Durrell is the international headquarters of the Durrell Wildlife Park.
It was officially opened at Les Augres Manor in Trinity on 26 March 1959. Visitors paid an admission charge of just 2/- (10 pence) to see animals which had been brought to the Island from countries as far away as Africa and South America. They were in the Island because the founder, the renowned naturalist, author and conservationist Gerald Durrell had brought them here.
It was by pure chance that Mr Durrell came to Jersey and met the owner of Les Augres Manor, Major Hugh Fraser. As the two men walked around the manor grounds, Mr Durrell explained the difficulties he had encountered while trying to set up a zoo in the UK. Major Fraser wanted to return to England and was looking to lease out the manor and its grounds.
The lease was signed on 7 November 1958 and, with a £25,000 loan from Mr Durrell’s then publisher, Rupert Hart Davies, and the backing of the States of Jersey, the 16th century manor house and its 32 acres of park and farmland began its transformation.
From the outset it was an unusual institution. Mr Durrell dedicated his project to saving endangered animal species from extinction by breeding them in captivity and saving their dwindling populations in the wild.
On 6 July 1963 the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust became a charitable institution and adopted the Dodo as a symbol of its mission to save animals from extinction. Mr Durrell gave the animals to the trust and remained on as honorary director. In 1971 the trust purchased Les Augres Manor from Major Fraser for £120,000. Half of this amount was raised after an appeal to the membership and the remainder by a low-interest loan from the States.
Since those early days the trust has pioneered inter-zoo exchanges of both animals and scientific information and forged co-operative agreements with governments in places like Madagascar and Mauritius for the loan of animals and joint field research.
It has established education programmes for schoolchildren in the Island as well as setting up awareness campaigns for people who live in the homelands of endangered animals.
In 1978 Mr Durrell created what he called a mini-university adjacent to the trust to provide intensive training to conservation workers so that they could begin the process of saving species in their country of origin. And by 2003 1,150 students from 105 countries had received training at the centre.
Mr Durrell died in January 1995 aged 70. His wife, Lee, succeeded him as honorary director and maintains an intense involvement in the trust’s work both in Jersey and overseas.
On 26 March 1999 the trust celebrated its 40th anniversary and the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust adopted a new name, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, in honour of Mr Durrell.
Founded at a time when few people recognised the alarming rate at which animals were vanishing in their native habitats, the trust is now a globally respected conservation organisation.
Today, the Durrell Wildlife Park provides intensive hands-on management of endangered species at its headquarters in Jersey and is currently running conservation programmes which aim to save 33 species in 13 countries around the world.
Durrell is essentially a window into the work of the trust where visitors can see some of the planet’s most endangered species and learn how these people are working to save them.