From an early age Clive was fluent in Swahili, a skill that was to be of great benefit in his later career. However, this fluency had a downside; his father, who passed his mischievous sense of humour onto his son, enjoyed conversing loudly in Swahili with an embarrassed Clive on London buses, much to the astonishment of startled fellow passengers. The Elliott family returned to their ancestral home in Woodstock Road, Oxford when Tanganyika became independent as Tanzania in 1961. Clive completed his schooling at Bryanston in Dorset, after which he read Zoology at University College, Oxford.
As an undergraduate member of an Oxford University expedition to northern Uganda, Clive surveyed the avifauna of the remote Kidepo National Park (Elliott 1972). During these years Clive developed close links with the university’s Edward Grey Institute and he was duly offered a place to study for a doctorate under its eminent director, David Lack. His research project was destined to be on warblers in Africa, contingent upon funding from the Royal Society. While awaiting the offer of funding, Clive spent a summer in Cumbria working with Niko Tinbergen’s research team on Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus. At this point an opportunity cropped up that was to change the course of Clive’s life. Through the Tristan link with Bunty Rowan, he became aware of a funded research position at the FitzPatrick Institute that would enable him to undertake a doctorate on the Cape Weaver Ploceus capensis. Frustrated by funding delays, and keen to return to Africa, Clive applied for, and was offered this position, and he arrived in Cape Town early in 1968. It turned out that this seemingly impulsive decision to study weavers instead of warblers was particularly fortuitous for Clive’s later career. Coinciding with his arrival in Cape Town, Clive received Royal Society funding for a short research trip to Gough Island to work on Great Shearwaters Ardenna gravis (Elliott 1970).
I first met Clive in 1968 when I enrolled at the University of Cape Town to study physics and mathematics; the link was that I was a keen amateur ornithologist and a trainee bird-ringer. My knowledge of local birds and birding sites was particularly useful to Clive and we often went on field trips together. Even more useful to Clive was my fluency in Afrikaans, which would be put to good use when we went on weaver-collecting trips to various parts of the Western Cape. We travelled through farming areas where only Afrikaans was spoken and I would be tasked with knocking on the door of each farmhouse to ask whether my scientist friend could shoot some specimens for his research. Clive would generally remain out of sight in the car, his trendy long hair - revolutionary at that time in South Africa - being a red rag to many Afrikaners.
Soon Clive’s circle of local (mostly amateur) ornithologist friends widened, as did the range of bird species we researched. Penguins, cormorants, waders, starlings, swallows and weavers were all targets of weekend and evening ringing trips. In 1969, Clive and I were rather surprisingly given permission to visit Robben Island with senior members of the university’s Zoology department and FitzPatrick Institute to investigate the feasibility of ringing Hartlaub’s Gull Chroicocephalus hartlaubii chicks. At that time, Nelson Mandela was serving his fifth year of incarceration in the high-security prison, and the island was inaccessible to all except the police and military. I can’t claim that we saw Mandela chipping away at the rocks in the limestone quarry, but perhaps he saw us from his cell window and wondered what on earth these strange visitors were up to. Clive’s earlier work on Black-headed Gulls was no doubt part of the justification for the trip, but I suspect he was also keen to visit Robben Island because of its notorious connotations. Clive’s robust anti-apartheid views often made his Cape Town years awkward in terms of his relationship with his PhD supervisor and I recall a heated argument between the two of them on the boat trip back to Cape Town Docks. At a more sinister level, his activities (and mine) were, unbeknown to us, being monitored by a student friend and expert amateur ornithologist, who secretly worked for the Bureau of State Security, or security police. Many years later, after the change of government in South Africa, it emerged that our friend’s activities had led to the deaths of several anti-apartheid activists during the late 1970s and 1980s, including Steve Biko.
While working to complete his doctorate (Elliott 1973), Clive also led the research efforts of a diverse group of mainly amateur wader enthusiasts, whose ringing and census work resulted in several papers on Palaearctic waders (e.g., Elliott et al. 1976), and provided key data used to justify the classification of Langebaan Lagoon in South Africa (Pringle & Cooper 1975) and part of Walvis Bay lagoon in Namibia (Underhill et al. 1978) as Ramsar Wetland Sites of International Importance. Wader ringing was primarily by means of mist netting, but it became clear that cannon netting would be a useful additional method of capturing species such as Sanderling Calidris alba. However, this seemingly innocuous device could not be imported into pariah state South Africa because of the international arms embargo at that time. Clive arranged for a member of the ringing team with engineering skills to fabricate a local version and it was used with much success for several years. In great contrast to some of his professional colleagues, Clive’s enthusiastic involvement in wader research was typical of his approach to working closely with amateur birders, building on their knowledge and enthusiasm, nurturing their research skills and encouraging them to publish their results. Clive’s conviction that well-directed amateurs could make a significant contribution to the science of ornithology predated by more than two decades the concept of ‘citizen science’, now much in vogue (Gura 2013).
In Cape Town, when he was in his mid-twenties, Clive’s flamboyant dress sense made him instantly recognisable among the far more conservatively-dressed South African men. Whether sporting flared Oxford bags on campus, or standing at the prow of our boat heading out to a seabird island while donning his crumpled hat and flowing red bandanna, he cut a distinctive figure. Complementing this image, Clive purchased an elderly, but stylish, open-topped red MG sports car, which nearly led to his early demise. Driving alone in swirling dust along an isolated dirt road into the setting sun he had not spotted a flimsy barbed-wire gate located behind a cattle grid. His car crashed through the gate at speed, demolishing it, but somehow he avoided being decapitated. Emerging dazed from the wreckage he found himself beside the farmer, who demanded compensation. Clive handed over some cash and resumed his journey in a crumpled car that by then matched his crumpled birding hat.
After completing his initial research contract, Clive was heavily involved in the creation of a new framework to administer bird ringing in South Africa and some adjacent countries. He was appointed to run (1972-75) the organisation that he succeeded in naming the National Unit for Bird Ringing Administration; the acronym by which it became known (NUBRA) appealed to his wry humour. In 1973 at a Cape Bird Club meeting Clive met Marie-Thérèse (‘M-T’) Rüttimann, who had recently joined the human genetics research group at the University of Cape Town. With her adventurous spirit, love of wild places, and wide knowledge of wildlife, M-T was the perfect partner for Clive. When his contract with the ringing unit (now known more prosaically as SAFRING) came to an end, Clive’s African upbringing and expertise in weaver ecology, ringing and migration studies made him well qualified for a position within the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The project, based in Chad, involved research and control measures on Red-billed Quelea Quelea quelea across much of northern and western Africa. This species, regarded as the world’s most numerous undomesticated bird, causes extensive damage to cereal crops throughout semi-arid zones of sub-Saharan Africa.
It was no surprise that when Clive left Cape Town for Chad in 1975 to take up his FAO post, M-T went with him and they married that year in a simple ceremony in Ndjamena. At that time, Chad was relatively stable and the Elliotts enjoyed their years there; an added bonus was the fine food available due to the French military presence. Clive’s quelea work involved extensive travel across the region, but he found time to indulge in another of his great passions – tennis. The French had built some tennis courts in Ndjamena and the military organised a men’s singles tournament with an impressive trophy awarded to the champion. Highly competitive, Clive entered each year, ultimately winning the cup. Shortly after his triumph in 1978, Chad descended into chaos as civil war again broke out. A hasty departure for expatriates was organised and Clive liberated the trophy for safe keeping in his Oxfordshire home; he remains the reigning champion of the (lapsed) Chad Open tennis tournament.
From Chad, the Elliotts moved to Arusha in Tanzania, where Clive took up a new FAO position, again working on quelea, this time involving extensive fieldwork throughout eastern Africa. In 1981, my wife and I accompanied Clive and his colleague John Beesley (of Beesley’s Lark Chersomanes beesleyi fame) on a quelea research trip to Lake Natron. Clive’s wry humour in designing the logo that adorned his Land Rover greatly amused the Masai people; under Swahili wording ‘Mradi Wa Quelea’ (Project Quelea), it showed two dead queleas on their backs with their feet in the air. Clive’s extensive field-based research on Red-billed Quelea across most of its African range resulted in a number of publications and a seminal book, which he co-authored with an FAO colleague (Bruggers & Elliott 1989). After several years in Arusha, Clive moved to other FAO-funded positions, firstly in Karen, Kenya (1986-89), and later in Rome at the FAO headquarters, where he was based until retirement in 2006. After leaving Africa, Clive’s FAO work was far less focused on quelea as he was also responsible for dealing with other migrant pests, including locusts. In a somewhat downhearted letter to me from Rome in 1995, Clive bemoaned the fact that his work was increasingly taking him away from birds to work on ‘bees, locusts, armyworm, and plagues of everything except biblical blisters...’. He also regretted his limited opportunities to ‘disappear back to the African bush...’, and described his position as Senior Migratory Pests Officer as ‘sounding like an itinerant grey-bearded rat-catcher.’ His comments reflected his self-deprecation. Clive regularly returned to Africa whenever he could and is remembered within the FAO as being a very positive force maintaining the profile of quelea, locusts and armyworm whenever “donor-fatigue” set in or a locust upsurge in need of control started.
Although frustrated in Rome, Clive’s intermittent field trips for locust control work – often emergencies at very short notice - took him to ever more exotic places including Eritrea, Mauritania, the Sudan, Oman, and even Tajikistan. In a letter to me after the first of his several trips to Eritrea, he wrote about his experience of standing in the middle of a vast locust swarm. ‘They made even the biggest flock of quelea look like peanuts, if you can imagine that... half a field crop was eaten in front of my eyes, before we sprayed them and produced up to 300 dead locusts per m2’. This was quite a statement – in another letter to me a few years earlier Clive had estimated that there were 67 million queleas in Tanzania.
For Clive and M-T living in Rome had many consolations, including the proximity of their sons, Ivo and Nico, who were educated in the UK, and Clive’s annual visits to the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships. Driving his British racing green Morgan sports car to work in Rome from their farmhouse home, Clive enjoyed hearing shouts of ‘Che bella macchina’ from appreciative Italian car buffs. With his sharp mind and even sharper tongue, Clive was intolerant of fools and had little time for those he considered pompous or illogical. But he also had a tremendous sense of humour, which was not always appreciated by all. In his final years at the FAO in Rome, he took a couple of days off work for minor surgery to remove several harmless lesions from his face that had resulted from years of exposure to the African sun. Returning to work with an impressive array of stitches across his forehead, Clive casually informed his horrified colleagues that he had undergone major brain surgery.
After moving back to Oxford in 2006, Clive undertook several projects for the FAO and as a consultant to EU-funded projects on quelea led by Bob Cheke of the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, including field training courses and research on trapping methods (Elliott et al. 2014) in Tanzania and Botswana. He wrote a book that documented the fifty-year history of the Desert Locust Control Organization activities in Eastern Africa (Elliott 2012) and co-authored another on the work of the FAO Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in South-West Asia during 1964-2014 (Cressman & Elliott 2014). Clive became actively involved in several clubs and societies, including the Oxford Ornithological Society (of which he was President), the Tristan da Cunha Association, the British Trust for Ornithology, and the African Bird Club. He was also a life member of BirdLife South Africa. In retirement Clive and M-T continued to travel widely to remote parts of the world pursuing their interests in wildlife, photography, and snorkelling in tropical seas. At his home in South Leigh, Oxfordshire, Clive resumed bird ringing, specifically of Tree Sparrows Passer montanus that nested in increasing numbers in the boxes that he and a group of fellow enthusiasts placed in an area of west Oxfordshire. He was an active member of the North Oxford Lawn Tennis Club, regularly taking part in team matches until shortly before his fatal illness.
Clive succeeded as the 4th Baronet Elliott of Limpsfield, Surrey on the death of his father in 1989. He is survived by Marie-Thérèse, his devoted wife of 43 years, their sons Ivo and Nico, and four grandchildren. His passing brings to an end the rich and colourful life of an English gentleman ornithologist whose heart lay in Africa, and whose friendship was greatly valued by the many diverse people whose lives he had enriched over the years.