it was set it up as a Trust to get people interested in wildlife conservation to help support the zoo. The book describes their work at the zoo with various wild animals- how they were cared for, dealing with illness and injury, their excitement and feeling of success when some of their animals bred for the first time in captivity. Most of the book though, is about his trips to foreign countries to collect new animals for the zoo. On one trip they had extra complications caused by taking along a film crew, hoping to educate the public about their work via a television program. The most memorable trip was one to Sierra Leone where they acquired leopards, various birds and other animals but the focus was on two types of colobus monkey- beautiful creatures with long silky fur. Durrell tells in detail of their efforts to find these animals, to catch enough of them to keep a breeding colony, and the difficulty they had getting the animals adjusted to eating the kinds of food they could be provided with back at the zoo. I admired the fact that when one of the groups of colobus failed to adjust and refused all food to the point of becoming lethargic, he simply let them go again. He also tells of another trip to Mexico where they collected thick-billed parrots but in particular were searching for the teporingo or volcano rabbit- and it proved very difficult to get ahold of. Like all his other books, Gerald entertained me with amusing incidents and lively descriptions of the interesting animals. The last chapter tells of numerous wildlife species he feared would soon go extinct, with a plea for wildlife conservation and financial support to the zoo's trust.

from the Dogear Diary ( )
  jeane | Aug 25, 2015 |
Gerald Durrell catching more animals for his zoo in the Channel Islands, with amusing anecdotes about the mishaps and near misses. Interesting now as early examples of a modern conservation movement. Also interesting for the time-capsule effect - in 1972, international phone calls were so expensive, cables (telegrams) were used; 70,000 whales were still being killed annually, and so on. Read September 2009 ( )
  mbmackay | Sep 28, 2009 |
Gerald Durrell! I have certainly missed his writing. I forgot how well he writes. Funny, flowing, interesting and with a fantastic vocabulary.
I had a bit of a rough time reading about the accidents which happened in the zoo, but it was a terrific book and I finished it so fast.

Great great great!

5.3.07 ( )
1 vote leore_joanne | Jun 27, 2007 |
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Gerald Durrellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Mortelmans, EdwardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A pot-pourri of humorous animal anecdotes concocted by the famous wildlife lover, leading conservationist and award-winning author, Gerald Durrell. Hectic, hilarious days at his Jersey zoo and forays to various corners of the earth to rescue animal species in danger of extinction provide a series of wonderful stories that are wry, witty and wonderful. Apes get loose, tigers get pregnant and women fall by the droves for a handsome zoo keeper. Endearingly funny, occasionally outrageous, "Catch me a Colobos" is classic Gerald Durrell.

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A bloom of monkeys...

A big and rather beautiful tree grew a couple of hundred yards from the verandah just below us. There was a crash and a scuffle amongst the leaves. And then, suddenly, it seemed as thought the whole tree had burst into bloom, a bloom of monkeys. They were Red and Black Colobus, and they were the most breathtaking sight.

Another pot-pourri of animal anecdotes, based on hectic days at the author's Jersey zoo and his forays to various corners of the earth to rescue animal species in danger of extinction. - Sunday Telegraph

His best book for some time...only the Marx brothers could do justice to the chimpanzee breakout at Christmas dinner time. - The Times
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