Victims of cancer, assassins, & two killed by the species they loved
Peter Pritchard, 76, died in hospice care on February 26, 2020. Known as “the Turtle God,” recalled longtime Tampa Times environmental reporter Craig Pittman, Pritchard at his home in Oviedo, Florida kept what Pittman believed to be “the largest private collection of turtle and tortoise specimens in the world — more than 14,000 individual pieces from 100 different countries, hanging on every inch of the walls and lining every table and shelf.
The Chelonian Research Institute, founded by Pritchard in 1998, inherited the collection and is to decide on a destination for it at a later date.
Recalled Pittman, “When Pritchard was at Oxford University studying chemistry, he kept a tank of turtles in his dorm. He kept meat to feed them, and he turned up his heater to maintain the proper temperature. The resulting smell guaranteed he was not a popular student.
“When Pritchard decided that instead of chemistry, he should study turtles, he moved to Gainesville to learn all he could from legendary University of Florida sea turtle expert Archie Carr (1909-2007). He earned a Ph.D. in zoology there in 1969.”
Pritchard two years later participated in the expedition to the Galapagos Islands that discovered Lonesome George, the last remaining Pinta Island tortoise, who came to symbolize Galapagos conservation efforts.
Attempts to mate Lonesome George with tortoises from other Galapagos Islands tortoises, begun in 1995, failed to produce offspring. He died in 2012.
Pritchard “wrote more than a dozen books,” Pittman recalled, “including The Encyclopedia of Turtles, a standard reference among scientists, and a children’s book, Cleopatra the Turtle Girl. He also wrote Saving What’s Left, a manual on conserving environmentally sensitive lands in Florida,” and “while working for the Florida chapter of the Audubon Society, he convened the first symposium of experts on the Florida panther, and later helped write the first recovery plan for that endangered species,” the subject of Pittman’s newly published book Cat Tale.
“Four species of turtle are named after Pritchard,” Pittman added, among them “a snakeneck turtle from New Guinea, a pond turtle from northern Burma, a giant fossil sideneck turtle from Colombia, and an adult male green turtle from the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.
Finished Pittman, “The lanky, 6-foot-4 scientist met his petite wife Sibille, a journalist, at a party in Guyana, where he was researching that country’s turtles.”
“For 50 years, Peter has been my partner, my strength and my soulmate,” Sibille Pritchard told Pittman. “Together, we’ve had an amazing journey.”
Hawk defended rhinos
Lieutenant Colonel Leroy Brewer, top anti-poaching investigator for the Hawks, the elite South African police unit that fights organized crime, was on March 17, 2020 assassinated from ambush at about 6:30 a.m. while driving to work in Mbombela, South Africa.
Brewer “was ambushed and shot by an undetermined number of gunmen using high-caliber weapons,” Africa Times reported.
“Investigations at the crime scene yielded several empty cartridges, while three bullet holes were found in the driver’s side window and one in the passenger window behind it. Brewer died at the scene of the crime,” Africa Times added
Jailed by crooked cops
Honored in 2016 as the Hawks’ best detective, Brewer “was particularly known for his determination to investigate any individuals involved in rhino poaching, including fellow policemen,” Africa Times recalled. “Brewer’s commitment often put him at odds with less scrupulous colleagues. In 2016, for example, he himself was detained by police while he was trying to arrest two officers for ties to a poaching ring.
Added Africa Times, “Rhino poaching has been declining over the past five years in South Africa. A number of the country’s various law enforcement agencies— including the Hawks, to which Leroy Brewer belonged, as well as park authorities and customs officials—have collaborated to go after international poaching syndicates, with increasingly impressive results.
“In 2019, 564 rhinos were killed for their horns—26% less than in the previous year and less than half the number (1,215) who were slaughtered in 2014, the peak year for rhino poaching in South Africa.”
“Driving force” for elephants
Beyers Coetzee, 45, a Pretoria, South Africa architect and father of two, recalled by Roving Reporters online editor Matthew Hattingh as “a driving force in efforts to expand the 25,000-acre Mawana Reserve into the 86,500-acre Loziba Wilderness, was on February 18, 2020 trampled by elephants.
“Mawana was established by Kerneels van der Walt,” Coetzee’s father-in-law, “who died in 2017,” Hattingh explained.
Coetzee hoped to create the Loziba Wilderness, about 25 miles southest of Vryheid, “in partnership with neighboring communities and 37 other landowners,” Hattingh said. “This would create a safe haven for Mawana’s elephants, and enable introduction of other big game, including black rhino as part of a broader rewilding drive.”
However, Hattingh added, “Recent breakouts from the Mawana reserve have put pressure on conservation authorities to cull the elephants, jeopardizing plans to expand the reserve.”
Tried to chase 31 elephants home
Thirty-one elephants escaped from Mawana on February 17, 2020.
Accompanied by Hendrik van Jaarsveld, the 21-year-old son of the manager of a neighboring farm, Grant Fowlds of Project Rhino, and Thobani Masondo, 38, an eight-years Mawana employee, Coetzee “set out to drive the AWOL beasts back, using big-bang firecrackers and the crack of firearms to frighten them along,” Hattingh recounted.
Van Jaarsveld told Hattingh that the team “lost sight of the main herd,” and then were charged amid dense bush by two bull elephants.
“I warned them the elephants were getting angry and they should leave them be for a while,” Masondo said.
Fowlds, wrote Hattingh, “said he blamed himself for not warning Coetzee off his unorthodox elephant-scaring methods. But big bangs had worked well before and were a good deal more affordable than calling in aircraft. Una Coetzee had also pleaded with her husband not to go out that morning, said Fowlds.”
African Conservation Trust chief executive Francois du Toit pledged to “realize his vision and to honor his family by making Loziba a reality.”
Third lion-keeping fatality in four years
Swane van Wyk, 21, was fatally mauled by lions on February 8, 2020 at the Zwartkloof private private wildlife preserve in Bela-Bela, Limpopo Province, South Africa.
Van Wyk “is believed to have escaped from the cage and alerted staff to the attack with her screams, before collapsing by the gate with devastating injuries,” reported Jamie Pyatt, Cape Town correspondent for MailOnLine.
Van Wyk was the third person in four years to be killed by captive lions in South Africa.
A 22-year-old American woman whose name was never released to media was fatally mauled in February 2017 at the Dinokeng Game Reserve near Pretoria, operated by self-described “lion whisperer” Kevin Richardson. Visiting the reserve for a job interview, “The 22-year-old had got out of her car to photograph wildlife when she was attacked by lions who had been chasing impala,” Pyatt recounted.
Leon van Biljon, 70, was killed in August 2019 at his Mahala View Lion Lodge, near Cullinan in northern South Africa, while trying to mend a fence.
In addition, Mike Hodge, 72, owner the Marakele Predator Centre in Thabazimbi, north of Johannesburg, survived a mauling by one of his captive lions in May 2018.
The same month, visitor Peter Nortje, 55, “was lucky to survive after he had his arm savagely bitten by one of the predators when he put it inside their enclosure at Tikwe River Game Lodge in Virginia, South Africa,” Pyatt mentioned.