Jersey Zoo: Introduction

This is a work-in-progress. Undoubtedly there are still a few other species that have been kept at Jersey Zoo/Durrell Wildlife Park at some point in its long history, of which I am presently unaware and which will be added to these lists as my research continues, but I am confident that I have found details - albeit not always complete details - for nearly all the species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians that have been maintained in the collection since it first opened to the public on 26 March 1959. A very incomplete list is that for the fishes. There have been many more species of fish kept than are recorded here. In the early 1960s Jersey Zoo had a small, short-lived, and now almost completely forgotten, aquarium in the manor house (the present staff kitchen). The 3rd International Zoo Year Book gives a figure of 27 species of fish for 1961. But discovering exactly what these species were has, with a few exceptions, proved to be almost impossible, as of the few records that mention the fish at all, hardly any give details of species.

The trends in the animal collection at Jersey have changed over time, but certain themes have emerged. These can best be summarised as follows:

1959 and Early 1960s 

The original nucleus of the collection at Jersey Zoo consisted of animals that founder Gerald Durrell had brought back with him from his third animal-collecting expedition to the then British Cameroons in central Africa in 1957 - together with others purchased from dealers' lists and surplus stock lists from other zoos in order to make the embryonic collection more cosmopolitan and interesting to the general public. Few of the animals from the Cameroons expedition were what one might term “box-office”. Most were small, obscure species and many were nocturnal. Undoubtedly the most unusual were the Hairy Frogs – of great interest to scientists but of little concern to the average visitor. The only animals in the Cameroons collection that could be certain to pull in the visitors were the primates. Realising that the collection needed to be considerably broadened to appeal to the paying public, Gerald Durrell immediately journeyed to Argentina on an expedition to collect a contingent of South American animals to pad out the ones he had brought back earlier from the Cameroons. This was how the first Tapir and the original pair of Peccaries were obtained. Meanwhile, back in Jersey, new animals continued to arrive almost weekly. Having precious little time before the zoo’s opening at Easter 1959, the newly appointed Superintendent, Kenneth Smith, was reliant on whatever animals were being offered for sale at the time and usually this meant purchasing species common to many zoos at that time, but he did his best to make the collection as broad and representative as possible, even if sometimes his choices didn't meet with wholehearted approval from Gerald Durrell, who, from the outset, saw his zoo as having been set up as a haven for endangered species. Animals particularly sought after were those that could be relied upon to appeal to the public. Examples were Leo the African Lion, Peter the Cheetah, Frisky the Mandrill, a Himalayan Bear called Chico, the Gorilla N’Pongo, and the Penguins. It will come as a surprise to many people to learn that in the early days there was a well-stocked (but short-lived) Aquarium, a Pets’ Corner with the usual array of pet and farm animals, and at one stage the zoo also seems to have had Hummingbirds (I've found a tantalisingly perfunctory reference to a Hummingbird exhibit in those early days, but no further details). Occasionally some very rare or unusual animals would arrive, such as Gharial, Goliath Frogs and, later, even a Marine Iguana. From the start, there was an emphasis on primates because both Gerald Durrell and his Superintendent were very keen on them. This bias has continued ever since. Squirrels too were a speciality, a quirk explained by the fact that they were a favourite of Gerald Durrell's first wife, Jacquie. Among the birds in the early days, there was an emphasis on pheasants, waterfowl and also corvids - all three groups being favourites of the Curator of Birds. 

Mid 1960s to Mid 1970s

During this period the animal collection was rationalised, the number of mammal species being reduced by about half. The zoo was concentrating on small mammals ("small brown jobs", as they were referred to in-house) and birds, with a smaller number of reptile species. The Aquarium was gone, there were few amphibians and even fewer invertebrates (and no amphibians or invertebrates at all through the 1970s). After Gerald Durrell launched the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust (now the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust) in 1963 to take over the zoo, the emphasis shifted to animals in danger of extinction in the wild state. Some of the earliest threatened species to arrive were Ring-tailed and Mongoose Lemurs, Celebesian (now Sulawesi) Crested Black Macaque, Orang-utans, a Spectacled Bear called Pedro, White Eared Pheasants, and a pair of Tuataras (at that time the only true pair outside New Zealand). Many animals, particularly single and non-breeding specimens, were replaced by endangered species. The idea of maintaining “model” species can be traced back to this period: whenever it was able, the zoo obtained species from Orders and Families hitherto unrepresented in the collection – examples being Tenrecs and Echidna – which were not necessarily endangered but which could be used to perfect methods of husbandry in the hope that skills acquired could be applied later to related, but much rarer, species. The bird collection was still burgeoning, but many avian species were common or non-breeding. The waterfowl collection was considerably increased following the fencing of the large water meadow, which created an attractive area for them and a focal point of the whole zoo. The Trust struck up a deal with an aviculturist in Angola. In exchange for surplus waterfowl and pheasants bred by the Trust, he would send over native Angolan birds of various species, and in most years the Trust’s bird collection was bolstered by the arrival of many southern African species, particularly common seed-eaters - attractive aviary-fillers but of little conservation significance.  In 1965 Gerald Durrell organised a major animal-collecting trip to Sierra Leone in West Africa that formed the basis of a series on BBC television, Catch Me a Colobus, and book of the same name.

Mid 1970s to Mid 1990s

With the opening of a new Reptile House in 1976, the collection of reptiles was enlarged. Amphibians rejoined the collection in the early 1980s, slowly at first but with gathering momentum. Invertebrates also made a reappearance in the collection, initially in the form of several taxa of Partula Snails on the verge of extinction. The mammal collection stabilised at around 30 species, over half of which were primates, in particular Lemurs, Callitrichids and Anthropoid Apes. Almost every mammal species on exhibition at the zoo was on the "Red" list. From about a hundred species of birds in 1975, the bird collection had, by the mid 1990s, been reduced to about 35. By now the bird collection was composed almost entirely of threatened species with few exceptions. Over half of the bird species were waterfowl of various kinds. The Trust started working closely with governments around the world. The idea of “Accords” dates from this period: formal agreements signed by the government of the animals’ country of origin permitting the Trust to hold and breed certain endangered species on carefully structured breeding loan arrangements. There was a radical shift from simple captive breeding to a more holistic approach, with resources being increasingly directed at in-situ conservation. Then as now, many of the species in the trust’s collection were island fauna. This was deliberate policy, as these are often the animals in most need of help; islands are also regions where a small organisation with limited resources could have most impact. 

1995 onwards

With Gerald Durrell’s death in January 1995 at the age of 70, the Trust and zoo lost not only its figurehead, but its chief source of publicity. This coincided with a sharp decline in the number of tourists visiting Jersey: a sort of double "whammy" if you like. Attendance figures at the zoo dropped. It was imperative to explore new income streams, to curb expenditure, and to become more commercial. It was generally agreed that the zoo had become rather too specialised and so the pendulum started to swing the other way with the arrival of animals that were not necessarily the rarest of their kind, but were added to the collection primarily because of their popularity with the public. Some of these may be thought of as “model” species for endangered ones on the zoo’s “wish-list". Among the new species chosen for their popularity were Meerkats, Short-clawed Otters, Ring-tailed Coatis, and Lar Gibbons. In the Reptile House, venomous snakes were added after a twenty-year hiatus. It was also felt that visitors were disappointed about the lack of crocodilians, so Dwarf Caiman were brought in for a time. In some cases, species were reintroduced to the collection that had been maintained at the zoo many years earlier. Examples are the Gibbons, Coatis, Emperor Tamarins, and Red-billed Choughs, among others. A few kinds of fish were added, the first time the zoo (which now calls itself the Durrell Wildlife Park to distance itself from the negative connotations of the word “zoo”) had kept tropical fish since the early 1960s. The Trust announced it would continue to concentrate its resources on a few carefully chosen areas of the world, principally highlands and islands.


The Jersey Zoo/Durrell Wildlife Park is very unusual in that, unlike almost all other zoos, ungulates have never formed a major part of the collection. In over fifty years, only five species of non-domestic hoofed animals (plus some farm livestock kept mainly in the pets’ corner) have been kept. These are: Brazilian Tapir, Przewalski’s Horse, Collared Peccary, Babirusa, and Red River Hog. The reason for this is only partly due to Jersey Zoo's avowed intention to specialise in the smaller mammals, birds and reptiles that are/were often ignored by other collections. The main reason why not more species of ungulates have been kept is because the government of Jersey (The States of Jersey, as the government is known) is extremely reluctant to sanction the import of non-domestic hoofstock, and with good reason. Jersey's economy revolves, to a very large extent, around diary farming. The casual importation of ungulates carries the risk of introducing diseases such as foot-and-mouth or bluetongue, which could have a devastating effect on the famous Jersey cow population.