Peter and Marilyn Bridgeford arrived at Okaukuejo in Etosha National Park on 31 May 1976. They were in their mid-thirties and Peter had accepted a position as a tourist official with the Department of Nature Conservation in former South West Africa. Marilyn had given up her well-paid job as radiology assistant and the prospect of a promising career in this field (she had taught at the University of Pretoria) to support her husband in making his dream of becoming a nature conservation officer come true. The only information the couple had about their new environment was from books by Helmut zur Strassen which they had found in the library of White River, a small town in north-eastern South Africa.
In February this year Peter Bridgeford (born in 1943) launched his latest and most comprehensive book – Conservation pioneers in Namibia – and stories by game rangers – at the Namibia Scientific Society in Windhoek. Peter started to write after Marilyn passed away in April 2014. He spent countless hours in archives unearthing information about the country’s national parks and former conservation staff, he interviewed former colleagues or their families and persuaded various people to write essays about nature conservation in Namibia.
“I wanted to gather this information before it is lost”, Bridgeford said at the book launch. “I wanted to recall the challenging conditions in which conservation officers worked in those early days. Their pioneering achievements and their stories must be kept alive and remembered”.
Back to the Bridgeford couple’s arrival in Etosha National Park in 1976: after three months Peter was transferred to Swakopmund and after another three months to Henties Bay. There they stayed until December 1978 and then Peter finally got a foot into nature conservation proper – through the backdoor, so to speak. He was appointed to the position of conservation officer at Ugabmond, the southern entrance to what is now Skeleton Coast National Park. Two years later he was posted to Möwe Bay on the northern coast, far away from the nearest town. The next move, in March 1983, was to Zais in the Namib-Naukluft National Park where the couple remained until October 1999. Peter then took on a job at the private NamibRand Nature Reserve. In 2004 he and Marilyn retired to Walvis Bay.
Peter is not only known as an author and conservationist but also as one of the fathers of vulture protection in Namibia. From very early on he campaigned for protecting and researching vultures, especially the Lappet-faced Vultures in the Namib. Since 1991 he has ringed most of the Lappet-faced Vulture chicks in southern Africa.
Some former nature conservation officials as well as current ones were present at the official launch of Peter Bridgeford’s book, among them two of the pioneers, Stoffel Rochér and Polla Swart. Bridgeford also announced that he is working on a sequel to incorporate all the information and photos that have been sent to him. He hopes to receive further anecdotes and stories from former colleagues and other conservation officers.
Other publications by Peter Bridgeford are Touring Sesriem and Sossusvlei and Cape Cross – past and present.
Author: Dirk Heinrich