S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Symons, Mr Roden Edward (ornithology, mammal collection, plant collection)

Born: 9 July 1884, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
Died: 1972, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Roden E. Symons, naturalist and game warden, attended Balgowan School in Pietermaritzburg and nearby Michaelhouse. He entered the civil service of Natal Colony in 1903 as a clerk in the Railways, but in October 1904 was transferred to the Forestry Department as assistant forester at Cedara under T.R. Sim*. In September 1906 he became forester in charge at Giants Castle, where he began collecting birds, eggs, mammals, reptiles and plants, many of which were sent to the Transvaal Museum. When forestry was incorporated in the Department of Agriculture his appointment changed to that of game conservator and he became involved in the introduction of trout in the Drakensberg streams. He also surveyed the rock paintings in the Cathkin Peak and Giants Castle area. From 1914 he acted as game conservator in Zululand and assisted in the first Tsetse Fly Research Expedition, led by Dr C.J. Swierstra* of the Transvaal Museum. In 1916 he resigned to farm at Karkloof, but was soon asked to collect mammals in Zululand for the South African Museum, Cape Town, and commissioned by a private collector to collect bird's eggs on the islands off the Western Cape.

In 1927 Symons became a temporary warden at the Umfolozi Game Reserve and the next year succeeded F.V. Kirby* as game conservator for Zululand. He resigned in June 1930 to accompany Dr Rudolph M. De Schaunsee of the Philadelphia Museum on a collecting expedition to the Kalahari and South West Africa (now Namibia), as hunter and ornithologist. He also made expeditions to Ngamiland (in Botswana) and the Okavango River. In 1939 and again in 1946 he was employed by the Department of Native Affairs to drive elephants out of Maputaland (the north-eastern corner of KwaZulu-Natal). He was a foundation member of the South African Biological Society (1916) and wrote some articles on birds for its journal, the South African Journal of Natural History (e.g., "Bird life in the Drakensberg, Natal and Basutoland", 1919, Vol. 1(1), pp. 224-238). The bird species Crithagra symonsi (Drakensberg Siskin) still caries his name. The plant species Erica symonsii and Gladiolus symonsii were named after him, as were the mosses Dicranella symonsii and Campylopus symonsii - the latter by T.R. Sim*. Plant specimens collected by him are in the National Herbarium, Pretoria, and the Compton Herbarium, Cape Town.

Symons's first wife, Ellen M. Symons, died in 1925. He subsequently married Gladys I. Doyle.

List of sources:
Clinning, C. Southern African bird names explained. Johannesburg: Southern African Ornithological Society, 1989.

Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981.

Hocky, P.A.R. et al. Roberts birds of southern Africa (7th ed.) Cape Town: John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, 2005.

Natal Colony. Civil service list, 1907, 1910.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). . Documents relating to Symons, Roden Edward.

South African Journal of Natural History, 1918, Vol. 1(1), pp. 8-15: Roll of Foundation Members [of the SA Biological Society]; 1919, Vol. 1(1), paper by Symons; 1920, Vol. 2(2), pp. 293-301: Roll of Members.

Compiled by: C. Plug