How did Henry Cavill become an ambassador to Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust?
Rick Jones: Around 18 months ago, our lovely PR and Engagement Department heard a whisper that Henry had some lovely memories of visiting Durrell with his family, before his career took him to distant shores. As a gesture, they sent a gorilla adoption to his management company. We were simply saying ‘Jersey is proud of our local hero’. Henry responded, thanking us, and telling us how important he considered our work to be, and how our mission was very much in-line with his own thoughts on nature, biodiversity and the future.
Tell us a bit about the mission of Durrell and what Henry’s support means to the organisation.
Rick Jones: Our founder – the author and naturalist Gerald Durrell – collected animals for zoos, but was often dismayed to learn that animals he had cared for whilst traveling had perished, sometimes within months of being introduced to the zoos, in those days. He would return to where the animals came from, and find them reduced in number, and saw first hand how quickly habitats were disappearing. Gerry wanted to show the way – that zoos could actually keep these animals from becoming extinct. So his model for the modern conservation organisation was to utilise a wildlife park, an on-site ‘mini-university’ and extensive wild field programmes – each would feed into the other, and species would be saved from extinction as a result. That’s what we’ve done, to the letter, for the last 52 years now.
Henry surprised us with just how much he knew about conservation, and we know he’s going to be a great ambassador, because within a minute of discussing it, his passion becomes obvious. We consider him a soulmate of sorts, and feel very lucky that this is a perfect fit and has become a mutual mission, not just a PR exercise. Neither he, nor Durrell work that way, so it’s perfect.
Were you surprised by how passionately Henry’s fanbase reacted to the news?
Rick Jones: He told us his fans were incredible, devoted and passionate from the offset. He wasn’t wrong, you guys are like an extension of his personality, and we love having such great people on our side. But – a straight answer – yes, we never could have imagined such a positive response. Thank you so much to all of you!
About that photo of Henry with the bats… was he actually in the environment with the bat when the photo was taken? He is currently filming 'Batman V Superman', so of course the fans have speculated some hidden meaning. Can you clear that up for us and also tell us a bit more about the bats at the zoo?
Rick Jones: Henry was indeed in our ‘Island Bat Roost’ with our fruit bats. Whilst we are, of course, aware of the serendipity given the upcoming film, in truth we wanted to share some of our greatest achievements with him. You see, one species of bat held there (the Rodrigues fruit bat) was once down to just 60 individuals. Gerald Durrell started their captive breeding in Jersey, as well as restoring their habitat in the wild. Now they are in the thousands... saved from extinction! Likewise, the big, black bat in the photo is a Livingstone’s fruit bat, the most threatened flying fox species in the world, at this time. We’ve had six babies born this year, and wanted to show Henry! He loved them, and told us it was a “special experience”.
Additionally, that building is made from 100% recycled materials (straw bales, tyres, mud, reclaimed wood and polyurethane sheets from farms, bottles for windows) and is heated by a bio-mass burner that uses our shredded paper (which becomes animal bedding) and dried animal poo. Free, environmentally friendly and self-contained. We’re so proud of it, we just had to show Henry, who is really interested in eco-friendly technologies.
Can you tell us any stories or funny moments with Henry that happened off-camera when he spent the day at Durrell?
Rick Jones: Henry stood with our Head of Mammals, Dom, in the woods where our free-ranging tamarin monkeys live. They are normally quite shy, and tend not to come down to people (we encourage this, so they can live free inside the park). However, they seemed to take to Henry, and came to investigate quite willingly. He clearly had a rapport with them, and they seemed equally disappointed when we ushered him off to see the nearby lemurs.
We know firsthand how humble Henry is and what a Jersey icon he has become. There have already been instances where fans come to Jersey as tourists just to see the sights associated with Henry. We wonder if there will be any signage, perhaps "This gorilla family adopted by Henry"?
Rick Jones: Well, we’d have to ask him if he minded first. But for the most part, we dedicate signage to telling the stories of the species’ in the wild. For many visitors, the only way they’ll ever know the true extent of the threats facing the animals, and why it really matters, is when they see them in person. We have to impress the seriousness of this on people, otherwise we miss the opportunity to spread our message. Henry is very aware of the challenges facing wild gorillas, he spoke to our gorilla keeper, Jonathan Stark, at length about it.
Speaking of gorillas, why did Henry choose the gorillas to adopt? Is there a story behind this?
Rick Jones: It started with the answer to the first question, but once we got talking to Henry, it soon became apparent that he identified with gorillas’ need for family. A gorilla without his or her group literally doesn’t act like a gorilla. Henry said he could totally relate, and so we offered to let him adopt the whole lot, rather than our usual single animal adoptions. He loved that idea, but he wanted his fans to have the same opportunity as him, which is how the adoption offer on CavillConservation.com came about.
Gerald Durrell's books tell stories not only about animals but also about humans. He describes them both with the same care and brightness. We know that there have been some documentaries and a television series. If you were to make a movie adaptation of any of his books, which one would you pick and which of the many colorful human characters do you think Henry could play for a minor role?
Lee Durrell: Having met Henry and spent some time with him at the Park, I can really see him playing Gerald Durrell himself! He looks not unlike Gerry as a young man, although he would have to change his hair colour to dark blonde. The book I feel would make a great movie is A Zoo in my Luggage, with a little bit of Menagerie Manor used at the end. It would be both an action film and a period piece – an ‘Indiana Jones meets Dr Doolittle’. But I would really like to see a feature film made of Gerry’s life, and Henry would be perfect for that!
How have the conservation efforts gone since the launch of CavillConservation.com a week or so ago?
Rick Jones: Well... that’s a tough one. There have never been more endangered species in the world than there are nowadays. With each passing day, new threats emerge to animals that we may have considered ‘over the worst’. For instance, we’ve worked with the beautiful ‘ploughshare’ tortoise (the world’s most endangered tortoise) for over 25 years. We bred them in captivity, released them into a restored scrub forest in Madagascar, and saw wild hatched babies from our release animals. All seemed positive. Then the demand for them as pets skyrocketed, and smugglers began to steal them from the wild... so we’ve had to implement anti-poaching measures like you’d see for rhinos and elephants. It’s a constant, ever-changing and expensive business, but we will never, ever give up. You can hold us to that.
What’s next for Durrell?
Rick Jones: In the short-term, we’ll be focussed on our programme with the Madagascar pochard – the world’s rarest duck. It was declared extinct, but we found 25 on a seriously remote lake, and managed to take and hatch some eggs, breed from the hatchlings and now have more than 50 in captivity. We’re going to release some of them, strengthening the population. We’ve also got lots of work to do both here and in Brazil, to save the black lion tamarin – a seriously cute little monkey that is right on the verge of extinction.
With Henry onboard, we’re even more confident that we can make a real difference for the animals that are under-threat and overlooked. It will take all of us to really change the world, and every single person that joins us gives us hope and energy. Thank you so much for all your support, we know that Henry is very proud of you all for being part of the effort.
Thank you Rick and Lee, for taking the time to chat with us so we could share all that wonderful information with Henry's fans!
To all who would like to join efforts in saving endangered species, you can make a donation/adopt a gorilla family like Henry did. Please visit Durrell.org and CavillConservation.com for more information.