Bradley Gibbons clearly remembers his decision to spend his life working in Nature.
He was four years old. “Every Wednesday we visited my Aunt and Uncle’s small holding in Midrand – in those days it was still wild. My passion started there and then I spent every free moment exploring the natural places around Roodepoort, where we lived.” While Gauteng has changed a lot in the intervening years and there are few wild spots left, Bradley’s commitment to learning about and protecting the birds, plants and lizards has never wavered. He saved up his pocket money and aged 13 bought his first proper guides – Newman’s and Roberts’ bird books. “Since then my collection has grown as I just had to get Sinclair’s photographic bird book, then the LBJ book and a new tree book, and then another bookcase…”
Bradley enjoys pouring over his guide books, working through the keys to identify new found species, far more interesting than watching television. “When I am in the Free State, Tandjiesberg is my TV,” he laughs. “These iconic koppies resemble molars from a particular angle, although it took me a few years to find that view. It’s best to view the mountain while driving from Van Reenen towards Memel – which is one of my favourite places, a hidden treasure.”
Since he left Saasveld College (now known as the George Campus of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University) after studying Nature Conservation, Bradley has been fortunate to work for Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). He completed his Masters in Environmental Management as a part time student during his tenure with EWT. “This job is a privilege. Working with landowners passionate about the natural and cultural heritage on their properties is amazing. I have a lot of respect for those who know their veld so intimately.”
Currently Bradley is Field Officer for the Threatened Grassland Species Programme focussing on Sungazer lizards.
Smaug giganteus is a vulnerable, endemic species found only in the highland grasslands of the Free State and Mpumalanga.
“They have a very nice life – sunbathing most of the day with lunch (beetles) delivered right to their door, occasion feasts of flying ants, a great community and no concerns about politics,” he quips. Sungazers do have to worry about losing their homes though, particularly ploughing which destroys their underground burrows. 99% of the Sungazer colonies occur on private land, so it is Bradley’s job to educate farmers about them and find ways of protecting them. The Sungazer Custodian programme rewards those landowners who do take special steps to look after these gentle creatures and use the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme to safeguard grasslands where Sungazers are found.
The more he learns about Nature, the more Bradley realises how much he doesn’t know.
“I can watch the lizards for hours, they are fascinating and unusual. But I also love the common things – I get excited by Cape Chestnut trees in full flower, White-Eyes in the birdbath. Everything is really special, each season different.”
Bradley is sad that many people are losing their connection to Nature, and are afraid of moths and cockroaches. He hopes to inspire everyone he meets to take some time to learn about the wildlife they come across before disregarding it, or, worse, killing it.
Learn more about the fascinating Sungazer Lizards and Bradley’s important work.