It is with much sadness that we report the death of Prof. Janis Viksne, who passed away on the morning of 13 February 2015.
Janis Viksne was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1936. He graduated from the Faculty of Biology of Latvian University in 1960 and since then he worked in the Laboratory of Ornithology of the Latvian Institute of Biology (Latvian University), being the Head of this Laboratory since 1981. For many years he was also professor of the Faculty of Biology of Latvian University. His doctoral students are Dr. J. Priednieks, Dr. M. Janaus, Dr. U. Bergmanis and Dr. D. Boiko.
In 1951 he initiated waterbird studies at Lake Engure and continued this long-term research there until the last days of his life. His main scientific interests were related to waterbird population ecology, waterbird migration and wetland management, and his main studies were related to Black-headed Gulls and ducks (particularly Common Pochard, Tufted Duck and Mallard). Prof. Viksne was also the coordinator or scientific leader of the most important international programmes related to waterbirds and the sustainable management of their habitats implemented in the Baltic States and elsewhere in eastern Europe.
Furthermore, he was Vice-President of the Baltic Bird Migration Research Commission, a member of the International Ornithological Committee, Vice-President of the Latvian Fund for Nature, and founder and the first President of the Latvian Ornithological Society.
Prof. Viksne contributed significantly to the participation of Latvia in relevant international organisations and conventions (including Wetlands International, Convention on Wetlands, and the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement). He was the national delegate of Latvia to these organisations and international conventions and agreements.
He also made a great contribution to environmental education in Latvia. He is the author of many papers and books, describing the value of nature in Latvia. He has successfully collaborated with the Latvian Association of Hunters and was the author of special guides for Latvian hunters about wildfowl species, and the founder of a country-wide programme of artificial nests for Mallard which resulted in a significant increase of the local breeding population of this species.
Prof. Viksne was also the author or editor of the most important publications related to birds in Latvia and eastern Europe, including ‘Latvian Birds’ (1973), ‘Latvian birds: their territorial distribution and numbers‘ (1983), ‘Population ecology of migratory ducks’ (1986), ‘Latvian Breeding Bird Atlas 1980-1984′ (1989), ‘The Bird Lake Engure’ (1997), ‘The Garganey and Shoveler in the Baltic States and Belarus’ (2003), and ‘Atlas of duck populations in Eastern Europe’ (2010).
As a prominent scientist Prof. Viksne was elected as Academician of the Latvian Academy of Sciences and was decorated with the National Order of Three Stars (2013) for his merit in service to Latvia.
Contributed by Saulius Svazas
In September 2003, I was traveling through four Baltic countries with my wife and another couple. I was getting bored with the museum and cathedral touring and suggested I leave the group in Latvia for a day to see some waterfowl and meet a biologist. I contacted Janis Viksne and he agreed to meet me and give me a tour of his study site at Lake Engure. I made reservations for a rental car and a place to meet him and I was very excited that night in anticipation for the meeting the next day with this well-known waterfowl biologist. When I arrived at the car rental place they asked to see my international driver’s license. I was heart-broken when I admitted I did not have one and thought my big day in the field was impossible. I called Janis and he said it was no problem as he would pick me up at the car rental place. In about a half hour he arrived and after introductions I squeezed into his crowded little car. We were soon off to Lake Engure where we met his main assistant. A boat was ready for us and soon we were visiting islands that had nesting ducks earlier in the year. I took numerous pictures (slides I need to scan) and captured mental images of a waterfowl expert totally absorbed with his profession. He told me numerous stories, but the one most interesting was how he received research grant money, while Latvia was under control of the Soviet Union. He knew the government was not interested in ducks so any proposals on nesting ecology, etc., would be immediately rejected. So all his proposals for funding of duck research included the word “migration,” with a hint that such studies would lead to more knowledge about control of weapons that would be valuable during the Cold War. He was successful in outsmarting the Soviet bureaucrats and was proud of it. The waterfowl community has lost a true pioneer in duck research. I am proud to have met him and cherish a copy of his book “The Bird Lake Engure” that he signed and gave to me as we parted company in September 2003. With sympathy.
Dr. Matthew C. Perry
1209 Church Road
Mitchellville, MD 20721 USA
Janis was bright scientists. His investment to duck demography was hard to overestimate. Lake Engure was the first example of brilliant long-term research on duck demography in the Soviet Union. We will miss Janis.My greatest condolences to Mara and Antra!
I knew of Janis’ work at Lake Engure long before I met him, through my own work with Peter Blums. Peter is a long-time friend and colleague of mine who, before coming to the U.S. to live, worked with Janis at Lake Engure for many years. I was incredibly impressed (still am) at the duck ringing program that Janis and Peter and others had carried out, with little support, for many years at Lake Engure. It is one of the outstanding studies of individually marked waterfowl in the world. And of course the waterfowl studies were only a part of the extensive ecological investigations being undertaken at Engure. I eventually had the pleasure of meeting Janis at a couple of international waterfowl conferences and was impressed by his enthusiasm and great interest in talking about the Engure system. The Engure Lake research program that Janis, Peter and others assembled is a great example of what good scientists can accomplish even in the absence of adequate support.
Janis was a great person who will be remembered for a long time not only in Latvia, but also in numerous other countries all over the world! His heroic fighting with death during the last years, his endless optimism was admirable and very characteristic to his general nature. My great condolences to all Latvian ornithologists!
We have truly lost one of the great pioneers of European waterfowl research and conservation with the sad passing of Janis Viksne. His work and knowledge of the Lake Engure system is legendary, but Janis was so active in so many other fields of ornithology in Latvia, not least in making vital linkages with the hunting organisations in his country. He leaves very many admirers throughout the world thanks to his extraordinary passion, warmth and kindness as well as for his very many achievements, many attained under the most trying of conditions during the Soviet era. He will be sorely missed, but we are all the better for his kindness and inspiration. Our sincere condolences go to his family and all those close to this impressive man.