Avian Demography Unit
Department of Statistical Sciences
University of Cape Town
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Tony Williams Tony Williams
WCNCB Senior Research Officer


Tony is employed as a Senior Specialist Scientist by the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board and is on “secondment” to the ADU as a Senior Research Officer.

Tony became interested in birds as a boy in his native Yorkshire and by the time he was 16 was monitoring seabird populations on the cliffs of Flamborough, England’s largest seabird colony. After qualifying as a geographer from Sheffield University in 1964 Tony worked as a planner in the Peak District National Park before emigrating to Vancouver, Canada. After a year there he traveled across North, Central and South America before returning to the UK to study the behaviour of Guillemots and Razorbills. After a post-graduate course in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester Tony moved to Norway where in the winter he worked at Tromso Museum and in the summer continued his study of auk behaviour at Bear Island. After receiving his M.Sc. in 1972 he moved to the FitzPatrick Institute at the University of Cape Town and initiated its research programme at sub-Antarctic Marion Island which he visited twice (for a total of 2.5 years). Based on his work there he authored 22 papers and obtained his doctorate. A one year spell on Marcus Island in Saldanha Bay preceded Tony’s move to Namibia (then South West Africa) were he was initially employed as ornithologist at the State Museum and then as Research Officer (ornithology) in the Department of Nature Conservation and Tourism. In 1988 Tony joined the then Cape Nature Conservation Department as their representative in Walvis Bay whilst at the same time being responsible for research at all South Africa’s 33 guano islands. When Namibia absorbed Walvis Bay and the guano islands off its coast in 1994 Tony relocated to the Western Cape working first at Jonkershoek outside Stellenbosch and then at head office in central Cape Town before his secondment to the ADU.

Tony is presently working in parallel in three fields. These are: seabird biology and conservation; the status and distribution of seabirds in Latin America; and synanthropic ecology (the ecological effects of roads, powerlines, and urbanization).

In terms of seabird biology he is collaborating with Vincent Ward in assessing the various causes of seabird mortality based on a study of 10, 000 carcasses at Bird Island Lambert’s Bay, reviewing the diseases and parasites of penguins, assessing the hypothesis that Kelp Gulls are transmitters of avian cholera from poultry farm waste to seabird islands, and reviewing the eco-history, and conservation issues of, seabirds in southern Africa.

His interest in the seabirds of Latin America is a “hobby” project in which Tony is working, again in parallel, on reviews of the distribution and status of the seabird families that occur there as well as an overall review of established impacts on their populations.

Synanthropic ecology has received little attention in southern Africa where most biologists prefer working in natural areas. Tony is assessing the literature to develop a series of reviews that can provide insight into particular issues and so guide local biologists and conservators.

Tony has shifted in the course of his life from a bird watcher to a researcher, then conservator and now, although continuing his research and conservation work, is keen to spread knowledge to a wider, public audience. He has been involved in gold medal awards for interpretation work in Namibia and was the conceiver and prime champion of the R 4 million tourism developments at Bird Island, Lambert’s Bay (see photo). Currently, in his leave time, he is working on, or motivating, a series of ecotourism projects designed to produce jobs for members of South Africa’s formerly disadvantaged peoples in the trust that with an initial economic incentive they will, over time, develop an interest in and commitment to conservation. Somewhat disillusioned with the scientific literature Tony has recently preferred to reach a wider audience by publishing shorter items that have a wider appeal and readership, though still continuing with preparation of scientific papers.

Recent publications include:

Underhill, L.G., Bartlett, P.A., Baumann, L., Crawford, R.J.M., Dyer, B.M., Gildenhuys, A., Nel, D.C., Oatley, T.B., Thornton, M., Upfold, L., Williams, A.J., Whittington, P.A. & Wolfaardt, A.C. 1999. Mortality and survival of African Penguins Spheniscus demersus involved in the Apollo Sea oil spill: an evaluation of rehabilitation efforts. Ibis 141: 29-37.

Ward, V.L. & Williams, A.J. 2004. Coastal killers: causes of seabird mortality. Bird Numbers 13:14-17.

Williams, A.J. 2002. Bird counters rewarded: the case of Wadrif wetland. Bird Numbers 11: 18-22.

Williams, A.J. 2003. Crop, crap and stir: the impact of waterbirds on wetlands. Bird Numbers 12: 6-8.

Williams, A.J. 2003. Splat! the impact of traffic on wildlife. Bird Numbers 12: 9-13.

Williams, A.J. 2004. Is that a Kelp, Cape or Khoisan Gull? Bird Numbers 13: 21-23.

Williams, A.J. & Parsons, N. 2004. Cholera catastrophes: are Kelp Gulls culprits? Bird Numbers 13: 8-10.

Williams, A.J. & Ward, V.L. 2002. Catastrophic cholera: coverage, causes, context, conservation and concern. Bird Numbers 11: 2-6.

2004 Posters (with venue presented) indicative of present work directions:

  • Hidden Menaces: impacts of roads and traffic on wildlife (Fynbos Forum, Langebaan, August 2004).
  • Feathered Fynbos Fauna Foiled by Fragmentation, Fire, Felines and Formality (Fynbos Forum, Langebaan, August 2004).
  • Stork stalking at the tail-end of the range: Black Storks in the Western Cape Province of South Africa (Fourth International Black Stork Conference, Davod, Hungary April 2004).
  • How significant are water-bird populations of the Cape Metropol wetlands? (Fynbos Forum, Langebaan, August 2004).

    Tony is currently working on reviews entitled:

  • The impacts of roads and traffic on herptiles.
  • The impacts of seals on penguins and other seabirds: implications for evolution and conservation.
  • The status and conservation of birds or prey in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.
  • What makes riparian habitat so bird rich.
  • An eco-history of southern African seals, cetaceans and seabirds.
  • Southern African seabirds: management issues.


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    Last Modified 20 August 2004