Above picture: Rudi van Aarde, 21 September 1951 – 21 July 2023

Emeritus Professor Rudolph Johannes (Rudi) van Aarde passed away from a heart attack on 21 July 2023 at the age of 71.  Rudi obtained his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from South Africa’s University of Pretoria, remaining there for his whole academic career, holding a Chair of Conservation Ecology.  Rudi spent 18 months on Marion Island from 1974/75 to 1975/76 as a member of the M31 & M32 Overwintering Teams, studying the population ecology of the introduced feral cats on the island towards his MSc which was awarded in 1978.  His research formed the necessary background for the successful eradication of the island’s cats over the period 1977-1991.  For a long time the world’s largest island from which feral cats had been eradicated, this must surely be considered South Africa’s most successful intervention against an invasive mammal to date; an extraordinary effort that owed much to Rudi’s research on the island.

Rudi also conducted research on Marion’s Southern Elephants Seals and introduced House Mice.  His work with the latter species resulted in an MSc being awarded to his student, Donald Matthewson, and a BSc (Honours) project by Silvia Kirkman (née Mecenero).  He led projects, co-authored publications and reports, and presented at conferences on the island’s mice over several decades (see selected reference list below; view his full publication list here).

Members of the M31 Overwintering Team on Marion Island, 1974/75. Rudi van Aarde is at bottom right; photograph from the Antarctic Legacy of South Africa

I first met Rudi on my inaugural visit to Marion Island in 1978.  As a novice, I followed his advice on the route to take on our first overnight hike.  This led us to becoming bogged in at least one mire, with the usual struggle to get out with our too-heavy packs.  A rite of passage for all tyros!  Some years later we served together on various committees within South Africa’s Antarctic and sub-Antarctic structures.  In 1995 we met again at a two-day workshop on the island’s House Mice that I co-organized at the University of Pretoria, where he gave a presentation entitled “Mouse population biology and the nature of the impact”.

Rudi lectured Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa and Chairperson of the MFM Project’s Management Committee, during his undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the University of Pretoria.  Mark in particular benefited from Rudi’s knowledge of the field of population dynamics and was impressed with his interest in and passion for wildlife photography.

The bulk of Rudi van Aarde’s subsequent research was terrestrial in nature and was centred on the management of Endangered African Savanna Elephants in southern Africa, for which he gained an international standing as Director of the Conservation Ecology Research Unit (CERU) within the University of Pretoria’s Department of Zoology and Entomology.  Rudi was a life member of the Southern African Wildlife Management Association (SAWMA), serving as its President from 2001 to 2004.  He has written of his time as President “For decades the research activities in wildlife management emphasized efforts to manipulate and control wildlife populations, and to design routines to sustainably harvest some of these species for financial gains.  My time in office stands out for the transition of wildlife management as a science to support and manipulate wildlife as game, to wildlife management as a science that supports conservation in as natural as possible a setting.  This also marked the end of concepts associated with the ‘balance of nature’ such as carrying capacity, with concepts of adaptive responses to environmental change.” (click here).  For his services to wildlife management, he received SAWMA’s Wildlife Excellence Award in 2018.  He was also an award-winning wildlife photographer of note.

The Mouse-Free Marion Project extends its sympathies to Rudi’s family, colleagues and friends.  Read obituaries for Rudi written by his colleagues here, here and here.


Selected References:

Berry, R.J., Peters, J. & van Aarde, R.J. 1978.  Sub-antarctic House mice: colonization, survival and selection.  Journal of Zoology, London 184: 127-141.

Ferreira, S.M., van Aarde, R.J. & Wassenaar, T.D. 2006.  Demographic responses of house mice to density and temperature on sub-Antarctic Marion Island.  Polar Biology 30: 83-94.

Jackson, T.P. & van Aarde, R.J. 2003.  Advances in vertebrate pest control: implications for the control of feral house mice on Marion Island.  South African Journal of Science 99: 130-136.

Matthewson, D.C. 1993.  Population biology of the house mouse (Mus musculus Linnaeus) on Marion Island.  MSc thesis, Faculty of Science, University of Pretoria.  133 pp.

Matthewson, D.C., van Aarde, R.J. & Skinner, J.D. 1994.  Population biology of the house mice (Mus musculus L.) on sub-Antarctic Marion Island.  South African Journal of Zoology 29: 99-106.

McClelland, G.T.W., Altwegg, R., van Aarde, R.J., Ferreira, S., Burger, A.E. & Chown, S.L. 2018.  Climate change leads to increasing population density and impacts of a key island invader.  Ecological Applications 28: 212-224.

Mecenero, S. 1994.  Aspects of the population biology of house mice Mus musculus L. in the subantarctic Marion Island ecosystem.  BSc (Hons) project, Department of Zoology & Entomology, University of Pretoria.  38 pp.

Skinner, J.D., Condy, P.R., Bester, M.N, van Aarde, R.J. & Robinson, T.J. 1978.  The mammals of Marion Island: a review.  South African Journal of Antarctic Research 8: 35-38.

van Aarde, R.J. 1995.  An autecological interpretation of reproductive variability in house mice on Marion Island.  7th International Colloquium on the ecology and taxonomy of small African mammals, Itala, South Africa.  24 – 30 September 1995.

van Aarde, R.J. 1995.  Mouse population biology and the nature of the impact.  In: Chown, S.L. & Cooper, J. (Eds).  The impact of feral House Mice at sub-Antarctic Marion Island and the desirability of eradication: Report on a workshop held at the University of Pretoria, 16- 17 February 1995.  Directorate: Antarctica & Islands, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Pretoria.  pp. 5-6.

van Aarde, R.J. 2000.  The saga of feral mice on Marion Island.  Wildlife Management Association Symposium, Pretoria: 10 – 11 July 2000.

van Aarde, R.J., Erasmus, D.G., Kuun, P. & Louw, C. 2002.  Autecology of the house mouse Mus musculus (senso lato) on Marion Island.  Final Report to the Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism.  40 pp.

van Aarde, R.J., Erasmus, D.G. & Wassenaar, T. 1997.  Mice on Marion Island.  Tukkiewerf 5: 12-13.

van Aarde, R.J., Ferreira, S.M. & Wassenaar, T.D. 2004.  Do feral house mice have an impact on invertebrate communities on sub-Antarctic Marion Island?  Austral Ecology 29: 215-224.

van Aarde, R.J., Ferreira, S.M., Wassenaar, T.D. & Erasmus, D.G. 1996.  With the cats away the mice may play.  South African Journal of Science 92: 357-358.

van Aarde, R.J. & Jackson, T.P. 2007.  Food, reproduction and survival in mice on sub-Antarctic Marion Island.  Polar Biology 30: 503-511.

van Aarde, R.J. & Matthewson, D.C. 1993.  Biology of the mice population on Marion Island Project.  Report to SACAR.  7 pp.

van Aarde, R.J. & Skinner, J.D. 1995.  The population biology of the house mouse (Mus musculus) on Marion Island.   Final Report to SACAR.  23 pp.

Webb, P., Ellison, G., Skinner, J.D. & van Aarde, R.J. 1997.  Are feral house mice from the sub-Antarctic adapted to cold?  Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde 62: 58-62.


John Cooper, News Correspondent, Mouse-Free Marion Project, 02 August 2023


A Light-mantled Albatross flies over Marion Island; photograph by Stefan Schoombie and poster design by Michelle Risi

The Mouse-Free Marion Project is a registered non-profit company (No. 2020/922433/08) in South Africa, established to eradicate the invasive albatross-killing mice on Marion Island in the Southern Ocean.  The project was initiated by BirdLife South Africa and the South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.  Upon successful completion, the project will restore the critical breeding habitat of over two million seabirds, many globally threatened, and improve the island’s resilience to a warming climate.  For more information or to support the project please visit mousefreemarion.org.