John Frederick Walker

Remembering Richard D. Estes

Posted in Uncategorized by JFW on December 9, 2021
Richard Estes, 2008 Angola

Wildlife biologist Dr. Richard D. Estes has passed away.  

Estes was more than an expert, he was a mentor, and an inspiration—to me and many others. The 93-year-old founder and former chair of the IUCN Antelope Specialist Group was the author of The Behavior Guide to African Mammals, The Safari Companion, The Gnu’s World and other authoritative texts, and a legend in the field of African wildlife conservation.  

What is known about the wildebeest is largely based on his research.  But his studies extended to other species as well, including the giant sable antelope of Angola.  He and his wife Runi did fieldwork in 1969-70 and co-authored a definitive paper on this majestic and critically endangered species, the country’s national animal. 

The giant sable was thought to have been wiped out during Angola’s long civil war (1975-2002).  The indefatigable Estes participated in several attempts to determine if any remnant population survived.  I was privileged to join him and other biologists on several expeditions into Angola’s highlands. Above, Estes (then in his 80s) scans the bleak Angolan woodlands in 2008 for any sign of the creature.  

In 2009, we both joined a capture operation organized by Dr. Pedro Vaz Pinto, who had managed to obtain photographs of a few surviving giant sables.  Aided by veterinarian Dr. Pete Morkel, the expedition found some twenty animals, and rounded up enough of them to form a captive breeding group, saving the giant sable from extinction.  

Estes will be missed. 

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