Roger Perry preparing to transport, in May 1968, one of the 14 remaining tortoises (a female) from Española to a breeding center on Santa Cruz. Photograph by Tjitte de Vries.
Written by Peter Kramer
Roger Perry, writer, educator, passionate conservationist and Charles Darwin Research Station Director from 1964 to 1970 died in January 2016 at the age of 82. He was a Darwin Foundation Honorary Member since 2004.
During his years as head of the Station he turned this small field station where everything had to be improvised into a still small, but solidly managed institution. In his wonderful book “Island Days” he writes that there was “no secretary, nor anyone else who had much idea how to use a typewriter”. To become effective and initiate conservation and science work Roger brought together and led a small team of people with very different, but matching skills. With them he took the Station to a new level: Carl Angermeyer running the Beagle II, the Station vessel, Miguel Castro as a conservation Officer, Rolf Sievers as Station Manager, and Tjitte de Vries, who joined him to be his associate and deputy.
Under his leadership a number of activities were started that became iconic essentials of Galapagos conservation: From the beginning he was keen to undertake work to save the surviving Giant Tortoise populations from extinction. Campaigns to remove introduced mammals preying on or competing with the tortoises, and pioneering work to breed and raise tortoises under safe conditions were started in those years. Beyond that Roger, knowing that conservation activities on the Island would have to be well understood and supported by settlers, initiated the tradition of natural history courses for teachers and later journalists and tour guides at the Station. A photograph published in Noticias de Galapagos 7/8 shows Roger wearing shirt and bowtie (he was seldom seen without tie) together with Tjitte de Vries, surrounded by Galapagos school teachers and school supervisors.
Work to understand conservation problems and then to actually do something about them was as urgent in the 60ies as it is today. In those early years the Ecuadorian government expected the Darwin Foundation to carry out actual conservation work. That started to change in 1968, when the Ecuadorian Forestry Institute sent out the first two National Park officials: José Villa and Juan Black. Their mission was handicapped initially because the government did not equip or pay them. Roger found space and salaries for them and that is how the Galapagos National Park Service started its successful history. Through him the Darwin Foundation was able to provide the nest, from which the Galapagos National Park Service fledged and became the largest and best organized park service in Latin America.
Roger set an example to his successors how to manage the Station, planning projects, supervising employees, advising visiting scientists, writing requests and reports to donors, but he also took the time to really get to know the Islands well during his six years. Experiencing the wonders of Galapagos personally was important to him. When Fernandina erupted massively and the caldera collapsed in 1968 he was on his way up to the rim of the volcano only days later. He wrote that climbing up it seemed “as if the whole island were balanced on a jellylike mass”. He was an extraordinarily gifted writer and wanted to transmit his experiences particularly to young readers.
Tjitte de Vries writes “The days of Roger in the Galapagos may seem to us as an era of simplicity..., but certainly the early problems were many and as a pioneer and a leader he knew to solve many of them, giving a solid footing to the Foundation.”
The Charles Darwin Foundation will remember Roger Perry as one of its Founding Fathers.