Thursday, April 30, 2009

Richard Dean Honoured for Lifetime Service to Ornithology

- André Jaquet -

Last month, at the Annual General Meeting of BirdLife South Africa in Phalaborwa, our own Richard Dean was awarded the Gill Memorial Medal for lifetime service to ornithology in Southern Africa.

For the last twenty years, Richard Dean and his wife, Sue Milton, have done pioneering research on birds and plants in arid ecosystems, mainly in the Karoo and Southern Africa. Much of this research was done in collaboration with students and researchers from the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University.

Their studies focussed mainly on trying to establish exactly how human activities like farming, overgrazing and other practices affect birds and vegetation in the Karoo and other similar semi-desert areas. More recently they have explored ways in which the visible desertification caused by farming, overgrazing, ploughing and mining could be reversed in our area and elsewhere.

Although far from complete, Richard and Sue’s research reveals that birds and plants not only sustain our Karoo environment, but also help to repair it where irresponsible farming has led to desertification.

They showed that it is vitally important that we establish a network of protected areas so as to maintain natural corridors that allow plants and animals to move through the countryside to find mates or escape the effects of climate change, without being hindered by roads, housing developments, crops lands and other landscape transformations.

In handing over the Medal, which is bestowed only when a highly-deserving candidate is identified, Rick Nuttall, the President of BirdLife Africa, referred to Richard’s unconventional career path, the contributions that he had made to ornithology, and the ways in which he had assisted the careers of younger ornithologists and conservation biologists.

Richard abandoned a lucrative career in the printing industry in the 1970s to work as a field ornithologist in Angola for a North American museum. He then spent a decade as a research officer and nature reserve manager in the Transvaal Division of Nature Conservation before moving to Prince Albert in 1987.

From then until his retirement in 2005 he worked for the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town as a senior research officer and manager of the Tierberg Karoo Research Station some 30 km east of Prince Albert.

As if that has not kept him busy enough, he is a prolific writer. Apart from a number of scientific papers on the ecology of birds, his publications include:
Birds of Angola, Nomadic Desert Birds, The Karoo – Ecological Patterns and Processes and Karoo Veld Ecology and Management and Roberts Birds of South Africa, which he helped to edit and revise.

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