Gerald Durrell’s Collecting Expedition Stories

Famous for his writing and his conservation, Gerald Durrell was a a collector for zoos (both other people’s and his own), and went on many expeditions all over the world. To fund many of these expeditions, he published books about them, which were (and still are) incredibly popular.

His earlier and his later expeditions are quite distinct; his early expeditions were usually shoestring, desperate adventures as a young man. His later ones were often private collecting expeditions for his own zoo, or for films and documentaries.

This is the guide to all his books about his expeditions, in approximate chronological order of expeditions (he would often write about things years after they happened so the publishing dates don’t always match up) and a summary of the main places and species.

Early Collecting Expeditions

Adventures around the world collecting animals for zoos

From 1946 to 1957, Gerald Durrell went out on wildlife collecting expeditions to places as varied as Africa, Madagascar, and Patagonia. He was generally broke, surviving on grants, and later the royalties from his books (which he started writing during this time).

He sold the animals to zoos, and had very high standards of care for collecting specimens, which increased his costs, but he also became increasingly experienced and respected. During this time he also married his first wife, Jacquie, who appears in several of his books.


The Books

The Overloaded Ark  (Faber and Faber, 1953) (West Africa)

Relates the author’s experiences and adventures collecting animals during the first 6-month expedition in West Africa in 1947-8, with aviculturist and ornithologist John Yealland. His first published book.




The Bafut Beagles  (Rupert Hart-Davis, 1954) (West Africa)

In 1949 he returned to the British Cameroons, meets the local Africans, including the lively and hospitable Bafut (a local chieftain of sorts), and collects more animals. Full of pidgin, local people, and interesting animals.




Three Singles to Adventure  (Rupert Hart-Davis, 1954) (South America)

About his expedition in 1950 to British Guiana (now called Guyana) in South America




Encounters with Animals  (Rupert Hart-Davis, 1958) (Africa and South America)

A selection of animal encounters from Argentina, Africa and Guiana, from the collecting trips in the books above.



The Drunken Forest (Rupert Hart-Davis, 1956)

In 1954, Gerald Durrell headed back to South America with his wife Jacquie for another collecting expedition, this one full of colourful characters, the usual array of astonishing species, and a local revolution in Paraguay – which was disastrous for the expedition.




Later Collecting Expeditions

From 1959 to 1990, Gerald Durrell’s expeditions were for his own zoo or were filmed for documentaries

The 1957 expedition was to collect animals for his own zoo, which he hoped to establish once he had enough specimens.

All the expeditions after 1957 were carried out to support his zoo, and were usually aimed at rescuing highly endangered species. Gerald Durrell was also part of an increasing number of filmed expeditions and conservation programs.


The Books

 The Whispering Land (Rupert Hart-Davis, 1961) (Argentina and Patagonia)

A 1958 trip to Patagonia & Argentina collecting animals for the zoo. Notable species include: South American Fur Seal, Patagonian Hare, Vampire Bat, Magellanic Penguin, and meetings with the Elephant Seal.




Two In the Bush (Collins, 1966) (Australia, New Zealand, Madagascar)

A filmed expedition through New Zealand, Australia and Malaya with the BBC Natural History Unit, in 1962. This was more about meeting than capturing animals, especially in New Zealand where everything is protected. Species met include: Kakapo, Kaka, Kea, Tuatara, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Leadbeater’s Possum




Catch Me a Colobus (Collins, 1972) (West Africa)

A 1965 expedition to Sierra Leone in West Africa to collect animals including a hunt for two species of Colobus, for his zoo, accompanied by award-winning BBC producer Chris Parsons. Followed by a return to the Zoo, involving some primate pregnancies, and then a trip to Mexico to capture the rare Volcano Rabbit and Thick-billed Parrot.




Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons (Collins, 1977) (Mauritus conservation)

An account of Gerald Durrell’s expeditions to Mauritius in 1976 and 1977 to collect various endangered animals in order to preserve them from extinction in his zoo, and coordinate with local conservation efforts. While it is mostly a collecting expedition, the trip is much more focused on education and zoological issues than other books.

Notable species: Pink Pigeon, Rodrigues Fruit Bat, Round Island Boa, Telfair’s Skink, Gunther’s Gecko, Mauritius Kestrel



Ark on the Move (Coward McCann, 1982) (Mauritius and Madagascar)

A 1982 expedition to the remote tropical islands of Mauritius and Madagascar. Inspired an international television series based on his rescue and breeding operations.




How to Shoot an Amateur Naturalist (Collins, 1984) (round the world BBC documentary)

A filmed expedition creating a television series with the BBC over the course of a year, covering most of the Northern hemisphere from the Shetland Islands to North America, as well as Africa, Corfu and Panama




Durrell in Russia (with Lee Durrell) (MacDonald (Publisher) (UK) / Simon and Schuster (U.S.), 1986)(Russian conservation BBC documentary)

Another book covering the filming of a BBC television series, this time visiting nature reserves in Russia in 1984. One of the few books that is illustrated with photos of the expedition.



The Aye-Aye and I: A Rescue Journey to Save One of the World’s Most Intriguing Creatures from Extinction (Harper-Collins, 1992) (filmed trip to capture the Aye-aye in Madagascar)

Another filmed expedition in 1990 (Gerald Durrell – To The Island Of Aye-Aye [DVD] – available on, Gerald Durrell visited Madagascar again to help capture and set up a breeding program for the rare Aye-aye.



More from Gerald Durrell