Birds, Beasts & Relatives

How Memphian Lee McGeorge Durrell married into one of Britain's literary first families and along the way became a zookeeper in the Channel Islands.

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“Grandmother Tortoise” with grandchild in pre-release enclosure. Baly Bay National Park, Madagascar, 2011.

At the outset, this new entity will have a small board composed of Memphians, including Lee’s sister, Harriet McGeorge Thompson, an outstanding landscape architect, along with Memphians Wendy Shea and Milner Stanton. Much work is yet to be done, since Lee says American Friends of Durrell must be registered in every state where fundraising takes place, although it is already incorporated in Memphis.

Sir David Attenborough, the BBC’s world-famous natural-history filmmaker, has characterized Gerry Durrell’s work as “magic,” and at a gala in 2009 celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Park foundation, Attenborough also famously said, “The world needs Durrell.” In this context, Lee says quite simply, “And Durrell needs American friends.”

I recently caught up again with Lee by phone at her seventeenth-century manor house in Jersey for an update on what she is up to. She is particularly excited about the recent opening of a permanent exhibition on the grounds of the Wildlife Park which is titled, “The Gerald Durrell Story,” a project which she has been working on for nearly two years. She also plans to be a guest lecturer on an exotic wildlife voyage organized by The Ultimate Travel Company in October of next year billed as a “Durrell Expedition Cruise to Borneo, Bali and Beyond.”

Lest you think Lee is confined to land and sea, it so happens she also takes to the air. She and her charming companion, Colin Stevenson, whom I met when they were last in Memphis, are both pilots — a necessity when you travel as much as Lee does. In particular, they are often moving animals to breeding zoos around the world as part of Durrell’s exchange breeding programs for endangered animals.

I don’t know about you, but I am already dreaming about a trip to the Channel Islands to visit the Durrell Wildlife Park. Lee has told me she will welcome visitors from her hometown with open arms. For more information about the Park and the Trust’s many programs, go to While you’re at it, keep an eye out for news about the American Friends of Durrell and become one of that group’s early supporters. 


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