By Mallorie Rast, Kindersley Social, August 2, 2017
Richard Fyfe, credited with bringing Canada’s Peregrine Falcon back from the brink of extinction, passed away at the age of 85. Now, Canadians can give honor to his legacy.
Born in Saskatoon, but raised in Kindersley, Fyfe lived a varied life as a teacher, principal, father, husband, and conservation research scientist. Working with the Canadian Wildlife Service, Fyfe and his family moved from one location to another, before finally settling in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, where Fyfe lived until his death on June 17, 2017.
During his growing up years, he loved birds but understood that it was more socially acceptable to play hockey or go hunting. Carrying the gun his father gave him, he would venture into the prairie to shoot gophers but would always wind up watching birds. He learned how to mimic the bird’s sounds, and soon taught himself falconry. Sometimes, he would spend hours patiently sitting and waiting for “his” birds to arrive.
Fyfe’s passion was Falcons, and in 1970, Fyfe turned his attention to the alarming situation in North America—the sharp decline in the Peregrine Falcon population. Numbers of Peregrine Falcons were falling prey to the use of pesticides, particularly the pesticide known as DDT. The toxic substance would build up in the Falcons’ bodies, causing issues with fertility and the development of strong eggshells.
Fyfe had been observing the situation in Saskatchewan and in Alberta over the past decade and had experimented with breeding Falcons in captivity in his own back yard. Thus, when he approached the wildlife directors at the Federal-Provincial Wildlife Conference for permission to start a captive-breeding program; he was exactly the man for the job.
While the project was controversial at the time, permission was granted and Fyfe’s team began collecting chicks from the wild to raise and breed in Fyfe’s own yard. A facility at the Canadian Forces Base in Wainwright was finally ready in 1973, and the birds were relocated there.
Many doubted that this daring project would actually succeed. Objectors cried out against the captivity of the birds, while others warned that young birds raised in captivity would never survive in the wild.
Despite the criticism, Fyfe and his team persevered and became the first to see their Falcons return to the wild and become parents. This success was contributed to Fyfe’s careful and creative monitoring of the Falcon’s behavior, and of choosing the right mating pairs.
By the time the Wainwright facility closed in 1996, Fyfe and his team had raised more than 1,500 falcons for release. Peregrines were taken off the endangered species list three years later in 1999.
In March of 2000, Fyfe was awarded Canada’s highest civilian honor, the Order of Canada. But he did not receive the award until years later after the false accusation that Fyfe was leading an international falcon smuggling ring had fully died away.
Fyfe leaves behind him a legacy for wildlife appreciation and the value of hard work and integrity. May all Canadians take note of his life and follow his example.
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