Peter Steyn, Staff ’61-’70

Peter Steyn’s natural history interests began with butterflies and snakes while still at preparatory school in Cape Town, but he soon switched to birds. At the age of 13 he took his first bird photograph and hasn’t stopped for 60 years, during which time his pictures have appeared in magazines and books world-wide. His 350 popular and scientific publications are mostly illustrated with his own photographs, but his camera has always been used as a research tool, not just for pretty pictures.

After graduating with a BA degree in English and History at the University of Cape Town in 1959, Peter emigrated with his wife and small son to what was then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and taught for ten years at Falcon College. Here his passion for birds of prey, especially eagles, thrived and he published many scientific studies of this group.

In 1970, at the age of 34, the momentous decision was taken to leave teaching and write and photograph on a professional basis. Residing in Bulawayo within easy reach of the Matobo hills, he continued his studies of many raptor species there, especially the large population of Black (Verreauxs’s) Eagles. In 1973 his first book Eagle Days was published, the culmination of 20 years of observation and photography of this magnificent group of raptors. This was followed in 1974 with a popular guide to the birds of Hwange National Park which remained in print for 25 years.

Then, in 1982, after long years of research, Birds of Prey of Southern Africa was published; it ran to three impressions and still remains the definitive reference work on the raptors of the region. Subsequent publications were A Delight of Owls (1984), Hunters of the Africa Sky (1990), Birds of Southern Africa (1991) and then, in 1996, his second major work Nesting Birds which encapsulated a lifetime’s observation of, and fascination for, the breeding habits of birds. Peter’s 8th book, Antarctic Impressions – Seasons in the Southern Ocean, published in 2007, encapsulates his experiences in this remote region. After a lapse of 25 years, A Delight of Owls has been republished with improved pictures and an additional chapter

After returning to live in Cape Town in 1977, Peter was able to travel widely, and his African peregrinations now included professional guiding when he joined Wilderness Safaris on one of their earliest safaris in Botswana in 1984.

His initial overseas experiences were aboard the research ship S.A. Agulhas when he visited the sub-Antarctic islands of Marion, Tristan da Cunha and Gough. Later, as a lecturer aboard cruise ships, his travels extended from the Arctic to the Antarctic, culminating in a memorable visit to breeding Emperor Penguins in the 1997/1998 season. In the Indian Ocean he has visited Mauritius (at a time when the endemic Mauritius Kestrel was on the brink of extinction), the Seychelles and Madagascar.

Peter has an enthusiastic interest in all aspects of natural history, not just birds, and is an entertaining speaker with the ability to communicate his infectious enjoyment to others, often with humorous quotations and anecdotes. His favourite destinations are Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, in all of which he travelled extensively. His simple philosophy of life is summed up in these words from Tennyson’s Ulysses:

All experience is an arch wherethro’

Gleams that untravell’d world whose, margin fades

For ever and for ever when I move.

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after a lapse of 25 years, A Delight of Owls has been republished with improved pictures and an additional chapter

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