Dr Luc Hoffmann (1923-2016) was a lifelong passionate naturalist, a visionary, philanthropist, scientist, humanist, and friend.
Rarely does a man of Luc’s vision grace the world, someone who not only believed fiercely in the protection of the planet’s wild splendour but who was able – through his humble and untiring generosity of spirit – to affect change across countries, continents and generations, transforming nature conservation from a sometimes parochial pursuit into a truly global movement.
Very few people can lay claim to the kind of far-reaching impact on the world of conservation.
Early Life & Influences
Luc was the grandson of the founder of Hoffmann-La Roche, the pharmaceutical company now known as Roche. This means that he was born into a life that could have taken a much different direction than it did. But Luc was passionate about nature and devoted his life, his work and his resources to it.
Luc’s enthusiasm for the natural world, especially birds, developed during his childhood. He published his first academic paper on migrant seabirds in the Basel region at the age of 18 in 1941. In the same year, he began a degree in botany and zoology at the city’s university. And after a period of conscription in the Swiss Army during the war, he hearned a PhD on the different colour patterns of common tern chicks in the Camargue.
Enchanted by the unique wetlands of the Camargue, in 1954 Luc set up the Tour du Valat biological research station. He inspired and trained generations of ecologists, as well as saving France’s Greater Flamingos from extinction, among many other things.
But Tour du Valat was just one of the many celebrated initiatives that his passion for birds and biodiversity inspired him to create. He was devoted to some of the world’s iconic biodiversity sites: the Prespa Lakes (Greece, Macedonia and Albania), Doñana (Spain), the Banc d’Arguin (in Mauritania), the Bijagos Islands (Guinea Bissau), and the Camargue (France).
Though Luc was more interested in conservation on the ground than in conservation politics, he was instrumental in creating some of the stalwarts of conservation today. He was one of the first to recognize the importance of mobilizing large scale support – giving us WWF. He was one of the first to see the importance of reaching across borders to protect wildlife that knows nothing of such limits – giving us the Ramsar Convention on wetlands. He was the driving force behind the creation of Wetlands International, many different WWF national offices, IUCN, the PRCM, FIBA and many others.
Luc was generous with his time, his ideas, his home, his heart. He loved nothing more than supporting young researchers in their endeavours to give them the opportunity to pursue their own passions. He was a patient teacher and mentor, helping people develop to their potential, and inspired unparalleled respect and loyalty in people.
Luc was so much more than a donor. He rolled up his sleeves and got to work, often to be found with his feet in the mud. For him, working from the ground up was the way to get things done for conservation.
Luc was quiet and humble. He always acted with wisdom, intelligence and graciousness.
Establishing MAVA in 1994, Luc shaped our approach to conservation – above all, he sought collaboration and the creation of a community of trusted partners and committed conservationists. He believed that science and research are pre-requisites for success, and that conservation can only happen when we join forces and work together in partnership. His approach can be captured via the four MAVA values: Unifying, Empowering, Flexible and Persevering. Luc’s legacy lives on through MAVA and through the hundreds of conservation actions supported over the years.