Obituary: Professor Tom Cade

Tom was like no other. Quite simply, a legend.

Here’s a photo of him addressing the crowd at his 90th birthday celebrations last year (photo by The Peregrine Fund)

Here’s a tribute from his colleagues at The Peregrine Fund in the USA:

In memoriam: Tom J Cade PhD


Founding Chairman

On a spring day in 1980, Dr. Tom Cade climbed into a Peregrine Falcon nest box on top of a release tower in Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey. Just a couple of years earlier, Tom’s team of biologists and falconers had bred, raised, and released the falcon pair that now raised their own family on this tower. These two birds were part of a nationwide recovery program for the species.

Peregrine Falcon populations had declined drastically in the 1950s and ‘60s due to the widespread use of DDT – a pesticide that interfered with calcium metabolism and caused birds to lay very thin-shelled eggs that would crack during incubation. By 1970, Peregrine Falcons were extinct in the eastern United States and fewer than 40 pairs were estimated to remain in the west. Dr. Cade, an ornithologist and lifelong falconer, was acutely aware of this decline and worked with others across the nation to ban the use of DDT and develop a recovery plan for our nation’s fastest animal.

Tom marked one of the proudest moments of his career atop that tower in the spring of 1980. That’s when he discovered three young nestlings—some of the first Peregrine chicks produced in the wild in eastern North America since the 1950s. Looking back on the day, Tom recalled, “I then understood that recovery of the Peregrine would be an accomplished fact in a few more years.”

He was right. In August of 1999, Tom stood on stage with then-Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt to officially declare that the Peregrine Falcon was recovered in North America and had been removed from the Endangered Species List. To this day, it’s considered among the greatest conservation success stories of all time – Tom would refer to it as an effort of “teamwork and tenacity.”

In saving the Peregrine, Tom co-founded a non-profit conservation organization to effectively manage the financial support being offered by the public. Called The Peregrine Fund, this organization grew to become much more than he originally envisioned, and over the past five decades has worked with more than 100 species in 65 countries worldwide. Many species such as the Mauritius Kestrel, Northern Aplomado Falcon, several species of Asian Vultures, California Condor, and more are thriving today because of work The Peregrine Fund and its many partners have undertaken.

Dr. Tom Cade passed away today at age 91 years.

The world of wildlife conservation has lost a pioneer and champion today,” said The Peregrine Fund’s President and CEO, Dr. Rick Watson. “Tom fought for Peregrines and practical conservation solutions, and mentored generations of passionate individuals. His reach extended around the globe to inspire raptor research and conservation on virtually every continent and on behalf of hundreds of species.”

While we are devastated by his passing, we are uplifted knowing his legacy lives on in this organization, and among his many students, friends, followers, and supporters. We’re grateful Tom continued to travel, write, practice falconry, and visit with the staff up until his last days. His advice, conviction, and gentle presence will be sorely missed.”

Our thoughts are with Tom’s wife and devoted partner, Renetta, and their children and grandchildren in this time of loss.”

Since his first ornithological survey of St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea in 1950, Tom’s passion for natural history and his professional career spanned nearly seventy years. It involved teaching at Syracuse University and Cornell Lab of Ornithology in New York, post-doctoral research on desert birds and raptors in southern Africa, starting the Peregrine breeding program at Cornell University, co-founding and leading The Peregrine Fund, and researching the critically endangered Mauritius Kestrel.

The Board and staff of The Peregrine Fund mourn the loss of their co-founder and mentor, one of the world’s most visionary conservationists and widely respected scientists, Professor Tom Cade.


5 thoughts on “Obituary: Professor Tom Cade”

  1. Tom Cade was a hero, and I was privileged to have known him. Always supportive of others, acutely interested in the natural world and without any apparent ego (at least that is how I interpret his patience with my younger and opinionated self!). But he was no pushover. He fought to secure funding for Asian vultures in the face of disinterest from some who didn’t recognize the precipitous drop in their numbers (it wasn’t all about peregrines!). He was a gentle, kind and generous man and whose loss will be felt in all corners of the world by the conservationists that he helped set on their way.

  2. Today I heard of the passing of Tom Cade, my good friend and mentor, whom I had known since 1975, and with whom I worked closely on the recovery of the Mauritius Kestrel. Tom was the last of the triumvirate, with Don Merton and Gerald Durrell, who were my mentors and so helped me in my career.
    Tom visited Mauritius many times. He and Renetta once spent a whole field season with us and they managed their own release site. Every evening, after a day in the field he would be bristling with excitement about what he had seen as he told me about the progress of the birds.
    When in the US I often used to stay with Tom, Renetta and their son Tommy. We went on several trips together and the most memorable was to Arizona to see the Californian Condors the Peregrine Fund had released there. On another we went to Montana to fly a Golden Eagle at jackrabbits. It soared until a speck in the sky and stooped at a rabbit, tearing through the sky.
    I last saw Tom when I attended his 90th birthday party, it was a great occasion of celebration, Tom surround by family and friends all telling stories about a great man and his adventurous and creative life. Spending time in the field with Tom was a great inspiration, for he did not think like other scientists I have worked with. Tom spent much time carefully watching and thinking, using a falconer’s intuition, with a scientist’s objectivity. The resulting depth of knowledge allowed him to understand complex problems and to find solutions. It is Tom who demonstrated how to empathise with species and yet still be able to interpret observations with the logic of a scientist.
    Tom was a falconer who enjoyed flying his birds, hunting them and just being with them. He loved Peregrine Falcons and Gyr Falcons, although he had a great admiration for all raptors and all life, and was particularly fond of the Baleleur Eagle. He is survived by Stoffel a Bateleur he brought to the US from South Africa. When talking about his birds his eyes twinkled, and he spoke with the passion of a father and the cool objectivity of a scientist. Tom the scientist, naturalist and philosopher were all inextricably entwined. He was usually reserved and it took a while to get to the real man, some never did, and he could be direct if he thought you were screwing up. Tom was a loyal friend supported me on several occasions during the project battles of the 1980s, while others sat on the fence. In common with some colleagues from the Peregrine Fund he was often taciturn and was not given to idle chatter, but if you started to talk to him about the natural world, and if he was in the mood, he would offer penetrating insight and wisdom, and sometimes would sparkle with enthusiasm. His command of the written word was impressive and he wrote like a poet.
    It was Tom and the Peregrine Fund who showed us how to breed large falcon’s in captivity, but more than this they demonstrated how to integrate science and conservation. The breeding and restoration of the Peregrine Falcon was the first time anyone had taken a wild species with altricial young and restored it in nature. Tom was a pioneer of the paradigm that many of us are part of, learning how to manage endangered species in nature.
    Today has been a sad one although tempered with many lovely memories. Tom you did us proud and I hope your soul is soaring with the condors and falcons you helped restore.

  3. Sorry to hear of his passing. His book ‘The Falcons of the World’ (ISBN 0 00 219251 9) is a ‘must have’ for any BOP enthusiast.

  4. Sad to hear the Passing of a True stalwart and Pioneer, Professor Tom Cade ,who together with a Dedicated Group of People forming The Peregrine Fund ,brought the Peregrine Falcon back from the brink of Extinction in the Eastern USA.And indeed helping to ensure the survival of many other Species of endangered Birds of Prey.His Great Books are Jewels to me .I imagine Tom and the Late Great Derek Ratcliffe having Deep conversations on Peregrines.RIP Tom J Cade.

  5. Tom Cade has done more than anyone to champion and conserve the Peregrine Falcon.Without his knowledge and dedication they risked extinction in America.Anyone who works in Raptor conservation will have almost certainly benefited from his knowledge and read his books. He was a giant and I was sorry to hear of his death.

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