It is with great sadness to hear of the passing of Tony Fitzjohn (OBE), a true pioneer in the world of conservation, who has died of pneumonia following a prolonged fight against a brain tumour.
Tony was a long standing conservation partner and friend of Chester Zoo, and will be sadly missed. He was a larger than life character, with huge passion for the species and people he worked with, and seemingly unending amounts of energy and drive. He made a lasting impression with all those he met, and is recognised as one of the great wildlife conservationists of his generation.
Tony’s career started in Kora National Park, Kenya, working as an assistant alongside the late, great, George Adamson, another heavyweight name in Kenyan conservation. This was the start of a long and distinguished career dedicated to wildlife conservation, recognised with an OBE in 2006 and the Prince Bernhart Medal for Conservation. Together with George he founded the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust. In 1989 Tony was invited by the Tanzania government to manage the rescue and rehabilitation of the Mkomazi Game Reserve. Under Tony’s inspirational leadership, and with unwavering determination, the poorly neglected Game Reserve was transformed into a major conservation success in East Africa, resulting in its designation as a National Park.
Chester Zoo partnered with Tony in 2002, and for 17 years we have been a proud partner supporting conservation activities in Mkomazi. This included support for essential infrastructure and core running costs for the project, from the upkeep of fences to machinery repairs, and specific support for two hugely successful wild dog and black rhino conservation programmes which resulted in the return of these iconic species to the landscape. Tony worked closely with zoos throughout his career, with many of the black rhino reintroduced to Mkomazi being translocated from European zoos. In 2011 Tony opened our new Mkomazi Painted Dog habitat, and in the same year we recognised Tony’s dedication to wildlife conservation through the presentation of a Chester Zoo Gold Medal.
Tony’s passion, commitment and infectious aura of enthusiasm influenced everyone he encountered, and Tony was as passionate about the communities around Mkomazi as he was the wildlife. The project constructed a vocational training centre and secondary school, and together with Chester Zoo he developed an education strategy and the Rafiki wa Faru (Friends of Rhino) programme which visited local schools and took school children into the National Park for life changing experiences.
Tony was a hugely charismatic conservation figurehead and will be sorely missed, the legacy he leaves behind is massive and testament to the drive and determination of a person who dedicated his life to wildlife conservation.
Our thoughts and condolences are very much with Tony’s family and loved ones at this difficult time.