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IFAW mourns the death of long-time partner and friend Professor Rudi van Aarde, a visionary conservation ecologist who passed away at his home in South Africa on 21 July 2023.
“While this is a sad, sad day, the legacy that Rudi has left behind is immeasurable,” said Jason Bell, IFAW’s executive vice president.
Van Aarde was director of the Conservation Ecology Research Unit (CERU) at the University of Pretoria, with whom IFAW has had a more than 20-year partnership. Under his guidance, this partnership spawned IFAW’s Room to Roam initiative, which aims to ensure elephant populations are stable and thrive alongside people throughout East and southern Africa well into the future.
“The very fact that we are able to now pioneer one of the most ambitious global conservation initiatives of our time—Room to Roam—is thanks to Rudi and CERU’s work over the past 20 years,” Bell added.
The overarching goal of van Aarde’s research was simple: To understand the drivers of elephant population dynamics across southern Africa, which is home to 80% of Africa’s elephants. To that end, he led the most comprehensive elephant population-level research program ever conducted. His pioneering work, which sought to use science to inform conservation decisions, helped create the blueprint for the regional approach to elephant population management being implemented in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia, and Malawi that we now know as Room to Roam.
Notably, van Aarde and IFAW shaped a conservation model based on spatial management of water, which, after adoption by South African National Parks, stabilised the elephant population, eliminating the need for culling.
“If it wasn’t for Rudi and his passion for elephants, for science, for nature, we would still be deep in the throes of the politics around elephant management in southern Africa,” Bell reflected.
More than a gifted scientist, van Aarde was also an avid photographer. His compelling images reflect the deep spiritual connection he had with elephants and nature.
IFAW will continue to honour Rudi’s legacy through our ongoing commitment to the science behind Room to Roam and our dedication to protecting elephants worldwide.