DONORS:
Mark Williams, Dale Patton, Paddy Thompson, Lan Nelson, Ontario Hawking
Club, Saskatchewan Falconers Association, Quebec Falconry Association/
Association de fauconnerie du Quebec, Alberta Falconry Association, North
American Falconers Association
B
orn in 1932 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, where he
grew up on the Great Plains roaming the countryside as a
boy, Richard Fyfe soon developed an inordinate fondness
for birds and other wildlife, especially for birds of prey and the
Peregrine Falcon in particular. He died at age 85 on 17 June 2017 in
Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta after a long struggle with pneumonia.
His early interest in birds of prey and hunting led him to the
pursuit of falconry. He was instrumental in establishing the
Saskatchewan Falconry Association in the 1950s when he was in his
early 20s. Later, he also helped establish a falconers organization in
Alberta. He flew several kinds of falcons. His favorite was always
the Peregrine, a fine example of which he had in possession when
he died. He was also a charter member of the Raptor Research
Foundation.
Following graduation from the University of British Columbia,
Richard soon married Lorraine Doll in 1957, his loving wife for
66 years. They embarked on several years of school teaching and
community service at several Inuit villages in Arctic Canada. Along
by Tom J. Cade
Richard William Fyfe
the way they began accumulating
a family of five children. They
eventually left their work in the
Arctic, returned to the south, and
Richard took employment with the
Canadian Wildlife Service. His first
conservation research assignments
were in Ottawa, Ontario and
Sackville, New Brunswick
before finally settling in at Fort
Saskatchewan, Alberta.
I first met Richard in 1965 at
the now famous International
Peregrine Conference organized
by Prof. J. J. Hickey (1969) at the
University of Wisconsin to explore reasons why the Peregrine
Falcon had declined so drastically in numbers in both Europe
and North America in the previous 10 years. The cause of these
unprecedented declines is now well known, but at the time of
the conference there were many troubling unknowns still to be
investigated. Particularly in North America there were large areas of
suitable range where little or nothing was known about Peregrines.
The potential for breeding falcons in captivity for restocking
vacant range was a subject of considerable interest at the end of the
conference.
Richard and I got to know each other pretty well during the three
days of the conference. We thought alike on many issues, and we
both became determined to change the course of our professional
activities to pursue answers to why so many of our Peregrines had
disappeared and to find solutions to the problem before extinction
became inevitable. Other colleagues made similar decisions. This
widespread focus on the Peregrine was the main accomplishment of
Hickey’s conference and why it became such a prominent episode in
the early history of conservation biology.
Immediately after the conference in 1965, Richard began
exploring the possibilities of establishing a captive breeding
center for Peregrines in Canada under the jurisdiction of the
Canadian Wildlife Service. In 1970 he finally got permission to
take some wild nestlings into captivity for the purpose of breeding
birds for reintroduction. Later a facility was constructed for that
purpose at Camp Wainwright in Alberta. Richard had an uncanny
ability to choose just the right people as his assistants, most of
whom stayed with the program to the end, even after Richard
retired, names like Phil and Helen Trefry, Harry Armbruster, Ursula
Banasch. Successful reproduction soon began at Wainwright, and
successful reintroductions followed. By 1985, 644 young falcons
had been produced at Wainwright and 571 had been released in
southern Canada. At the end of the program in 1996 a total of 1550
had been bred and released, and nearly 200 pairs were known to be
nesting in the wild.
In August of 1984 the infamous law enforcement actions known
as “Operation Falcon jointly conducted by the law enforcement
division of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and by law officers
north of the border, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,
involving early morning raids
on both private and public
breeding facilities. Richard
Fyfe’s life was changed
forever, as he fell under false
accusations by a ruthless nest
thief and falcon smuggler
that he was not actually
breeding falcons in captivity
but was using the Wainwright
operation as a cover to launder
wild-taken birds to smuggle
overseas. Incredibly, some
Canadian authorities took
this accusation seriously and
forced Fyfe to undergo an exacting inventory to account for every
bird that had gone into and out of the Wainwright facility. Because
of good book keeping records by his staff, after an emotionally
stressful year, Fyfe was able to account for all but one bird. After
some further insulting investigation by the Mounted Police, Richard
was officially exonerated of any wrong doing, the director of CWS
apologized, and he was told he could keep his job. Instead, Richard
chose to take early retirement from CWS in 1997 because he felt
that his professional reputation had been sullied by the prolonged
and accusatory investigation. In 2000 Richard was inducted into the
Order of Canada, the highest civilian honor given, for his efforts to
recover the Peregrine Falcon; but even that honor was not enough
to quell the hurt he received from his government. It should be
noted that none of his many friends and raptor colleagues had other
than the highest regard for his work.
After leaving CWS Richard went into semi-retirement, living
a quiet but still active existence with his wife on their farm
near Fort Saskatchewan, where they were frequently visited by
members of their extended family. He kept busy with various
community affairs, doing environmental consulting, and making
educational videos with his wife for school children; and he
resumed his practice of falconry, which had largely been abandoned
during the busy years at Camp Wainwright.
In 1976 Richard and I found ourselves sitting together under a huge
tent sheltering an audience of more than a hundred people waiting
to hear a welcoming speech from the first president of the United
Arab Emirates, Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan of Abu Dhabi. It would
be a simultaneously translated speech from Arabic to English to
welcome invited guests to the first international festival of falconry.
Just before the program started, one of the managers approached
Richard and asked if he would please give a brief reply to the
president’s welcome on behalf of the assembled falconers. Richard
reluctantly said he would. After Zayed’s performance ended with
loud applause Richard stood up from where he was seated, and in
his soft but clear voice began delivering the finest extemporaneous
talk I ever heard. There was not a sound from the audience. A
British expatriate who had lived for many years in the Middle East
and was sitting by me leaned over and whispered, “He’s saying all
the right things. Yes, that was Richard: He thought the right things,
and he wrote and spoke the right words.
Richard ew several kinds of falcons.
His favorite was always the Peregrine.