Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Jersey: Jersey Zoo (the Gerald Durrell experience)

After my poor night, I greatly disappoint my hosts by judging my stomach too delicate for the otherwise large and tempting breakfast menu, subsisting on cereal, toast and yoghurt. The kippers, porridge, three kinds of rarebit, fruit salad, ham platters, full Jersey breakfasts and so on will have to wait. They make several concerned attempts to dissuade me from this rash course, but I stand firm.

It’s a lovely day out there – crackin’ t’flags as we say. I take the opportunity to ask about getting some help with the internet. Apparently the landlord will be down at half past nine. That’s a bit of a pain because it’s only half past eight right now, and I’d basically intended to head off to St. Helier and attack Tourist Information, but right now I feel like getting this sorted out while I have a chance is a bit of a priority. Not having internet in my hotel means it’s incredibly difficult to do basic research.

I sit in my room sipping camomile tea and practicing Japanese flashcards. At half past nine, I find mine host in the garden, and discuss wi-fi. It turns out that, although there are four different networks in the hotel, two of them have started demanding passwords unknown even to the owners. Naturally, the only wi-fi available in my room is one of these – it didn’t actually demand a password, which puzzles me, it just refused to do anything. I’m also bemused as to why my ground-floor room only found what’s supposed to be the third-floor internet. Something to do with the hotel being built of granite, apparently. Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I can now use the internet, providing I do so in the garden.

Accepting this small victory, I get on the bus to St. Helier. It’s already 10am, so my plan is to buy a bus pass for the week, and then head off somewhere. My original plan was Jersey Zoo, but at this rate I won’t get there until nearly lunchtime, which seems like suboptimal value. Another concern is my bag. It's pretty heavy (due to my laptop) and, as I suspected, the St. Helier folks confirm that there's nowhere at the zoo to leave a bag. I'm considering spending the day in St. Helier chilling out and collecting information. After all, there's the rest of the week to visit the zoo, and apparently it's good weather the whole week. That way, I could get up early one day for a full day's zoo experience. My decision to bring the laptop is mostly predicated on this plan.

By the time I've visited Tourist Information, my mood has changed again. Why not, after all? It's a nice day, and I can't guarantee that the rest of the week won't be squalling storms. Also, fundamentally, if I can't appreciate Durrell sufficiently in the 6 hours left before it closes, I can always come again. I probably can't manage more than 6 hours of zooing anyway, and if I end up paying for one day, it doesn't matter. And, well, I've carried laptops before. So on the bus I get.

The route is very long and windy (it is, in fact, a long and winding road). I start to worry that I wouldn't know when I arrived - because I'd turned off roaming to avoid bankrupting myself, I can't use my mobile to track myself on Google Maps or anything. Thankfully, it's pretty obvious in the end.

I hand over my free ticket that came with my animal adoption (a Christmas present). The staff were so trusting that it doesn't even occur to them to take the ticket off me, but I manage to persuade them that it would be best. After all, I could just keep coming every day.

I walk out straight into a talk outside the spectacled bear enclosure. Inevitably, there's no sign of the bears themselves. It's sunny enough that it's actually a bit hard to see, even though I'm wearing shades and a hat. I head inside, and the enclosure is set up to give a little bit of a Latin American feel, with plants growing up the inner walls.

Spectacled bear enclosure. I couldn't get any good interior pictures, between the movement and the brilliant sunlight + dim shadows making my camera complain.

I get to see some spectacled bears, which squabble for a bit and do some boxing, apparently competing to be first in line for food when the keeper arrives. The same building also houses what I think is a mongoose, though this stays at the far end of its enclosure while I'm there.

Next, a bird house. There are all kinds of exciting birds sitting around in the sun or picking amongst the bushes. I get a few okay photos, though nothing to really convey how splendid these birds are. They're quite happy passing within a couple of feet of visitors.

Nicobar Pigeon

Emerald Dove

Chestnut-backed Thrush - really very good at camouflage

The zoo is more farmlike in feel than, say, Chester zoo. It has less of the sense of a Victorian pleasure garden, formal lawns and so on. Here we have broad grassy slopes bathed in sunlight, where geese doze quietly amongst equally dozing tourists. The paths between exhibits seem friendlier and less concretey somehow.

It's hard to get across just how sunny it seemed the entire time I was there.


There was a whole flock of red-breasted geese just lounging on the grass.

I'm glad to see that the reptile house is very close to the start, because this was my goal. For some reason I just really like reptiles and amphibians, even though they're not exactly playful in general. The frog I adopt (or rather, I adopt a generic representative of froghood, rather than a specific individual, but hey) is in here, along with many exciting lizards. Quite a few of them kindly pose for close-up photos, and I pray fervently that some of them will come out well. A few actually do.

Blue poison dart frog - this is the species I sponsor

Mission golden-eyed tree frog

Radiated tortoise

The bat house is for diurnal bats, unlike Chester - which is to say, it works on normal hours, rather than being dark during the day so the bats are active. The two species here, Rodriguez and Livingstone’s fruit bats, hang from a large net and occasionally flap about. It's an interesting contrast to Chester. I also found it interesting that Chester is a free-flight bat enclosure where you walk amongst the bats, whereas this is a more traditional enclosure with the bats caged. One consequences is that I didn't notice anyone shrieking. In Chester, some people will go into the enclosure, then start shrieking because aah there are bats everywhere! They do this even though they have voluntarily walked into a large building marked "Bats", past signs warning them that it will be dark inside and there are bats inside guys, past the door which says "if you're not comfortable with going into a dark room where bats fly around you please take this exit instead", and then suddenly develop a terrible fear of a completely harmless cute furry mammal which lives on fruit and lose any semblance of self-control. The cynical part of me suspects that in a lot of cases it's a mixture of a desire to be silly, and deliberate showing off; I can't help noticing a lot of these people are teenaged girls accompanied by teenaged boys. But enough of that. In Jersey, one child briefly decides she didn't like bats, but a sensible parent soon talked her out of it.

There is a student inside taking some behavioural notes, which intrigues me, so of course I ask her about it. She turns out to be recording a small number of behaviours in 5-minute blocks, along with the number of visitors present. This is part of research into how visitor presence affects behaviour patterns. Is there a correlation that suggests visitors disrupt normal behaviour? Of course, I'm interested in animal behaviour, and I chat to her for a while. She hasn't been to Chester zoo, which I recommend, and we talk a bit about the diurnal/nocturnal issue and how things might differ. I also mention the shrieking. Apparently the research is unlikely to be published, but she does offer to send me the data if I give her my email address. I hope she will!

The best picture I could get of the fruit bats, alas.

Later I see one of her colleagues doing much the same near the ibis exhibit. She doesn't seem particularly disposed to chat, and I feel like I'm disturbing her, so I leave her to it. They're both perfectly pleasant though.

Pied tamarin

A duck of some kind, which I'm completely unable to identify.

Northern bald ibis

White-backed duck

Black-winged stilt

It's a good zoo, basically. In theory I think it's relatively small; in practice, it's as big as I want to walk around. Chester zoo is so big that you just can't appreciate it all; it takes a full day to walk all round it, and even taking regular breaks your feet will be tired. In Jersey Zoo I have time for every exhibit and some chilling out with various hot drinks.

So green in the sun!


One thing is a bit idiosyncratic, but I’d have liked more concrete info about what the trust is doing because that’s such a big focus of their work, as well as a major part of Durrell's legacy. I found it a little unsatisfying somehow. There was some conservation information, but I didn't really see much detailing their projects. It seemed a bit of a shame.

Kids these days, I ask you

Some kind of amazing flower

Speaking of Durrell, there's plenty of attention for him. There's a statue, various mentions, and a whole exhibit on his life paid for by Lee Durrell (his second wife). Inside was a lady who seems to be a full-time Durrell Explicator, paid to talk to visitors and count them. Apparently Lee wants to know how many people visit. I come in possibly an inopportune moment when she was talking about the divorce and remarriage. The story I hear is that Jackie Durrell fell out of love with him over time; she intended to be an opera singer, and looking after animals wasn’t part of her life plan, so she stuck it out for a while but drifted away from Durrell. A very cheerful take, really. I honestly have no idea whether this amiable separation is the truth or not. The cynical part of me suggests that in exhibit paid for by a second wife might be inclined to whitewash the circumstances, but like I said, I dunno. The exhibit is okay, but doesn't really tell me anything I don't know - there's various letters and other trivia, but I'm not really interested in that. I do notice some books by related people that I feel the urge to read, like some of the other zoo staff.

I also get to see the manor itself. The zoo is built in the grounds of a manor house, a very pleasant one, which was one of the things Durrell liked so much about the location. You don't really go inside, because most of the manor is things like offices, I think. That being said, the aye-aye enclosure is inside one wing. I'm excited to see them, as they're one of the things I haven't seen before, as well as being the subject of a whole book by Durrell. It's a nocturnal exhibit, which means you can't actually see that much. As luck would have it, I arrive just in time for feeding! A keeper very carefully steps inside after checking nothing is underfoot, and lays out a selection of flowers and grubs for the aye-ayes, plus some Madagascar jumping rats. We mostly see dark blurs, but I'm glad to be there.

Madagascar giant jumping rat

An aye-aye, honest.

There's also a hive of otters, where a writhing mass of otters plot world domination.

Oriental short-clawed otter snuggling adorably. Although they squirm constantly so it might be uncomfortable if you're trying to sleep.

I stop off a few times along the way, basically at every cafe I pass. I lunch on a giant scone and fruit, plus copious tea in an attempt to wake myself up. I'm really tired, though, and this sets off a few random flickers of existential angst, which rather detracts from the experience. Once I've been round the animals, I try to have a kip under a tree on the big sunny lawn. It's restful, but I can't seem to drop off, so I get a cup of tea instead before taking the bus back.

The manor grounds are also full of life. This overgrown wall was beautiful in the sun (despite the PVC drainpipe)

Gerald Durrell statue by the entrance.

It's still fairly early when I get back to St. Helier, about 6ish. Since I've carried my laptop around all day, I feel determined to justify that by using it. Also, I'm not convinced there'll be anywhere to go in St. Aubin. It's got a few restaurants, but not much else, and without wi-fi my original plan of spending evenings catching up on iPlayer is a bit doomed (there's too much glare in the garden). I find a Costa that's still open for a bit and get some coffee while I type a bit.

There's a bit of a thing here where I'm making an opportunity to use the laptop simply because I brought it with me. The thing is, I find it so very easy to get bored when I'm by myself on holidays (so, most of the time). I can only entertain myself for so long walking around looking at stuff, and there's only so much reading I can do in a day. Because I'm dead tired today, that's a lot less reading than usual. A laptop provides a lot of other distraction possibilities.

At this point, I realise food is a thing. I'm a bit hungry. Between tiredness and still feeling faintly queasy, though, I don't want anything heavy, and Jersey seems very much set up for you to eat expensive, rich three-course meals. There are presumably other places somewhere, but I don't know where, and they'll probably be at the far inland part of St. Helier if anywhere. I'm not lugging my laptop all round the city outskirts in the hope of finding a modest place that's not already closed, as cafes are wont to do.

I then remember there's a KFC near the shore.

It's not glamorous, it's not very healthy, but it's simple food, and it comes with vegetables (sweetcorn), and I don't have to spend a fortune or faff about in a restaurant to just get some food down me. Off to KFC, where I listen to podcasts on my laptop while eating chicken and chips.

Thence, via Boots for some earplugs, to St. Aubin. I watch a bit of a DVD in my room (so glad I brought one with me) and guzzle herbal tea before heading for some much-needed sleep.

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