My Life as a Naturalist¦Dr Tony Start

Dr Tony Start’s talk was the second of our annual DRB Elders’ talks. These aim to preserve the knowledge of our long-standing members. Tony had especially digitised his photographs and slides using the DRB Nats scanner, (kindly donated by Matthew Hughes, MLA).

Tony is a highly regarded natural history expert. The nascence of his life as a naturalist springs from his childhood. He was brought up in a family of naturalists in Kenya, being the son of Helen and John Start and brother of Joff. He shared fond memories of their farm by Lake Nakuru, where his passion as a naturalist was forged.

In meeting his mentor, John Williams, Curator of Birds at Kenya’s Coryndon Museum, his interests fell towards birds, butterflies and bats. He also gained his first introduction to mistletoes, which became a lifelong fascination.

His interest in bats led him to study them alongside American scientist, Bruce Hayward and he spent time catching bats in Uganda.

As a student at Aberdeen University, he spent vacations guiding wildlife tours in East Africa.

On one such trip in Rwanda, a colleague who was recording silverbacks sounds, startled nearby silverbacks allowing Tony a frighteningly close observation of the fast drumming noises and vocalisations of the gorillas.

He won a scholarship to do a PhD on nectar feeding bats in Malaysia and spent time closely observing bats feeding and pollinating flowers and occasionally acquainting himself with their needle-sharp teeth in the process. He showed us a photograph of one of these dagger-toothed bats (Macroglossum minimus) seeking nectar from banana flowers, with the spines on its long tongue absorbing the nectar like a sponge.

Tony met and married his wife Juat in Malaysia and they returned to a cold Scotland where Tony completed his PhD.

In 1974, Tony moved to Western Australia. He started research into Potoroos and met Liz Sinclair who was studying Quokkas at the time. Each caught what the other had sought after. When looking for Potoroos, Tony found Quokkas; when looking for Quokkas, Liz found Gilbert’s Potoroos. Working in the Pilbara, Tony studied the effects of fire on the region and this rekindled his interest in Western Australian mistletoes.

Kevn Griffiths gives a thank you gift to Tony Start Photo: Kay Greenacre

Tony has lived on four continents. He was the first professional officer with the National Parks Board, and worked as Regional Manager for the Pilbara Region, at the Research Division in Woodvale and in Kununurra on the Ord River.

He is now a Research Associate at the WA Herbarium. His life as a naturalist, even in retirement, is filled with the joys of discovery and for 1-2 months of the year Tony immerses himself into the wilds of North West Thailand, taking in the stealth of the Chinese Pond Herons (Ardeola bacchus) snatching up dragonflies.

Kay Greenacre