Obituary Dr. Fritz Huchzermeyer

Dr. Fritz Huchzermeyer Dr. Fritz Huchzermeyer

(12 January 1930 – 3 March 2014)

It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of Dr. Fritz Huchzermeyer, Pretoria, South Africa – a prominent veterinary scientist, a creative mind and a good friend; you will remember: he was the author of our last Editorial, the linguistic analysis of the word Nandu.

To talk about Fritz only in veterinary terms is impossible, and the Nandu editorial proves what I mean. He was the most colorful character I have met in the science arena, an ever curious personality, a thoughtful individual who merits to be remembered for many reasons. Rather than trying to picture my own experiences with him since early students’ times in Hannover, Germany, I quote from an account of his vita compiled by his wife Hildegard and children David, Philippa and Marie.

“Fritz loved science and knowledge, but also enjoyed painting, sketching, sculpting, cooking, blowing the trumpet, writing and running. Beside his contribution to veterinary science, he has left many rich memories plus an archive ranging from Comrades Marathon silver medals to poetry collections and colorful abstract paintings.

During studies in theology in Vienna, he fell in love with Hildegard back home, whom he had asked to type up an assignment. A change in academic direction was followed by marriage, and soon Hildegard joined him in the study of veterinary science at the University of Hannover.
Here they were surrounded by a circle of family and of individualistic, open-minded and international friends and fellow students. These have remained close to the family ever since. Both Fritz and Hildegard completed one year of their studies at the Ecole Veterinaire Maisons Alfort, France.

Open to adventure, Fritz accepted a posting to the then Rhodesia as field veterinarian. In 1975 he took up a senior lecturer post in poultry diseases at the Veterinary Faculty in Onderstepoort. Hildegard became his colleague across the road at the Institute. Refuge from segregated and regulated South African society was found on a thornveld smallholding in Buffeldrift with many unconventional pets and in a growing collection of books in the various languages mastered by Fritz. Through a technical exchange, Fritz took the family to Paraguay for the year 1980. While working at the Veterinary Faculty in Asuncion, he immersed them in Spanish and Guarani and in friendships with diverse Paraguayans met while out jogging. He later moved to the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute working in poultry and then in pathology, branching into specializations in ostrich and crocodile diseases. This work continued until two months before his death, when he handed his accumulated collections over to colleagues whom he had mentored.

After retirement, Fritz completed his PhD. He remained much sought after as crocodile and ostrich specialist, writing and publishing authoritative texts and being invited by farmers and associations around the world (particularly as chair of the Veterinary Group in the Crocodile Specialist Group, IUCN). One of several trips involved an 11-day crossing, by foot, of the unmapped Likouala swamp in a remote region of the Congo, in search of dwarf crocodiles. Tortoises and other interesting animals were part of his home life, and these featured in his most pleasant dreams.”

In collaboration with paleontologists in China, Dr. Huchzermeyer co-authored an article published last year in Nature. The paper reported the preservation of ovarian follicles in Mesozoic birds and the early evolution of avian reproductive behavior. Crocodilians and birds are closely related to dinosaurs and have served as models to explore the reproductive behavior of the theropods.

It would have been in Fritz’ spirit to conclude this obituary with one of his poems:

To the Sacred Crocodiles of Burkina Faso
(Montélimar, July 2006)

Feared and ferocious predator, what is it
That you can live in harmony with man
When you are sacred and revered,
And when you are accepted as an equal
That – even when your lake is dry –
The villagers will share their home with you?
We know already that you are a gentle parent,
And yet it is so difficult to understand
Your very motions and emotions.
We cannot read expressions in your face
And only barely in your voice;
In our ignorance we will behave
So much more brutally than you.

It is my dream that all of us
Could live in harmony with all the crocodiles
As is the case
In a small part
Of Africa.

Marian C. Horzinek