It is with great sadness that we have to inform you of the passing of William Oliver on 10 September 2014. William was the former Chair of the IUCN/SSC Wild Pig Specialist Group (previously the Pigs & Peccaries SG and the Pigs, Peccaries, and Hippos SG), which he set up and coordinated for 32 years.
We have not only lost a widely valued conservation activist who spent most of his life fighting for the survival of endangered species, but also a remarkable character in conservation and a very talented artist.
Following a brief period as an animal keeper and education officer at Marwell Zoo, William launched his wildlife career at the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust (now the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust) in 1974. In 1977, he undertook a Pygmy Hog field survey in Assam, India and from then onwards became a passionate conservationist and defender of the plight of wild pigs and other often overlooked taxa in the Philippines, Asia and across the globe. He helped establish the original Pigs and Peccaries Specialist Group in 1980 at the invitation of (the late) Sir Peter Scott, then Chair of the SSC.
William was instrumental in the development, from 1990 onwards, of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Programme with initially as core components the conservation programmes for the Visayan Spotted Deer, the Calamian Deer and the Visayan Warty Pig, carried out under MOAs between the Department of Environment & Natural Resources, Philippines and other conservation partners. Over time the conservation activities expanded to other taxa, other areas and other partners, eventually resulting in the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, committed to the long-term conservation of the Philippines’ native and endemic wildlife and natural habitats. In recent years, William was the Director of Programme Development and Conservation Partnerships for the foundation.
In 1995, 18 years after the formal submission and approval of the first ‘Pygmy Hog Action Plan’, William was instrumental in the establishment of an International Conservation Management and Research Agreement between the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, India, the Assam Forest Department, the Pigs, Peccaries, and Hippos SG, and the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust and the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme was born. Today, the programme team in India has worked hard on habitat restoration, is running a very successful captive breeding operation in two facilities and has so far managed to reintroduce 85 captive bred hogs in two locations – significant numbers considering that the last naturally surviving population in Manasmay may count less than 200 animals. Recently, William was acknowledged for his work with the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme when he was nominated as an Earth Hero by the Balipara Foundation in Assam, India. William received an award at the inaugural 2013 Balipara Foundation Awards — Recognizing Ecological Best Practices in the Eastern Himalayas. The judges’ decision was based on the “pivotal role that the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme has played in the restoration of an endangered species and its ecological habitat.”
It is no exaggeration to say that William was the founder of wild pig conservation worldwide. It was his life-long dedication and determination to put the conservation of these previously ignored species on the map. William was an extraordinary character who left a lasting impression on all those who met him. He had an incredible grasp of the details of many conservation issues, and yet also had a huge vision. Sometimes William could take a long time to respond to queries, but when he did so he would send the most magnificently detailed and rigorous responses imaginable. His reviewing of the IUCN Red List accounts in 2008 for the Asian pigs and other mammals of the Philippines was exemplary. William could have a fiery temperament and had little patience for bureaucratic obstruction; but no-one ever doubted his total commitment to the conservation cause and to the species he loved. Without him, quite possibly an entire genus, Porcula (the Pygmy Hog), would have been lost.
William was also a very talented wildlife illustrator. His artwork is published as wildlife stamps, book illustrations, awareness posters, logo’s etc. and has been used in the service of conservation for taxa in Asia and across the globe.
Perhaps the best way to remember William is through the words of the colleagues who knew him best:
“Without you, William, these species would never have been put on the conservation map. In particular, you kept the faith with the Pygmy Hog when most of us would have been tempted to give up, and your dedication to this species, and the threatened pigs of the Philippines is an example to us all.”
“Wild pigs (and Philippine species) have lost one of their biggest champions and advocates and we have lost a one of a kind colleague.”
“If we could all make as tangible a contribution to conservation as William did, the world would indeed be in much better shape.”
“A five hour car ride with William would be a most riveting crash course in pragmatic conservation, life and living and the meaning of the universe.”
William will be sorely missed. No doubt the best way to honour him is to keep carrying out species conservation with passion, grit and determination.
Erik Meijaard (Chair, Wild Pig Specialist Group)
Kristin Leus (Deputy Chair, Wild Pig Specialist Group)
Simon Stuart (Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC))