Derek has always been passionate about the natural world, and this was nurtured by his parents, who always bought him animal books. After matriculating, he studied towards a BSc degree in Zoology and Botany at the then Rand Afrikaans University, followed by a BSc Honours in Zoology and an MSc in Zoology (Cum Laude). This was followed by a PhD in the conservation genetics of minnows in mountain streams.
Derek moved to Polokwane in 1992 when he assumed a position as a tutor in the Department of Physiology. In 2007 he switched his allegiance and joined the Department of Zoology at the University of Limpopo as an associate professor.
His research interests are varied, and he has supervised students in topics ranging from plant ecology to anatomy, but his main research focus and interest are birds, specifically larks. Beyond larks, he has published papers on a variety of other birds. He prides himself that he has the somewhat unique distinction of having published peer-reviewed scientific papers on all five vertebrate taxa: fish, frogs, reptiles, birds and mammals. To date, Derek has published 168 scientific and semi-scientific papers on various topics.
He serves on several national and international working groups for threatened taxa, such as the IUCN Hornbill Specialist Group, Southern Ground Hornbill Advisory Panel, Cape Parrot Action Group and Botha’s Lark Working Group. He is a registered A-class ringer with SAFRING and has ringed around 10 000 birds at the end of 2022. He is also the chairperson of the Limpopo Regional Bird Atlas committee and a longstanding member of Birdlife Polokwane where he serves on the club’s management committee. Derek is also on the editorial board of three scientific journals, Ostrich, Afrotropical Bird Biology, and Hornbill Natural History and Conservation, and is the co-editor of Birdlife Polokwane’s birding magazine, The Lark. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the 8th edition of Roberts Birds of Southern Africa, currently under revision in partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Derek is a member of the E-birders, the winning team of the 2022 South African Birding Big Day, and also the current BBD record holders with 236 species recorded in 24 hours. In 2018, Derek was honoured by Birdlife South Africa when he received the Eagle-Owl Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Conservation of Birds and Their Habitats.