On 28 December 2011, José Ayarzagüena (59) passed away in Madrid, Spain, due to lung cancer which was detected too late for treatment. On learning of his condition, he took the news with much sobriety and strength, fully aware of the consequences. Jose is survived by son José Luis and family.
Born in Madrid, José completed his PhD at the Department of Biological Sciences at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. In 1977 he arrived in Venezuela to study the ecology of Caiman crocodilus (Baba) in El Frio Ranch, Apure State.
Results of this study were published in 1983, including an extensive bibliography on nutrition, biology, ecology, habits, reproduction, behavior and habitat use. This work was recently (2008) republished by the Asociación Amigos de Doñana, together with additional information that was not included in the original publication. This work provided the basis for the implementation of the Commercial Harvest Program of Baba (Caiman crocodilus) in Venezuela, and is also the basis of programs in Bolivia and Paraguay. With Javier Castroviejo and the Maldonado family, José founded the El Frio Biological Station, of which he was Director for more than 30 years. In that period, 10 doctoral studies, 30 bachelor special studies and some 120 publications were generated from this institution.
Also at the Biological Station, under José’s direction, the captive breeding and ranching program of Orinoco crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius) was initiated, generating very important information for the species. Due to this interest in the Orinoco crocodile, José coordinated a group that obtained from the Ministry of Environment the declaration of the Caño Guaritico Wildlife Refuge in Apure State. The goal was to use the refuge as a protected area for the reintroduction of captive-bred Orinoco crocodiles. This action constitutes a major world-wide success for crocodile conservation. In 2006 the first Orinoco crocodile population established from the reintroduction program was identified in Caño Guaritico Wildlife Refuge.
Between 1991 and 1992 José was the Scientific Coordinator for a projects entitled “Evaluation of the populations of Caiman crocodilus fuscus in Black Waters and White Waters Wildlife Refuge in Zulia State, Venezuela” and “Population status of the Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus) in the Venezuelan Plain”. In terms of surface coverage, the latter project was of the highest magnitude in Venezuela, and possibly any other country. It generated the basis for the allocation of sustainable harvests of Caiman populations in Venezuela by ecological regions - a modern concept at the time.
In 1994 José was a part of an international mission to Colombia, organized by CITES and the CSG, to evaluate the Babilla Captive Breeding Program there. He delivered a diverse range of training courses on surveying, captive raising, etc.
Another of José’s passions was the study of frogs in Venezuela.
He crossed the country, and together with colleagues, discovered and described many new genera and species. This contribution was recognised through the use of his name for two amphibians and one reptile (Osteocephalus ayarzaguenai,Colostethus ayarzaguenai and Typhophis ayarzaguenai).
In the field of academia, José was the Scientific Coordinator and professor of the Masters in Management of the Tropical Biodiversity of the University San Pablo CEU Carolina Foundation. He supervised a diversity of graduate and postgraduate in Spain. In addition, he was: one of the scientific staff at the Museum of Natural History of the Salle Foundation of Natural Science; Associated Research of the Salle Foundation of Natural Science; Coordinator of the NGO Man and Nature in Bolivia; member of the Spanish Committee of the Program Man and Biosfera (MAB) of UNESCO; and, member of the Venezuelan Crocodile Specialist Group. To the CSG he was a valued long-time member.
His passing has been a shock to the scientific world, colleagues, students and friends, and everyone to whom he selflessly offered his generosity, lessons and realistic view on life. We will not forget his presence, commentaries, abilities in the field, and his intuition in solving scientific problems.
Dear José, we will always remember you, and I will especially be thinking of you when next eating paella and drinking red wine.
Alvaro Velasco (compiled with information supplied by Rafael “Picu” Antelo).