The Aye-Aye and I
(Arcade Publishing, March 10, 1993)
"In the gloom it came along the branches towards me - its round, hypnotic eyes blazing; its spoon-like ears turning to and fro independently like radar dishes; its white whiskers touching and moving like sensors; the thin, attenuated fingers on its black hands tapping delicately on the branches as it moved along, like those of a pianist playing a complicated piece by Chopin."Thus does Gerald Durrell - scientist, conservationist, and humorist par excellence - describes his first encounter with the legendary Aye-aye, the beast with the magic finger that still lurks, though in fast dwindling numbers, in the forests of Madagascar.Once thought to be extinct, the Aye-aye, one of the world's strangest creatures, is now found only in small, isolated colonies. Durrell's mission to Madagascar was to try and capture some, bring them back to his world-famous zoo on the island of Jersey, and breed them. Although on a serious scientific expedition, Gerald Durrell has a unique vision and inimitable sense of humor that make his observations and comments wondrously funny no matter how difficult or trying the circumstances. Nothing escapes his sharp eye, whether he is describing the great zoma market, the village dances, the dangerous bridges and river crossings, the strange foods and stranger magic, or the vagaries of local officialdom.As in all of Durrell's best writings, it is the animals who are the stars: here, in addition to the Aye-aye itself, the reader will delight in the author's depiction of the cat-like Fosa, the Flat-tailed tortoise, the Gentle lemurs of Lake Aloatra, and the Malagasy chameleon (which, according to Durrell, "looks as if he gets his clothes from a colour-blind Parisian designer")."It is impossible," noted the San Francisco Chronicle, "for Gerald Durrell to write anything that is less exuberant, eccentric, and amusing." In his account of this wildlife "rescue mission," Durrell is, very simply, at his superb best.