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Caughley, Graeme James (1937–1994)

Canberra CSIRO scientist Dr Graeme Caughley, who died of cancer last Wednesday aged 56, was regarded as perhaps the world's leading expert on large mammal ecology.

Dr Caughley, assistant chief of the CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Ecology, at Gungahlin, researched and advised on the ecology of large mammals, and extinction processes, on all continents. He earned an international reputation for outstanding theoretical work and for applying his science in the field.

He was probably best known in Australia for his aerial surveys of kangaroo populations, and for his two years as a commissioner with the Resource Assessment Commission's inquiry into forests.

Born in Wanganui, New Zealand, Dr Caughley worked in the 1950s as a government hunter for the NZ Department of Internal Affairs, later studying the ecology of introduced mammals and birds for the NZ Forest Service. In 1958 he moved to the NZ Antarctic Division, where he studied penguins and seals.

Dr Caughley completed a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of New Zealand in 1959. He then moved to the University of Sydney, completing his Masters degree in 1962, before returning to NZ to complete a PhD at the University of Canterbury in 1967.

While studying for his PhD Dr Caughley worked again for the NZ Forest Service, researching the population dynamics of that country's alpine mammals. He then spent two years with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, advising on the conservation of endangered species in Nepal, Afghanistan and Kenya.

In 1969 he was offered a research fellowship in zoology at the University of Sydney.

He left Sydney in 1971 to work again for the FAO, researching and advising on the decline of elephant populations in Zambia and Kenya.

Dr Caughley returned the University of Sydney as a senior lecturer in 1973, and was awarded a DSc from that university in 1979.

The same year he moved to the CSIRO in Canberra, where he began a mammoth task of understanding the dynamics of aridzone kangaroos and their environment in the Kinchega National Park. This work, in which he led a team of more than 30 people, culminated in a book called Kangaroos: Their Ecology and Management in the Sheep Rangelands of Australia. The book is recognised as the most comprehensive study of the interactions of mammalian herbivores and their food source.

While engaged in this study, Dr Caughley continued his NZ interests. His book The Deer Wars had a profound influence on NZ deer management policy.

Two years ago Dr Caughley was elected to the Australian Academy of Science. Last year he was awarded the CSIRO's highest honour, the annual $25,000 Chairman's Medal.

Dr Caughley has had a huge influence on the theory and practice of conservation and vertebrate ecology throughout the world. His leadership will be sorely missed by all his colleagues, most especially at the CSIRO.

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'Caughley, Graeme James (1937–1994)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/caughley-graeme-james-28256/text36506, accessed 16 December 2019.

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