S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Bigalke, Dr Rudolph Carl Heinrich (zoology, nature conservation)

Born: 2 October 1896, Kimberley, South Africa.
Died: 11 June 1989, South Africa.
Active in: SA, Moz, Nam.

Rudolph Carl Heinrich Bigalke, zoologist and nature conservator, was the eldest son of Rudolph August Michael Bigalke and his wife Sophia Franzisca, born Bauer. He was educated at the Kimberley Boys High School, where he was the gold medalist in his matric year (1914). He continued his studies at the South African College, Cape Town (from 1918 the University of Cape Town) and was awarded the BA degree in literature and science combined in 1917. After a brief period at the Potchefstroom Agricultural College he was awarded the MA degree in Zoology by the University of Cape Town in 1919. With an 1851 Exhibition Scholarship he was employed as assistant to J.D.F. Gilchrist* and worked on the Marine Biological Survey at Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) for a while. From 1920 to 1923 he lectured on zoology and entomology at Glen Agricultural College, near Bloemfontein, where he also collected various small mammals and birds. He then went to Germany and in 1926 was awarded the degree Doctor of Philosophy (Dr Phil, cum laude) in zoology by the Friedrich-Wilhelms Universit├Ąt in Berlin.

In April 1927 Bigalke became the director of the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria, a post he held to his retirement in October 1962. Despite the organizational and administrative work of his directorship he was an active researcher, publishing some 80 scientific papers, nine books, and over 200 popular scientific articles. Two of his papers dealt with the mammals of Namibia. During the nineteen-thirties he initiated the landscaping of large enclosures for carnivores and other large animals. This pioneering practice gradually became more widely adopted. He is furthermore regarded as the "father" of scientific nature conservation in South Africa and was largely responsible for the creation of a research division in the National Parks, with an Herbarium and research laboratory at Skukuza in the Kruger National Park.

After his retirement Bigalke joined the Division of Nature Conservation of the Transvaal Provincial Administration as an information officer for six years (1962-1968) during which time he was also editor of the popular journal Fauna and Flora. He was also active in various scientific institutions, for example, chairman of the Scientific Advisory Council for National Parks and Nature Reserves (1949-1966) and member of the National Parks Board of Trustees. In these positions he strongly advocated the appointment of biologists in the National Parks. As a member of the Wildlife Society of Southern Africa he served as vice-president in 1968 and was later elected an honorary life member. He was a close friend of Austin Roberts* and gave the latter critical help in getting his bird book and mammal book published. Bigalke also served as joint vice-president (from 1930) and as president (1933-1938) of the South African Ornithological Society, edited The Ostrich for 17 years, and was a trustee of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund. From 1959 to 1960 he was president of the Southern African Museums Association. An important contribution by him to the museums profession was that he brought the National Zoological Gardens within the orbit of the Southern African Museums Association, thereby emphasizing the fact that zoological gardens should be seen as living museums. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa in 1961 and was one of the entomologists who regularly attended meetings of the Pretoria Entomological Club, which flourished during 1933-1936. He became a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science in 1918 and of the South African Biological Society in 1920.

Bigalke was awarded the Captain Scot Memorial Medal of the South African Biological Society in 1966 and received a special award for achievement in the natural sciences from the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns in 1967. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science (DSc) degree by the University of Pretoria in 1985. In December 1927 at Lindley, in the Free State, he married Margaretha Aletta de Bruyn. Their son Rudolph became director of the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute.

List of sources:

Aston, E.H. Southern African Ornithological Society. Bokmakierie, 1980, Vol. 32, pp. 26-76.

Brain, C.K. Austin Roberts, a lifelong devotion to South Africa's birds and beasts. John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, 1998.

Brain, C.K. and Erasmus, M.C. The making of the museum professions in southern Africa. Pretoria: Transvaal Museum and SAMA, 1986.

FamilySearch. Rudolph Carl Heinrich Bialke. Retrieved on 22 August 2023 from https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/GX8R-WG7/rudolph-carl-heinrich-bigalke-1896-1989

Logan, R.F. Bibliography of South West Africa: Geography and related fields. Windhoek: SWA Scientific Society, 1969.

Ritchie, W. The History of the South African College, 1829-1918. Cape Town: T. Maskew Miller, 1918.

Rudolph Carl Heinrich Bigalke. Geni. Retrieved on 19 August 2021 from https://www.geni.com/people/Rudolph-Bigalke/6000000071610074857

Skinner, I.D. Obituary: Dr Rudolph Bigalke. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 1990, Vol. 47(3), pp. 360-361. Retrieved on 16 August 2021 from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00359199009520249?journalCode=ttrs20

South African Journal of Natural History, 1920, Vol. 2(2), pp. 293-301, Roll of members [of the South African Biological Society].

South African Journal of Science, 1918, Vol. 15, List of members [of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science].

University of Pretoria. Institutional information, pp. 18-23: Honorary degrees conferred. Retrieved on 19 August 2021 from https://www.up.ac.za/media/shared/368/Yearbooks/2006/insfo06.zp175120.pdf

Van der Schijff, H.P. Besondere Erepenning vir Natuurwetenskaplike Prestasie toegeken aan R.C.H. Bigalke. Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, Jaarboek, 1967, p. 35-36.

Compiled by: C. Plug

Last updated: 2023-08-21 11:11:06