Special Edition - Remembering Luc Hoffmann

“Luc Hoffmann was an environmental visionary and individually responsible for raising public awareness on the cause of conservation. Throughout his life, he dedicated himself to protecting nature through his work in the field and through his philanthropy. Without Luc Hoffmann, there would be no WWF and we are forever grateful for his selfless contributions to our natural world.”

- Yolanda Kakabadse, President of WWF International

© Wild wonders of Europe /allofs / wwf

In the beginning: Station Biologique de la Tour du Valat

Dr Luc Hoffmann’s interest in birds and their migratory flyways grew from childhood. After doctoral studies at his hometown university in Basel, he began his lifelong research into waterbird populations and wetland ecology at the internationally renowned Station Biologique de la Tour du Valat in France’s Camargue region, a research institute he set up in 1954. His work in the region led, amongst many other achievements, to the establishment of the 82,000 hectare Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue in 1970, which protects one of Europe’s most natural areas, famous for its wild horses and flamingos.

© WWF International / WWF
John Kerry signing Paris Agreement with his grand daughter
© Amanda Voisard / UN Photo

WWF: a lasting relationship

Developing from his work at La Tour du Valat, Luc Hoffmann started to collaborate with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on wetland protection, serving as its Vice-President from 1960 to 1969. This, in turn, gave rise to discussions with Max Nicholson and Peter Scott on the need for an international fund to support conservation; talks that led to the foundation of WWF in 1961, and the beginning of a 55-year relationship – as Vice-President until 1988, Chairman of WWF International’s Conservation Committee (1984–1990), President of WWF-France (1996–2000), and Vice-President Emeritus of WWF International (1988–2016). His working support, advice, investment and wisdom were crucial to the development of WWF – he initiated and supported WWF programmes from the Mediterranean, through West Africa to Madagascar, all in partnership with governments and others, and encouraged WWF’s support for the EU’s most important water legislation, the Water Framework Directive, which protects water quality and promotes its sustainable use across the continent. And to ensure the continuation of Luc Hoffmann’s vision, WWF and the MAVA Foundation – named after Luc’s four children, Maja, André, Vera and Daria – established the Luc Hoffmann Institute in 2012. In the words of its director, Dr Jonathan Hutton, “the Institute will carry on his thinking and innovation – catalysing new ideas to help address the complex and inter-connected nature of this century’s conservation challenges”.

© Jorge Sierra / WWF-Spain
Flatback turtle at the Cleveland Bay field trip, Queensland - 13 - 19 October 2014. In October 2014, WWF, and its project partners, conducted major research in Cleveland Bay, south of Townsville. The research trip is part of the Rivers to Reef to Turtles project, led by WWF-Australia, in partnership with the Banrock Station Environmental Trust. The goal is to investigate which contaminants are in reef waters, to what degree green turtles are absorbing these contaminants, and how that might be impacting turtle health.
© Christine Hof / WWF-Aus

Continuing commitment: Coto Donaña, Spain

In 1960, Luc Hoffmann, along with Spanish ornithologist José Antonio Valverde, began campaigning to conserve the Guadalquivir marshes in southern Spain – a vital wetland providing a stopover for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds on their journey from Russian breeding grounds to overwintering sites in Africa. It is also home to much other biodiversity – including two of the world’s most endangered species, the Iberian lynx and the Spanish imperial eagle – and accounts for around 40 per cent of Spain’s rice production. In 1963, Luc Hoffmann worked with the nascent WWF to buy an initial parcel of 10,000 hectares, and in 1969, the area was declared the Donaña National Park by the Spanish government. Today, this covers 54,300 hectares, of which 15,300 are strictly protected. But as always, the work of conservationists knows no end – WWF-Spain, amongst others, remains active and vigilant in Coto Donaña.  

© Georgia Vallaoras / WWF

Worldwide vision: the Ramsar Convention 

In 1963, working with IUCN, the International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP) and the International Wetland Research Bureau, Luc Hoffmann was instrumental in organizing the first winter waterfowl counts in the Mediterranean, enabling the discovery of the greatest waterfowl concentration on a single lake in the region – Greece’s Lake Karla. This initial research gave rise to an intensification of waterfowl counts, the creation of an inventory of wetlands and, in 1971, to the Ramsar Convention, an international convention for the protection of wetlands. Today, the convention is recognized in 169 countries and protects, with the support of many partners including WWF, more than 215 million wetland hectares across 2,214 sites.

© Thomas Schultz-Jagow / WWF
Endemic to DRC, bonobos occur irregularly over a large area, but Salonga is the only National Park in their range. It potentially holds 40% of the world bonobo population.
© Sinziana Demian/WWF Central Africa

Wetland champion and philhellene

WWF-Greece traces its origins back to conservation efforts that had been stimulated by Luc Hoffmann’s 1971 book, Proposals for Nature Conservation in Northern Greece, co-authored with W Bauer and G Müller. Work around Lake Prespa, in northwestern Greece, led to the establishment of Prespa National Park in 1974, then, with WWF and nine other environmental organizations, to the foundation of the Society for the Protection of Prespa, and ultimately, with significant support from Luc Hoffmann, to the establishment of WWF-Greece in 1994. And in 2000, Prespa National Park evolved into a transnational park, protecting an abundance of biodiversity including more than 1,500 plant, 270 bird, 60 mammal and 20 freshwater fish species, not only in Greece, but also in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.


© Jacques Trotignon / WWF
WWF staff member Ivan Hristov, freshwater expert with Danube programme.

Dedication, determination and development

His work in the Banc d’Arguin, Mauritania, demonstrates Luc Hoffmann’s dedication and determination to make a difference. The area is vital for more than 2 million migratory birds from northern Europe, Siberia and Greenland and is a major breeding site for up to 40,000 pairs of 15 different species. The surrounding waters – which host an array of marine mammals – are among the richest in western Africa, providing livelihoods for local fishers. The area was declared a national park in 1978, a Ramsar wetland in 1982, and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986, with considerable support from the Mauritanian and French governments and WWF. To underwrite conservation and sustainable development, Luc Hoffmann established the Fondation Internationale du Banc d’Arguin (FIBA) in 1986. Work, with WWF and others, continues, and in 2014 FIBA merged with MAVA, whose mission sums up its founder’s life’s work, to “conserve biodiversity for the benefit of people and nature by funding, mobilizing and strengthening our partners and the conservation community”.