Born in South Africa, raised in Great Britain, and naturalized as a citizen of the United States for the last quarter century, Rick’s mixed accent often elicits the question “…where are you from”? “Triangulate from each of those countries, and that places me about mid-Atlantic,” is how he replies. It’s a location that pleases his sense of global citizenship and speaks to his commitment to conservation around the world. An adventurer at heart (he drove the length of Africa in 1976, climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, and a few days later celebrated his 19th birthday on the shores of Lake Victoria) Rick has dedicated his life to solving wildlife conservation problems from Madagascar to Mongolia, and Panama to Pakistan.
Rick earned his Bachelor’s degree in Marine Zoology from the University College of North Wales in the UK, his Doctoral degree in Raptor Ecology from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, and completed a Post-doctoral study on insect ecophysiology at the Desert Ecological Research Unit in the Namib Desert, Namibia. He was hired by The Peregrine Fund in 1990, initially to establish the Madagascar Project to study and conserve three of the world’s most endangered birds of prey. This work led to the rediscovery of two of these species, both were thought to be extinct, and the establishment of a 520,000 acre national park, Madagascar’s largest, to protect their rain forest habitat. It also led to an innovative community-based conservation project to protect over 500,000 acres of wetlands, mangroves and forest essential for the endangered Madagascar Fish Eagle; a conservation strategy that now serves as a model for many others in Madagascar and has been duplicated to protect habitat for the Madagascar Pochard, another species declared extinct only to be rediscovered by Rick’s Malagasy team.
From a focus on Madagascar, Rick expanded The Peregrine Fund’s operations to the African continent, establishing new projects across Africa. This included Bearded Vulture reintroduction to Kenya, Cape Vulture conservation in South Africa, raptor conservation and local capacity building in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, and Ethiopia, Crowned Eagle conservation in Ivory Coast, kite research in the Cape Verde islands, and many others. More recently, Rick’s influence has become truly global, with projects under way in Asia (Philippine Eagles, diclofenac poisoning of Gyps Vultures in South Asia, Cinereous Vultures in Mongolia, and Javan Hawk Eagles in Indonesia) and the Neotropics (Harpy Eagles, Ridgway’s Hawks, and Orange-breasted Falcons among others) as well as Africa.
Rick’s accomplishments are never achieved alone; his life’s mantra “…give others the credit, build teams, and develop local capacity to continue work sustainably…” has served him well. With over 30 graduate students and many more technicians shouldering the work, and now the entire Peregrine Fund staff and volunteer force as well, Rick’s vision for the future of The Peregrine Fund’s global impact looks toward to the next species in need, the next critical habitat to save, and the next landscape-level threat to tackle while engaging people to become ambassadors and supporters of conservation focused on birds of prey worldwide. His life’s adventures, passion and work have been shared and supported by his wife, Christine, and their two children, Ben and Heather, over three decades in pursuit of raptor conservation around the world.