Jean-Claude Nourissat

(1942 - 2003)

Bon voyage Jean-Claude...

Photo by Philippe Burnel


Jean-Claude Nourissat, 63, Patrick de Rham’s friend and travel companion, co-author of this book, died from malaria, less than three days after returning from his last journey to Madagascar, in Marseille, on the 10th of November 2003. The following are a few words written by Patrick de Rham on his experience of travelling and being with Jean-Claude.

(Initially written in French for the French aquarium magazine, Aqua Plaisir, - no. 85, 2004 -, of which Jean-Claude Nourissat was a founder and managing director)
With Jean-Claude….

It is by the greatest stroke of good fortune, that in December 1978, I met Jean-Claude Nourissat for the first time during a stop-over in Manaus, Brazil. This happened on the occasion of a dinner in a restaurant to which we had both been invited by Dr Jacques Géry, the leading French specialist of the Characoid fish.

A few months later, Jean-Claude was to visit us in Peru, when he stayed twice for a night with us in Lima on his way to, and back from an expedition to the Peruvian Amazon. Throughout the following years, I was to see him from time to time during the annual summer vacations I took with my family on the Côte d’Azur, in the South of France. This is how, at the beginning of 1980, Jean-Claude showed me around his state of the art Discus breeding facility, he had built in the cellar of the Toulon building in which he was living at the time. Jean-Claude was then considered simultaneously to be, both the best dentist in Toulon and the best Discus breeder in France. One evening, as we had invited Jean-Claude for dinner at Le Layet, a house by the sea in Cavalière, where each summer, we spend a few weeks on holiday, he did us the great honour of bringing along a charming lady, Nicole, who was to become his wife and accompany him on most of his travels.  It was also at Nicole’s home, in Solliés, where Jean-Claude was to move shortly afterwards and build the superb aquarium facility and outdoor ponds to house his Central American cichlids, which after the Discus had become his new passion.

At the beginning of 1987, Jean-Claude invited me for the first time to participate in one of his cichlid collecting trips in Mexico. I quickly understood what travelling with Jean-Claude meant! After having collected the cumbersome fishing equipment (left from one year to another at the house of Mexican friends), we left, Nicole, Jean-Claude and I, the capital city at three thirty in the morning, and alternatively taking the wheel, drove, practically without ever stopping, for more than 1500 km to Nututun in Chiapas, the most southerly Mexican State. On arriving there at around midnight, before taking a well earned rest, we still had to look in pitch darkness, for convenient trees on which to suspend our hammocks. Fortunately, it was not the first time in my life, I had slept in a hammock!

The following days we were to extensively criss-cross the States of Chiapas and Tabasco, making some nice discoveries, such as the Silver cichlid that some time later was to be described under the name of Vieja argentea. Then, first crossing to the Pacific coast, we drove back to Mexico City, and from there pressed further north as far as San Luis Potosi, then back again to Mexico City having covered more than 10 000 kilometres on this trip..

The following year was to be our first trip to Guatemala, a country, which as much by its fishes, landscapes, archaeological sites and people, was to delight us. We were to come back several successive years to this enchanted land. Unfortunately this beautiful country has become fairly dangerous lately. When, after a lapse of twelve years, we came back in May 2003, Jean-Claude and his passengers (I was not in the minibus on that occasion) were to narrowly escape from an attack at gun point committed in the centre of the Capital City.  Luckily, no one was really hurt, as only one of us was slightly scratched on the head by a bullet. Let me remark immediately that this was to be the only incident of the sort that we had  experienced during our many trips, and nearly everywhere we have usually been welcomed by very hospitable and friendly people, who would do their best to help us with our research.

During the following years, we visited all the countries of Central America, with the sole exception of El Salvador, pushing even as far as Colombia that we partially explored in 1994. Together with Guatemala, it is Panama that we most enjoyed, as, in this country, we could visit beautiful areas, totally ignored by the tourists and which had never previously been explored for fishes. One pristine road-less stretch of the Caribbean coast could only be surveyed from the sea, by following the coast and entering the river estuaries with a large motorized dugout. The country’s fish fauna, a mixture of South and Central American elements, with many endemic species, is extremely interesting and diverse. We were to bring back from Panama several new species, such as the cichlids Tomocichla asfraci, Cryptoheros nanoluteus and C. altoflavus.

At the end of the 1980’s, while travelling in Central America, we began to discuss the possibility of going to Madagascar. We knew that this big island, as large as France and the Benelux countries combined (slightly smaller than Texas), and famous for its highly endemic flora and fauna, held endemic species of cichlids. If one of them, Paratilapia polleni, was comparatively well-known (at least we thought, at the time!), the others remained totally ignored by the aquarists. But the echoes we were receiving from recent expeditions undertaken by aquarists in Madagascar were very discouraging, some teams not having been able to find a single live specimen of native cichlid, the latter appearing to have completely disappeared from most of the island’s waters.

However, when in December 1990, Jean-Claude informed me that he had made contacts in Madagascar where he planned to go the following month with a friend and asked me if I would like to join, I accepted immediately. Nevertheless, I felt obliged to remark that January was not the best period of the year to go to Madagascar, as during the rainy season, which normally would be in full force, travelling through the island could be very difficult and fishing impossible. He replied that this was not too serious as even if we could not bring back any fishes, he considered that this short twelve day trip was an exploratory mission and the main purpose was to see if it was worth coming back later for a longer stay.

When we arrived in Madagascar in January 1991, the rains had not yet begun, so we were able to travel to the East Coast, without difficulty, as well as to Ampijoroa in the Northwest, and within ten days succeeded in obtaining 5 out of the then 9 known species of Madagascan cichlids. Boosted by this success, we returned to Madagascar the same year (October-November 1991) and during this second trip collected the first specimens of two new Paretroplus species, the Lamena (Pe. nourissati) and the Menarambo (Pe. menarambo). The following year we met a new driver, Jean Gilbert Andriamianamihaja (we called him simply, Jean), who was to become our guide and companion in Madagascar and with whom we would carry out all our subsequent travels in the island. A deep friendship was to develop between Jean-Claude and him.

In April 1995, upon returning from a very successful trip to Panama, Jean-Claude suddenly became very sick and partially paralysed, narrowly escaping death. There was therefore no more travelling for Jean-Claude that year. His recovery was slow and he would always experience the aftermath effects of this illness that was attributed to the parasitic infection, bilharzia.  However, in October 1996, he returned to Madagascar. I was unable to accompany him, as believing he would not have sufficiently recovered to do such a trip, I had already organized a trip to Australia at the same time. His courage was to be rewarded by the discovery of two beautiful new species: the Tsimoly (Pe. tsimoly) and the Paretroplus sp. of the Maevarano River.

We were to do four more trips to Madagascar together: in 1997 we pushed to the north up to Ambanja, in 1998, we visited the Southeast right down to Fort Dauphin, in 1999, we started from Diego Suarez at the northern tip of Madagascar and drove south all the way back to Antananarivo, in 2001, we went back to the Northwest, and although,  we could never get hold of the mysterious Red Damba from the the Ikopa and Betsiboka lakes, each time we were to bring some new fishes back from these trips.

This last year (2003) at the last moment, a small health problem obliged me to cancel a new departure for Madagascar, and this is how Jean-Claude left without me for what was to be his last journey. I will not comment myself on his last stay in Madagascar, as I leave it to those who were with Jean-Claude, if they wish, to do it.

All these trips were always undertaken with costs kept at a minimum, as we would lodge in hotels only when we could not do otherwise and usually slept either in our hammocks (in Central America), or in a small tent or in our truck, in Madagascar.. Our only luxury was this vehicle, or sometimes a boat, which permitted us to reach the fishing areas and transport the equipment and the live fishes. At times in Central America, especially in the comparatively wealthy areas, it could be difficult to find a convenient place, if possible a roof, to hang our hammocks. But we have always finally managed to find a shelter to spend the night and only on rare occasions we were not granted permission to stay in the place we had chosen. When looking for a place to sleep, most of the people to whom we addressed ourselves, would of course be surprised by our request, but in most cases, this did not prevent them from accepting it and being very hospitable. In Madagascar, where hotels deserving this name are rare and restricted to tourist areas and a few towns, this permitted us to stay close to the fishing places that were often remote and difficult to reach. In this way we were able to work with the fishermen, which was indispensable to quickly retrieve the few native cichlids that were caught in their nets.

This way of travelling also allowed us to get right off the beaten track and at times even to reach places where no one remembered ever having had a visit from a white man. If the discoveries of new species of fish, at times very beautiful, remain as high points of these trips, the numerous adventures and surprises we experienced, remain as vividly engraved in my memory. The fact that we were there to look for fish and not ordinary, curious tourists, allowed us to have much closer contacts with the local people and this especially with the fishermen. If at times, we have been able to obtain better results than other teams, especially in Madagascar, it is because we have always tried our best to get the participation of the local population and that Jean-Claude, with his charm, his radiating energy and enthusiasm, would quickly win friends everywhere he went.

In Madagascar this would not have been possible without the help of our dear Jean, who had a true veneration for Jean-Claude, this to the point that several times he went alone to look for fishes for him. It is true that Jean-Claude had done his utmost to help Jean and that his passing away is a terrible loss for Jean and his family.

The incredible energy displayed by Jean-Claude during the 25 collecting expeditions, we have undertaken together, will always remain in my memory as one of the most salient traits of his character. He always wanted to take full advantage of the time he had at his disposal, time that was always too short for him and only seldom gave himself some respite. In Madagascar, where distances are considerable and the fishing sites are often far apart, we frequently drove through the night, covering hundreds of kilometres, to have a little more time to collect. An excellent diver, endowed with an outstanding visual acuity, both above and below water, Jean-Claude could remain immersed for hours, by day or night, to track down his cichlids in their element. The handling of the heavy seine nets was also very tiring and several times I had to ask for mercy. When fishes were caught, we had to quickly condition them for transport and thereafter, every day, stop near a river, unload the Styrofoam boxes, change the water and replenish the oxygen of all the containers that held fishes. Finally, when he still had a little free time or if an interesting scene presented itself; Jean-Claude would grab his camera and shoot. This is how he produced the many remarkable movie and video films on his expeditions that were greatly enjoyed by many aquarists. Occasionally his energy did not manage to completely mask his tiredness, especially since he had never totally recovered from his 1995 illness, but whatever happened, Jean-Claude always kept smiling and never lost his good humour.

I will not speak about Jean-Claude’s numerous activities when he was not travelling, as others should be able to do it much better than I. But what is certain, is that once back home, far from taking any rest, he would work even harder and it is no surprise that under his presidency, the Association France-Cichlid, became one of the most important aquarium societies in the world.

On a more personal note, Nicole and Jean-Claude, as years passed by, had become great friends of my family. Every summer my grandchildren would look forward to spending an afternoon in Solliès, where they would enjoy such things as swimming with the fishes in the large pond and 17, 000 litre aquarium, and feeding the ducks. This last summer (2003), the newly installed Jacuzzi had been a real sensation. When the children learned that Jean-Claude had died, even the youngest were very moved and asked their parents what would happen now to the fishes and ducks without him … Jean-Claude and Nicole would come to our birthdays, to our weddings. This close relationship had been greatly boosted by the success in February 2000 of a journey through the fabulous South of India, that the “Nourissat pair” had made in the company of five “de Rhams”. Although it had been an essentially sightseeing trip and that we surely spent less than 10% of our time fish collecting, we nevertheless collected several species of fishes, including the three known Indian cichlids: Etroplus suratensis, E. maculatus and the rare E. canariensis. The previous year (2002) we were together in Polynesia on my brother’s boat, another unforgettable souvenir.

We had many projects for the future. We hoped to return to Madagascar, of course, but we also planned to go collecting on the Rio Negro, in Venezuela, to dive in the teaming waters of Baja California, to sail with my brother on the great lagoon of New Caledonia and after South India, to see the wonders of North India. But fate has not has not allowed for this and now I must learn to live without having any more projects with Jean-Claude, and this is difficult.  But my pain, as great as it may be, is nothing compared to the sorrow of his wife Nicole, his daughters, his old mother and all his family. So I try to find solace by saying to myself that Jean-Claude has done until the very end of his life what he enjoyed most: looking for cichlids in their natural habitats in order to bring them back to his aquarists friends. I also believe that I have been incredibly lucky to meet Jean-Claude and to become his friend. Thanks to him, I have made journeys that probably no one will ever do anymore. I have still known fishes, landscapes, people, that will irremediably disappear or change. I will always keep in my heart the memory of Jean-Claude’s, courage, enthusiasm and kindness and I will remain grateful to him to the end, to have offered me a friendship, that through the years, had always kept growing.

Avec Jean-Claude …

C’est en décembre 1978, que par le plus grand des hasards, j’ai rencontré Jean-Claude Nourissat, pendant une escale à Manaus, Brésil, lors d’un dîner dans un restaurant auquel nous avait conviés le Dr Jacques Géry, le grand spécialiste français des Characoïdes.

Quelques mois plus tard, Jean-Claude nous rendait visite au Pérou, alors qu’il passait par Lima, à l’occasion d’un voyage en Amazonie péruvienne. Puis dans les années qui suivirent, je le revoyais à quelques reprises lors des séjours estivaux que je faisais avec ma famille dans le Var. C’est ainsi qu’au début des années 80, Jean-Claude me fit visiter son installation d’élevage de discus qu’il avait installée dans le sous-sol de l’immeuble toulonnais où il vivait à l’époque. Jean-Claude était alors considéré à la fois comme le meilleur dentiste de Toulon et le meilleur éleveur de discus en France. Un soir alors que nous l’avions invité pour dîner au Layet, la maison de Cavalière où nous passons chaque été quelques semaines de vacances, Jean-Claude nous fit le plaisir d’amener une amie, Nicole, qui devait devenir sa femme et l’accompagner dans la plupart de ses voyages. C’est aussi chez Nicole, à Solliès, que Jean-Claude devait venir vivre par la suite et construire sa magnifique installation d’aquariums pour y héberger ses cichlidés d’Amérique Centrale, qui après les discus étaient devenus sa nouvelle passion.

Au début 1987, Jean-Claude m’invitait pour la première fois à participer à un de ses voyages pour aller chercher des Cichlidés au Mexique.

Je devais immédiatement comprendre ce que signifiait voyager avec Jean-Claude ! Après avoir récupéré l’encombrant matériel de pêche (laissé d’une année à l’autre chez des amis mexicains) et loué un minibus, nous quittions, Nicole, Jean-Claude et moi, la capitale à 3 heures du matin et prenant alternativement le volant, parcourions sans presque jamais nous arrêter plus de 1500 km, jusqu’à Nututun, au Chiapas, l’état le plus méridional du Mexique. Là, arrivés aux environs de minuit, nous devions encore dans une obscurité totale, chercher des arbres qui convenaient pour installer nos hamacs, avant de prendre un repos bien mérité. Heureusement, j’avais déjà dormi dans un hamac!

Les jours qui suivirent, nous avons sillonné les états du Chiapas et de Tabasco en tout sens, faisant de belles découvertes, comme le Cichlidé d’argent qui par la suite devait prendre le nom de Vieja argentea. Puis, nous sommes remontés sur Mexico en passant par la côte pacifique et de là nous sommes rendus encore plus au nord, jusqu’à San Luis de Potosi, parcourant un total de plus de 10 000 km.

L’année suivante, devait être celle de notre premier voyage au Guatemala, un pays qui tant par ses poissons, ses paysages, ses sites archéologiques et ses habitants, devait nous enchanter. Nous y sommes revenus plusieurs années de suite. Hélas, ce beau pays est aujourd’hui devenu assez dangereux. Lorsque douze ans plus tard, nous y sommes retournés en mars dernier, Jean-Claude et ses passagers devaient échapper de justesse, en plein centre de la capitale, à une attaque à main armée qui aurait pu avoir de très graves conséquences. Relevons tout de même que ce fût le seul incident du genre  dont nous ayons eu à pâtir au cours de nos nombreux voyages et presque partout, nous n’avons rencontré que des gens très accueillants et prêts à nous aider dans nos recherches.

Au cours des années suivantes nous avons visité tous les pays d’Amérique Centrale,  à l’exception du Salvador, et poussé jusqu’en Colombie que nous avons en partie parcourue en 1994. Avec le Guatemala, c’est le Panama que nous avons le plus apprécié, car nous y avons trouvé de belles régions totalement inconnues des touristes et jamais prospectées, comme un secteur de la côte caraïbe qui n’ayant pas de route, n’a pu être visité qu’en passant par la mer. La faune ichtyque de ce pays, mélange d’éléments d’origine sud-américaine et centre-américaine, avec de nombreuses espèces endémiques, est extrêmement intéressante et riche et nous en avons ramené plusieurs espèces de Cichlidés nouvelles, comme Tomocichla asfraci , Cryptoheros nanoluteus et C. altoflavus.  

A la fin des années 80, pendant nos voyages en Amérique centrale, nous avons commencé à discuter de l’éventualité de nous rendre à Madagascar. Nous savions que cette grande île, aussi étendue que la France et le Benelux réunis et renommée pour sa faune et sa flore hautement endémiques, comptait des espèces indigènes de Cichlidé dont si l’une d’entre elles, le Paratilapia polleni, était bien connue (du moins, nous le croyions à l’époque !), les autres étaient pratiquement inconnues des aquariophiles. Mais les échos qui nous parvenaient d’expéditions récentes d’aquariophiles à Madagascar étaient très décourageants, certaines équipes n’ayant même pas été capables d’y trouver un seul Cichlidé indigène vivant, ces derniers paraissant avoir presque totalement disparu de l’île.

Cependant, lorsqu’en décembre 1990, Jean-Claude m’annonça qu’il avait pris des contacts à Madagascar, où il comptait se rendre avec un ami le mois suivant et qu’il me demanda si je voulais me joindre à eux, j’acceptai immédiatement. Je lui fis néanmoins remarquer que le mois de janvier n’était  pas la meilleure époque de l’année pour aller à Madagascar, car pendant la saison des pluies, qui devrait y battre son plein, les déplacements à travers l’île pouvaient être très difficiles et la pêche impossible. Il me répondit que cela n’était pas grave et que même si nous ne pouvions ramener des poissons, il considérait ce court voyage, une douzaine de jours, comme une mission exploratoire destinée à nous rendre compte s’il valait la peine d’y retourner pour un plus long séjour.

Quand nous arrivâmes à Madagascar en janvier 1991, les pluies n’avaient pas encore débuté, nous pûmes sans aucune difficulté, nous rendre tant sur la côte est que dans le Nord-Ouest jusqu’à Ampijoroa et en une dizaine de jours nous réussissions à obtenir 5 des 9 espèces de Cichlidés malgaches alors connues. Fort de ce succès, nous retournions à Madagascar en octobre de la même année et y capturions les premiers exemplaires de deux nouvelles espèces de Paretroplus, le Lamena  (Pe. nourissati) et le Menarambo (Pe. menarambo). L’année suivante, 1992, nous faisions la connaissance d’un nouveau chauffeur, Jean Gilbert Andriamianamihaja qui devait devenir un collaborateur très précieux et dévoué avec lequel nous devions faire tous nos voyages ultérieurs et qui se lia d’une profonde amitié avec Jean-Claude.

En avril 1995, au retour d’un voyage très réussi au Panama, Jean-Claude, était terrassé par la maladie et en partie paralysé, échappait de peu à la mort. Il n’y eut donc plus de voyage pour Jean-Claude cette année là. Sa convalescence fût longue et il garda toujours des séquelles de cette maladie attribuée à une bilharziose. Cependant dès octobre 1996, il repartait pour Madagascar. Je ne pouvais pas l’accompagner, car croyant qu’il ne serait pas suffisamment rétabli pour un tel voyage, j’avais de mon côté organisé un voyage en Australie. Son courage devait être récompensé par la découverte de deux belles espèces : le Tsimoly (Pe. tsimoly) et le Paretroplus sp. de la Maevarano.

Nous devions encore faire trois voyages à Madagascar ensemble : en 1998 nous visitions le Sud-Est, en 1999, le Nord et le Nord-Ouest, en 2001 à nouveau le Nord-Ouest et si le mystérieux Paretroplus rouge des lacs de l’Ikopa et de la Betsiboka nous échappa toujours, nous devions chaque fois rapporter de nouveaux poissons de ces voyages

Cette année (2003) un petit ennui de santé, me contraignit au dernier moment à renoncer à une nouvelle expédition à Madagascar et c’est ainsi que Jean-Claude partit sans moi pour ce qui devait être son dernier voyage. Je ne m’étendrai pas sur celui-ci, car Corinne Toumi qui le rejoignit au milieu de son séjour compte le faire prochainement.

Tous ces voyages ont toujours été faits avec un minimum de frais puisque nous ne descendions dans des hôtels que quand nous ne pouvions faire autrement et dormions d’habitude, soit dans nos hamacs (en Amérique Centrale), soit dans une petite tente ou notre véhicule (à Madagascar). Notre seul luxe était ce véhicule, ou à l’occasion un bateau, indispensables pour nous rendre aux lieux de pêche et pour transporter le matériel et les poissons. Parfois en Amérique Centrale, surtout dans les zones relativement développées, il était difficile de trouver un lieu adéquat, si possible un toit, pour suspendre nos hamacs. Mais nous avons toujours fini par dénicher un endroit et rares ont été les fois où nous n’avons pas été autorisés à nous installer. La plupart des gens auxquels nous nous sommes adressés étaient certes étonnés de notre demande, mais cela ne les empêchait de l’accepter et de se montrer très hospitaliers. A Madagascar, où les hôtels dignes de ce nom, ne se rencontrent guère que dans les lieux touristiques et quelques villes, cela nous permettait de rester sur les lieux de pêches souvent fort éloignés et difficilement accessibles. Ainsi nous pouvions travailler avec les pêcheurs ce qui était indispensable pour rapidement mettre à l’abri les rares Cichlidés indigènes qu’ils ramenaient dans leurs filets. Surtout cette manière de voyager nous a permis de sortir des chemins battus et d’accéder même à des endroits où personne ne se souvenait d’avoir vu passer un Blanc. Si la découverte d’espèces nouvelles, parfois très belles, ont été des temps forts de ces voyages,  les péripéties qui les accompagnaient, sont toutes aussi présentes dans ma mémoire. Le fait que nous venions chercher des poissons et pas en simples touristes curieux, nous a permis d’avoir des rapports beaucoup plus étroits avec les autochtones et en particulier avec les pêcheurs locaux. Si nous avons parfois obtenu de meilleurs résultats que d’autres équipes, surtout à Madagascar, c’est parce que nous avons toujours recherché la collaboration de la population locale et que Jean-Claude par son charme et son énergie rayonnante se faisait des amis partout. A Madagascar, cela n’aurait pas été possible sans l’assistance de notre ami Jean qui avait une véritable vénération pour Jean-Claude, à tel point que plusieurs fois il est parti seul, parfois au péril de sa vie, pour aller lui chercher des poissons. Il est vrai que Jean-Claude avait énormément fait pour aider Jean et que sa disparition est une perte très dure pour Jean et sa famille.

L’incroyable énergie déployée par Jean-Claude au cours des quelques 25 voyages que nous avons faits ensemble, restera toujours dans ma mémoire comme un des traits les plus frappants de son caractère. Il voulait profiter à fond du temps disponible, toujours trop court selon lui et s’accordait rarement un instant de repos. A Madagascar où les distances sont longues et les sites de pêche éloignés les uns des autres, nous roulions souvent de nuit pour couvrir des centaines de km et disposer d’un peu plus de temps pour la pêche. Excellent plongeur, doté d’une acuité visuelle exceptionnelle, tant sur terre que sous l’eau, il pouvait rester immerger des heures, de jour comme de nuit pour traquer ses Cichlidés dans leur élément. Le maniement des lourds filets était aussi très fatigant et plusieurs fois j’ai dû demander grâce. Quand des poissons étaient capturés, il fallait rapidement les conditionner pour  le transport  et ensuite, il fallait chaque jour, s’arrêter près d’une rivière, décharger les caisses et changer l’eau et l’oxygène de tous les récipients contenant des poissons. Enfin quand il lui restait un moment ou qu’il se présentait une scène intéressante, Jean-Claude se ruait sur sa camera et c’est ainsi qu’il a produit les remarquables films sur ses  expéditions qui ont fait le bonheur de tant d’aquariophiles. Parfois son énergie n’arrivait pas à totalement masquer sa fatigue, d’autant plus qu’il ne s’était jamais complètement remis de sa maladie de 1995, mais en toutes circonstances, Jean–Claude gardait le sourire et ne perdait jamais sa bonne humeur.

Je ne parlerai pas ici des nombreuses activités de Jean-Claude quand il n’était pas en voyage, car d’autres sauront le faire sans doute mieux que moi. Mais ce qui est sûr, c’est qu’une fois de retour chez lui, loin de prendre du repos, il redoublait d’activité et ce n’est pas pour rien que sous sa  présidence, l’Association France-Cichlid est devenue l’une des plus importantes sociétés aquariophiles du monde.

Sur un plan plus personnel, Nicole et Jean-Claude au fil des années étaient devenus des grands amis de ma famille. Chaque été mes petits enfants se réjouissaient de passer une après- midi à Solliès, de nager avec les poissons dans le bassin et le grand aquarium, de nourrir  les canards et cet été, le jacusi avait fait un vrai tabac. Quand ils ont appris la mort de Jean-Claude, même les plus jeunes ont été très frappés et ont demandé à leur mère ce que les poissons et les canards allaient devenir sans lui ... Nicole et Jean-Claude venaient à nos anniversaires, à nos mariages. Ces liens avaient été grandement renforcés par la réussite en février 2000 d’un voyage à travers la fabuleuse Inde du Sud que la « paire Nourissat » avait fait en compagnie de cinq « de Rham ». Bien que ce voyage ait été avant tout touristique et que nous n’ayons certainement pas consacré plus de 10% de notre temps à la pêche, nous n’en avions pas moins collecté plusieurs espèces de poissons dont les trois Cichlidés indiens connus, les Etroplus suratensis, E. maculatus et le rare E.canarensis. Enfin en novembre de l’année passée nous étions ensemble en  Polynésie sur le bateau de mon frère, autre merveilleux souvenir.

Nous avions plein de projets d’avenir. Nous espérions retourner à Madagascar, bien sûr, mais nous projetions aussi d’aller sur le Rio Negro, au Venezuela, de plonger dans les eaux de la Baja California, de naviguer avec mon frère dans le grand lagon de la Nouvelle-Calédonie et après l’Inde du Sud, de connaître aussi l’Inde du Nord. Mais le sort ne l’a pas voulu ainsi et maintenant, je dois m’habituer à ne plus faire de projets avec Jean-Claude et c’est difficile.

Mais ma peine aussi grande soit-elle, n’est rien en comparaison du chagrin de sa femme Nicole, des ses filles de sa mère et de toute sa famille. Alors j’essaye de me consoler en me disant que Jean-Claude a fait jusqu’au bout ce qu’il aimait le plus au monde: chercher des Cichlidés dans la nature pour pouvoir les ramener vivants à ses amis aquariophiles. Je pense aussi que j’ai eu une chance incroyable de rencontrer Jean-Claude et de devenir son ami. Grâce à lui j’ai fait des voyages que personne ne fera probablement jamais plus. J’ai encore connu des poissons, des paysages, des gens qui vont irrémédiablement disparaître ou changer. Je garderai toujours le souvenir, du courage, de l’enthousiasme et de la gentillesse de Jean-Claude et je lui resterai à jamais reconnaissant de m’avoir fait don d’une amitié qui au cours de ces nombreuses années n’avait fait que croître.

This text appeared in Aqua-Plaisir issue # 85. Published here with the permission of the Author. Aqua Plaisir is the journal Jean Claude had devoted a large part of his life into. You may also read an online article by Patrick de Rham at http://www.arcat.ch/Articles/DeRham_Nourissat/derham_nourissat.html

Patrick de Rham, Switzerland

On Sunday, 9th November, just less than two weeks ago, I received a telephone call from Patrick de Rham in Switzerland, with the devastating news that our very dear friend Jean-Claude had collapsed with cerebral malaria, following his return from another of his collecting trips to Madagascar. In spite of immediate medical care, tragically he never regained consciousness and died soon afterwards, so now the entire global cichlid community is mourning the loss of this remarkable man.

Dave and I had the great honour of knowing this unassuming, charismatic and wonderful man and his charming wife, Nicole, personally for several years. Even people who had never had the opportunity and pleasure of meeting Jean-Claude were well aware of his dedication to the aquatic hobby.  His boundless energy and devotion to his beloved cichlids, especially those from Madagascar should be an example to all of us. His many trips to that country, usually with Patrick, as well as Central America are well documented and on many occasions, they discovered new species. Indeed, the gorgeous “Red” Lamena, that he and Patrick discovered in Madagascar in 1991, has been named in his honour, Paretroplus nourisati and also another species from Central America, Amphilophus nourissati.

Dave and I were very fortunate and visited Jean-Claude and Nicole at their beautiful home, near Toulon in southern France more than once and saw firsthand, his massive aquariums and outside ponds, some of which contained several thousand litres of water. The huge fishes in these aquariums, especially those from Central America were the largest that Dave and I had ever seen. In the aquariums containing his Madascasgan cichlids, the fishes were spectacular and both Dave and I feel humbled at having seen what this wonderful man had achieved. Many of the Madagascan cichlids in our aquariums came from Jean-Claude, which is another indication of his generosity. As I sit in front of my computer now writing this piece about Jean-Claude, the tears are streaming down my face and I cannot begin to imagine the pain that poor Nicole and the rest of his family must be going through. 

The English version of the excellent book about Madagascan cichlids written by Jean-Claude and Patrick, which I have the great task of editing, is now of the utmost priority, following the tragic death of this incredible man. To you, mon cher Jean-Claude, who was such a good friend to Dave and I in so many ways and who we loved so dearly, rest in peace. Our deepest sympathies to dear Nicole and your family and you will always be in our thoughts.

Sonia Guinane and David Tourle, UK

Cher Jean-Claude, 

Stupéfaction, chagrin énorme et enfin incrédulité. Voilà les sentiments qui m’ont parcourus successivement durant cette semaine. J’en suis à l’incrédulité, non, décidément, je ne peux pas croire que tu as rejoint le Royaume des Lamenas, des « petits bleus » et des « nains jaunes ». Non, tu es toujours là, forcément, ce n’est pas possible autrement ; là, de toute façon au fond de nos cœurs.
Jean-Claude, je veux croire que nous nous retrouverons, pas trop vite quand même, je ne suis pas pressé. Mais tu m’attendras, tu m’accueilleras à la porte de ton paradis de verdure et tu me tendras un paquet de cassettes audio. 
« Depuis le temps que je t’attendais… 
J’ai un paquet de cassettes de mes derniers voyages.. 
Tu veux bien les mettre sur ordi pour la Revue ? …
Ça fera peut-être long pour une revue, en plus c’est moche de saucissonner les articles… on va faire un bouquin ! »

Et moi, bien sûr je dirai « oui » parce que c’est toi, parce que j’ai tant aimé travailler sur tes textes, envoûté par tes récits. Je ne pouvais rien te refuser, tu le savais.
En attendant nos retrouvailles, je garde quelques parcelles de toi ici : deux Orchidées que tu m’avais données lors de ma dernière visite, j’en prends le plus grand soin et je sais que, toujours, j’aurai une pensée pour toi à chaque arrosage. Il y a aussi cette cassette d’un de tes derniers voyages, posée sur le bureau depuis des mois et jamais retournée à Solliès. Je la réécouterai sans doute, dans plusieurs mois, quand le chagrin sera atténué et que je pourrai réentendre ta voix.
Adieu Jean-Claude, à un jour, sûrement.

I feel a great emotion and sadness when I write these words. Jean Claude Nourissat has passed away on Sunday November 10 of 2003, being 62, just after coming back from a trip to Madagascar where he had been doing what he loved the most, collecting cichlids in their natural habitat and constantly bringing to the hobby new and exciting never before seen species.

I first met Jean Claude in March, 1983, when a common friend of ours, Antonio Hernandez Rolón from México city, invited me to join them in a collecting trip in southern México. Jean Claude kindly accepted me in and I was on my way to Tabasco. After I left the plane and met the small party led by Jean Claude, I was impressed by the charisma of this man, and it was soon that I was surprised by his seemingly unlimited energy and passion. I had all my life been fascinated by fish and had never yet found somebody who reflected a passion similar to mine, but there was this man, with such a genuine love for cichlids that over the years I have just seen in a group of people I could count with one hand. I have to say that even in my early twenties I wasn't ready for Jean Claude's unlimited energy, but he made me enjoy cichlid collecting in such a way that I have never ceased since then, doing it every time I can.

Over the years I followed Jean Claude's achievements and his fascinating explorations to Central America and then Madagascar, together with his dear friend Patrick de Rham, and I was surprised by the many new species that they would discover for science and hobby. They would unselfishly distribute the fish to anybody interested in them. It is not coincidence that two beautiful cichlid species have been named after him, one central American and one Madagascan; Astatheros nourissati and Paretroplus nourissati. Over many years I just had sparing correspondence with Jean Claude.

In 1999, I was very excited when Jean Claude and Patrick proposed that the French Cichlid Association invite me to Vichy for their 20th anniversary convention as one of their guest speakers. After getting to Lausanne as Patrick's guest, we drove to Toulon to visit Jean Claude. There he was at the door when we arrived, with his big smile and telling me he was happy to see me again after so long.

I could clearly see his energy had not slowed down a bit over the passed 16 years. His fishroom (Fish house actually) is by far the most impressive I have ever seen. Jean Claude, a dentist, was now retired and invested his full energy into his family, his aquarium setting, his loved duck collection, the French Cichlid Association and a grape yard. Jean Claude's setups are out this world. He has what I think is the best collection of Central American and Madagascar cichlids there is, and I am including here all the public aquariums that I know. Some of the species that he had collected and kept at that time, like Ptychocromoides katria, weren't available anywhere else. Several aquarium ranging 3,000 gallons and bigger occupy his fish room.

But it was Jean Claude with his big charm that made you feel so welcome and excited about his fish. He was the center of all this and talking to him was the real joy be in his incredible setup. Nicole his wife was a most wonderful hostess and made us feel at home. Jean Claude insisted we had to stay for the night and so we did. I could not leave without some of the original discovered collection of Cryptoheros nanoluteus, which he generously offered to me.

Over the convention in Vichy, it was clear for me that besides being the long time president, Jean Claude was the soul of the French Cichlid Association, he was widely respected and he was the crusader for the event. The French Cichlid Association is a very big event, much like the American Cichlid Association's annual convention. During the congress Jean Claude and Patrick de Rham made the attendees enjoy a humorous and educational representation of how cichlids breed, disguising themselves and acting like a pair of Thorichthys meeki and Maylandia saulosi. There, Jean Claude showed that he was a person that could communicate to the rest and make them laugh.

Jean Claude has marked a big milestone for the cichlid hobby. One of his many legacies is the wonderful book on Madagascar cichlids that he wrote in the company of Patrick de Rham. I can confidently say that many of us will remember him for the rest of our lives and that many will come to know of him and his great contributions to this great worldwide fraternity that we are in the aquarium hobby. My deepest sympathies to his dear wife Nicole and family, the cichlid world and the French Cichlid Association. I am sure if there is a heaven Jean Claude will be looking after his beloved cichlids from there.

Good bye Jean Claude. Rest in peace.

Juan Miguel Artigas Azas, Mexico [ http://www.cichlidae.com/docs/authors/nourissat_jeanc.html ]

Chers amis,

J'ai une douloureuse nouvelle à vous faire parvenir, Jean-Claude Nourissat est décédé cette nuit, après plusieurs jours de coma.
Il venait de rentrer de Madagascar, quand ses forces l'ont abandonné, miné par la maladie.
L'AFC, ainsi que tout le monde aquariophile est en deuil. Nous venons de perdre le meilleur d'entre nous.
Les mots n'ont plus de sens pour annoncer une telle nouvelle.
Je suis personnellement bouleversé par sa disparition, je pense aussi à Nicole son épouse et à toute sa famille, tous ensembles, nous avons le devoir de les soutenir en ces moments de tristesse.

Antoine Séva, President of the French Cichlid Association (AFC) [ http://www.francecichlid.com/ ]

We knew Jean-Claude for quite some time through his articles and achievements and we had a contact with him through his friend, Patrick de Rham for the last couple of years. However it was not until October 2003 that we actually met him in person (Francesco had already met him again a few years ago in Faenza). A gentle, polite, knowledgeable man, full of passion for cichlids, always willing to share his knowledge and fishes alike. A warm hearted host, an open minded fish enthusiast, a traveler, an author, a president, the list is endless... One of the very few people that anybody would like to have as a friend and tutor. Only we met him too late and we lost him too early. Have a nice trip Jean-Claude and au revoir..

Francesco Zezza (Rome, Italy), George & John Reclos (Athens, Greece), [www.malawicichlidhomepage.com ]

He made me dream, 10-15 years ago already, by reading articles on his installations, and in the view of his huge tanks, in pictures like this one:

He woke up my interest in cichlids, and passed me the Malagasy cichlids virus, with his articles, pictures and the accounts of his trips…

I had the chance to meet him, just a month before he left us. A warm, smiling man, who would always listen to others, who would immediately make you feel at ease, and who won me for ever.

His friends, his family, Patrick, Nicole, you were so privileged to live with an extraordinary man. Keep the moments you spent with him as the most precious gift…

Au revoir Jean-Claude…

Tolis Ketselidis, Athens, Greece [ www.tolibra.com/fish ]

In 1999 AIC (Associazione Italiana Ciclidofili) has published a special issue of its bullettin (the only ever published in English) dedicated to Jean-Claude Nourissat. These articles are now offered to MCH readers in order to allow more and more people to know, remember and appreciate Jean Claude.

MCH authors wish to thank AIC for having allowed the posting of these pages. You can view and download them at http://www.aiconline.it/aicnotizie/nourissat.asp


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