Ron Hartley, Staff ’83-04

Ron Hartley, 1950 – 2005

The news of Ron Hartley’s tragic and untimely death at his home on 5th April 2005 in Franschhoek, South Africa, has been received with deep sorrow and disbelief by all those who knew this charismatic man. Numerous messages of condolence from throughout Southern Africa and abroad all testify to the high regard in which he was held.

Ron was born in Livingstone in Zambia in 1950, but he spent almost his entire life in Zimbabwe where he received his initial education in Harare before moving to Rhodes Estate Preparatory School within sight of his beloved Matobo Hills, and then on to Plumtree School south of Bulawayo on the Botswana border. There can be no doubt that his experiences at both of these “bush” schools imbued him with his love of nature and the outdoor way of life.

After graduating with a BA degree at the University of Natal in 1971, Ron embarked on a teaching career specialising in geography. His first post was at Mutare Boys’ High and in addition to coaching cricket and hockey – he was an outstanding sportsman himself – he fostered an interest in natural history among his pupils and founded the school’s Wildlife Society.

In 1983 he moved to appositely named Falcon College at Esigodini in the Matabeleland bushveld south of Bulawayo and taught there for twenty-two years until his recent move to South Africa. While there he nurtured his pupils in the art of falconry and all aspects of natural history. Generations of schoolboys were inspired by his dedication and enthusiasm and many went on to careers in conservation.

During his time at Falcon College Ron pioneered a captive breeding and release programme for Peregrine and Taita Falcons. He was President of the Zimbabwe Falconers’ Club (ZFC) from 1984-1998 and one of his missions was to dispel the unfavourable perception of this ancient and noble art. He insisted on strict ethical codes of conduct and the standards of the ZFC provided a model that was admired worldwide.

His conservation activities in the field were numerous, indeed it is difficult to know how he could sustain such a workload. The survey of Peregrine and Taita Falcon populations in the rugged Batonka Gorges below Victoria Falls required a level of physical activity that was not for the faint-hearted. His extensive research projects, some of which were undertaken with the sponsorship of the Peregrine Fund in U.S.A., included the impact of DDT on raptor populations in Zimbabwe, Crowned Eagles in the lowveld, Verreaux’s Eagles in the Matobo Hills, the ecology of terrestrial gamebirds at Esigodini and many others. Most of this research was meticulously collated and published in over 100 papers and several have yet to appear. The special September 2002 raptor issue of Honeyguide, Journal of Bird Life Zimbabwe, was almost entirely made up of contributions by Hartley or former pupils of his.

It is an indication of his stature that he was asked to be a consultant for documentaries of the BBC Natural History Unit, notably Eagle (1997), Life of Birds (1998), Hyrax (1998) and Quelea (1999) and in most of these his trained birds were featured. He was also subsequently a consultant for several National Geographic Wildlife films.

On a personal note Ron was a warm and generous friend and gave freely of his unpublished information both to myself and other raptorphiles. His explosive laugh was infectious, his energy and enthusiasm boundless. One of my abiding nostalgic pleasures over the years was to visit him at Falcon College, where I once taught myself, and go out with him to fly Cilla, his beloved African Hawk-Eagle, or a favourite Peregrine. His heart lay in Zimbabwe and he found it difficult to adjust to a new environment in South Africa.

It is no exaggeration to say that Ron bestrode the world of raptor research and conservation like a colossus and he leaves a void that cannot be filled. All who knew him will sift their individual and special memories like beads on a rosary, and this will be his living memorial.

Peter Steyn30th June 2005

Others remember Ron as follows

I remember piling in the back of Ron’s bakkie in the early ’80’s on a warm June afternoon and heading out to the 7 sisters past Robinson’s farm.

Watching the birds dance in the sharp mysterious ballet of falcon and falconer, the dogs still, pointing. Seeing the francolin erupt from the bush, the perfect dive.

Walking through the long grass to check an African Hawk Eagle nest, climbing the tree, a thrill at the egg in its bed of fresh leaves. I can still smell that place.

On behalf of all the naturalists – Ron opened doors for us ‘bush’ guys, who heard the call of the wild a little louder. He encouraged us, was a man we could look to as an example, he mentored us.

For me, Ron believed in me, recognised my gifts and abilities, gave me wings, like he gave to so many others. He was a profoundly formative influence in helping me find my calling, and I thank and honour him for that.

John RoffNatural History Cociety and Founders House, 1984

Not being in Chubb or in the falconry club, I only really got to know Ron and Deirdre on the 84 expedition to Mana Pools. During a night walk near the Rekommetjie (sp?) river (we were there to check out dinosaur footprints in a riverbed) he astounded the three or four of us who were tagging along by tracking an eagle owl from tree to tree for quite some distance. If anyone else on the list has memories of Ron on that trip, please post them. A very gifted man and very sad news.

Paul FurberOates 1979-84

I left Falcon before Ron went there, but I visited the Birds of Prey centre in Newent, Gloucestershire in the early 80’s and got chatting to the owner, Jemima Parry-Jones, who told me she had visited Falcon several times just to see Ron, whose knowledge she greatly respected. That was some endorsement coming from one of Europe’s leading Falconers.

Roger PhillipsOates 1960-64

With great sadness we pass on these messages from IAF President Patrick Morel and from Dr. Adrian Lombard in South Africa:

“It is with a very heavy heart that I must inform you that Ron Hartley died, tragically, in his home in Franschoek, in the Western Cape on Tuesday, 5th April. Ron was a colossus in Southern African falconry and one of my oldest and dearest friends. We shall miss him greatly. I wonder if you would be so good as to notify other IAF members, as many knew him either personally or by repute. ”

Adrian Lombard.

“It with great sorrow that I learned of the tragic passing away of Ron Hartley on 5th April 2005. Ron Hartley moved to South Africa last year and had recently taken a full time position in there with The Peregrine Fund. Ron was the main representative of IAF from Zimbabwe and indeed all of southern Africa. At his school in Zimbabwe he introduced hundreds of boys to falconry at an appropriately named school, Falcon College. Ron was one of the finest examples of the falconer/raptor conservationist ever to come from our ranks. His friendship and sound advice will be greatly missed. Ron was one of God’s own true gentlemen. A great loss to the international falconry community. I would like to extend the condolences of the falconry community to Ron’s family, colleagues and friends.”

Patrick MorelIAF president

International Association for Falconry & Conservation of Birds of Prey

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One Response to Ron Hartley, Staff ’83-04

  • In 1980 my wife and I moved to Umtali where I had been appointed to a senior position in the Umtali Museum. We very soon got to know Ron Hartley and in a short space of time we became close friends. I used regularly to go hunting hawks with Ron after work each evening in the Penhalonga Valley. Those were great days. Ron became increasingly frustrated with teaching in government service, and shortly before we emigrated to the UK, I strongly suggested to Ron that he should consider seeking a position at Falcon College, my old school. I knew it would be perfect for Ron, especially with a copious supply of francolin in the bundu! And so Ron moved to Falcon, where we saw him a couple of times during rear visits ‘home’ from the cold climate of Britain. He was an outstanding person with a superb sense of humour. We were devastated when we received news of his death. It was a privilege to have known him. Famba zhvaganaga, shamwari.

    Julian Pellatt
    (Hervey 1969-1973)

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