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FRANÇOIS HAVERSCHMIDT (1906-1987)


Suriname, the smallest nation in South America, remains to this day one of the more exotic destinations in the Neotropics.  A former Dutch colony, with Dutch as the official language, it includes a large community descended from African slaves, as well as people from Dutch-controlled regions of Indonesia and India who were brought in as laborers after the end of the slave trade.  For a time in the nineteenth century it was also a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe, with the result that Paramaribo is one of the few places in the world where a synagogue and a mosque can be found adjacent to one another. Almost the entire population is concentrated on the Atlantic coast; 80% of the country is still covered by more or less pristine rainforest. The birdlife is also distinctive, and it was the prospect of investigating the poorly known avifauna that in 1946 induced François Haverschmidt to emigrate from Holland to accept a position as judge in Suriname’s courts. He had been a keen student of Holland’s birdlife since his first article about birds appeared in 1921, when he was only fourteen, and from 1925 until his departure for South America he was a regular contributor to Ardea, the journal of Nederlandse Ornithologische Unie (Haverschmidt 1995).

His official work in Suriname was a mixed blessing: On the one hand, his duties required him to travel to the remoter parts of the country, where he could also investigate the birds; on the other, as he rose in prominence, finally serving as acting governor of what was then still a Dutch colony, the time he could devote to ornithology was significantly reduced.  As acting governor, however, he was able to establish the first nature preserves in Suriname, in 1966, before retiring and returning to Holland in 1968.