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Michel Terrasse (1938-2023)

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Michel Terrasse at the Annual Bearded Vulture Meeting 2021 © Hansruedi Weyrich

There are (many) prominent vulture conservationists across the world. And there IS Michel Terrasse. There are good people around us. And then there was the warm, smiley face of Michel Terrasse, giving us inspiration, advice, cheerfulness, and an extra boost.

Yes, I will miss him. We will all miss him. Even vultures will miss him in their own winged world of heights and mountains. Maybe Michel is with them. I am sure he is.

When, over a decade ago, I came into this vulture world, I had already heard about Michel and his brother Jean-François: about their films, their fieldwork, their discoveries about the last remaining Griffon Vultures breeding in France, their efforts to save them and their dreams to restore vulture populations in their beloved country. About their efforts to establish and operate the Fond d’Intervention pour les Rapaces (FIR), which was later absorbed by LPO.

But soon after, I actually met Michel, in one of the first meetings I attended of the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF), with whom he was associated for a long time and was the president between 2009 to 2012. And what a pleasure that was! The great and famous man was extremely accessible, gentle, humble and human. Each one of the many wrinkles in his heavily marked, ageing but always smiling face seemed to tell a story and came with seasoned advice.

It was simply great to have Michel aboard the VCF for advice and help. Many a meeting we had on various topics. I remember Michel sleeping on and off during many of those – another Terrasse trademark. But then, when needed, with a quirk, young smile, and a spark in his eye, he would shake off torpor and say something that would enlighten – and often unblock, the gathering. 

Many times he opened doors, contacted people at my request, and played the diplomat to solve difficult issues. In a world of egos, competition for resources and attention, and scientific cannibalism, Michel was always the gentleman. Disinterested in anything other than results and outputs, he would be there, smiley, focused, and always ready to help.

And how much he did help. He helped in creating awareness about vultures when those were ignored by all, in creating capacity where there was none – he was one of the first pioneers of vulture conservation in many regions of Europe and further afield, in solving conflicts when those arose, and in facilitating funding when needed. His friendship with Luc Hoffman was key to getting MAVA on Board for vulture conservation and helping the VCF be what it is today.

Michel Terrasse

And he did all this with greatness, poise, and a good heart, bigger than the world. We all have many long-lasting episodes with Michel. For some reason, one has been popping into my mind as I write this. A few years ago, we coincided at a VCF meeting in Andalusia, Spain. Michel was there with his beloved wife, and they had rented a car and travelled around a bit (looking for vultures, of course) before the meeting. Just before we met, their rental car had been broken into, and he had lost all his luggage. This would ruin the mood of the common mortal, the meeting or the holiday. Well, nothing of the sort for Michel. There he was, all smiley, focussed on what mattered – vultures. Never mind the credit card he lost, the clothes he would need to buy, and the insurance claims that had to be done. Those were – in fact they are! – minor details. Vultures were the real important thing.

Thank you, Michel. We will do it. For you.

José Tavares

VCF Director

on behalf of the VCF team

The photos of Michel Terrasse were taken by Hansruedi Weyrich, Jesus Garzon, Ohad Hatzofe and Yossi Leshem

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