There and Back Again
August 25, 2014 11:21 AM   Subscribe

"Even as a very small boy I was utterly fascinated by animals of every kind." Shortly before his 19th birthday in December 1957, Bob Goulding accompanied Gerald Durrell on an animal collecting trip to Cameroon. "Our trip to Cameroon, which lasted around six months, is the subject of Durrell’s book ‘A Zoo in my Luggage’, published in 1960 by Rupert Hart-Davis. I am Durrell’s ‘young assistant Bob’ in the book." This was neither the beginning nor the end of a life-long involvement and fascination with tropical natural history which saw Goulding later take over management of the zoo attached to the Department of Zoology of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria in 1963. Now retired back to Bristol, he keeps a personal website which contains a fascinating record of those pioneering years. Particularly poignant is the story of the two gorillas, Aruna and Imade, from their capture by hunters to the years of their maturity. Under Golding's leadership Ibadan Zoo became an early and exemplary instance of zoo habitat design. The website contains an account of building the gorilla enclosure; a heartfelt acknowledgement of his former staff; letters from past visitors, now grown up; stories of research and collecting; a snapshot of Nigeria in the 60's and 70's; an overview of local fauna; and lots and lots of photographs! Also, hairy frogs (don't look at them.)
posted by glasseyes (11 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I object!

You absolutely DO want to look at hairy frogs because come on they are frogs with hairy legs how cool is that
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:23 AM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

As a child I read nearly every book of Gerald Durrell's, who both made me laugh and demonstrated that the career to which I most aspired, actually existed. Of course, nowadays the ethics of capturing wild animals for transport to zoos is questionable, but at the time it seemed like the most fabulous lifestyle imaginable. And I read, and re-read, his account of their time on Corfu, so much so that I was quite disappointed when I finally visited the fabled isle in the 90s to see it was covered in scooter-rental places and ugly concrete villas.
posted by Aubergine at 11:35 AM on August 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

I have done a bad thing and misspelled the man's name half the time. *shame*
posted by glasseyes at 11:52 AM on August 25, 2014

You absolutely DO want to look at hairy frogs because come on they are frogs with hairy legs how cool is that
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:23 PM on August 25

I disagree, because I have seen them and they are horrifying beyond all measure.
posted by ZaphodB at 12:47 PM on August 25, 2014

All of Durrell's books are worth reading, yes, yes.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:56 PM on August 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

> All of Durrell's books are worth reading, yes, yes.

Most of them are about animal-collecting expeditions or about his zoo on the isle of Jersey but My Family and Other Animals and Birds, Beasts, and Relatives are about his boyhood (1933 to 1939) spent on the Mediterranean island of Corfu because his mother and brother decided they weren't going to tolerate another British winter. Lots about animals and being a budding naturalist, of course, but also a considerable amount of juicy stuff on his wild'n'crazy brother, Alexandria Quartet author Larry. They did come home after 1939 because Nazis.
posted by jfuller at 2:51 PM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

> so much so that I was quite disappointed when I finally visited the fabled isle in the 90s to
> see it was covered in scooter-rental places and ugly concrete villas.

Aubergine (what a great user id, all us purple people wish we had thought of it before you) I would be reluctant to visit for exactly that reason.

But then I got my mental image of Rome from Gibbon and Piranesi and would NOT want mere present-day reality to mess with it.
posted by jfuller at 3:38 PM on August 25, 2014

Durrell's books were a good part of the reason I was allowed to poke into and pick up things out in the woods. I was doing it for science! I need to hook my grand daughters up with Durrell. I'd forgotten how much fun they were to read.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:39 PM on August 25, 2014

Grew up reading and loving Durrell's books - thank you for this post! Hairy frogs are cool!
posted by leslies at 6:49 PM on August 25, 2014

Being used to the zoo at Ibadan University I was quite shocked by Bristol Zoo when I first visited in the late 70's. The cages were very bare and a lot of the animals exhibited repetitive behaviour - it used to give me an unhappy feeling in the pit of my stomach. But of course as his blog explains, Golding, a Bristol boy, has long-standing links to Bristol Zoo, working there while still at school while his fascination for animals developed. I was really surprised, researching this, discovering the connection with the zoo I grew up with and Bristol.

Bristol Zoo's improved beyond measure with the animal welfare and habitats and stuff and is a fabulous place to visit now; Ibadan Zoo I haven't been to in a while but thinking about the terrific infrastructure problems in Ibadan with water and power supply I do wonder what's happened with the gorilla island etc. In many ways the 70's seemed like a golden age full of promise (post-Independence, new oil boom) in Nigeria and the years since then a bitter disappointing let-down full of hardship and kleptocracy. I think Golding mentions on the site something about that, name-checking the Dutch disease, a sort of post-oil boom malaise that has occurred in many oil-rich countries. Of course I can't quite find the reference just now.

Anyhow it's thanks to filthy light thief's 18 August post about Nigerian music that I went looking for the Nigerian Nostalgia Blog, and thence to the NN Facebook Group, where a photo of the zoo staff was posted with a reference to So thanks for that, mate!
posted by glasseyes at 3:53 AM on August 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I read as many of his books as I could get my hands on as a youngling. There are a couple of passages that have stayed with me over the intervening 40 or so years - faded by time, but I can still vividly remember the feelings they evoked. They were from My Family and Other Animals and / or Birds, Beasts and Relatives and variously included Mommy Scorpion and all the Baby Scorpions on the dinner table, an epic battle between a praying mantis and a small lizard and tortoise porn that was (at the time) one of the funniest things I had ever read. And one of the few things I can actually remember laughing out loud at while reading.

I suspect if I read any of them now, they might not be so wonderfully evocative, but living on a (seemingly) perennially overcast, working-class, West Midlands estate in the 1970s, these books were all colour and heat and exotic animals and spoke to a completely different way of life.

And yes, I'm actually quite glad I have never visited Corfu as it was never going to live up to the version in my head. Also, things flying slowly around bedrooms nope.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 11:54 AM on August 26, 2014

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