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 twitching and moving like sensors; its black hands, with their thin, attenuated fingers…tapping delicately on the branches as it moved along, like those of a pianist playing a complicated piece by Chopin… I had had my first encounter with an aye-aye and I decided that this was one of the most incredible creatures I had ever been privileged to meet… Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa, is one of the most fascinating islands in the world. The fourth largest island, it is home to five per cent of the world’s plant and animal species, including giant jumping rats, flat-tailed tortoises and gentle lemurs. Ninety per cent of its flora and fauna are found nowhere else in the world. But when Gerald Durrell visited, creatures like the aye-aye were in danger of vanishing. Mostly due to ‘slash and burn’ agriculture, cutting down the forests which are the life-blood of the island, the aye-aye and many other unique creatures were threatened with extinction. Some had to be established in captivity to build up viable breeding colonies and maintain the species. Gerald Durrell decided to undertake a rescue mission to bring aye-ayes back to his breeding centre, now called the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, on the island of Jersey. This is the tale of his hunt for the aye-aye, and the adventures he had.

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