Mr Gabriel D’Argent, doyen of the MWF, is no more

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Mr Gabriel d’Argent was the longest serving and eldest member of staff of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation.

Mr Gabriel d’Argent was the longest serving and eldest member of staff of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation.

The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation is saddened to announce the death of Mr Gabriel d’Argent, doyen of the conservation of Mauritius.

Mr Gabriel D’Argent was born on 17th July 1924 in Union Vale.  His father worked at the electricity company at Tamarind Falls, and his mother was a house-wife. He had 3 brothers and 3 sisters. Gabriel grew up amidst nature and learnt his plants and animals from Mr Brunette, a local forester, who he followed everywhere.  Therefore, he heard the call of nature at a very early age, and a career in forestry appealed to him.  He went to school at Glen Park up to ‘la Petite Bourse’, and due to financial circumstances could not attend secondary school.  However, he helped his brothers and sisters with their homework. He joined the Forestry Service at the age of 17. And worked at several places eg Camp Thorel, Plaine Sophie, Gouly, Mare Longue. Regrettably, he witnessed the logging of native forest during his career, which was conducted at an accelerated pace.

He was married to Rita D’Argent, of Reunionese origin, and they raised 3 children, all born whilst Gabriel was based at forest sites.  Gabriel climbed the ranks of the Forestry Service from forest guard to Forest Inspector. He met the emminent Dr Reginald Vaughan in the early 1970s, and became an assiduous student of the latter. Gabriel cycled between Plaine Sophie and Phoenix, where Dr Vaughan lived, to study botany!  Dr Vaughan taught Gabriel plant identification and ecology and they became very close colleagues. Gabriel became a well versed forest ecologist and was a reference to endless researchers and visitors.

Gabriel retired from the Forestry Service in 1984 at the age of 60.  He received the ‘President’s Meritorious Service Medal’ in 1984.  He had, since 1982, met Ms (later Dr) Wendy Strahm (Plant Conservationist of the World Wildlife Fund seconded to the Forestry Service; she was one of the founders of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation in 1984).  Wendy received funds to employ Gabriel in 1984 and he joined the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation.  He was instrumental in supporting Wendy’s work in Mauritius to relocate rare plants, create Conservation Management Areas (CMA’s eg Brise Fer, Mare Longue, Petrin, Florin --; native patches of forest fenced against  deer and pigs and weeded of invasive alien species), and improve the management of Nature Reserves (Ile aux Aigrettes, Perrier, Vaughan’s Plot) and private forests (Emile Series, Mondrain).  Gabriel has been intensively involved with the restoration of the Mondrain reserve, an area owned by the Medine Sugar Estate, and previously leased to the Royal Society of Arts and Science. Gabriel has, on behalf of MWF, worked tirelessly, most often on his own, to restore this reserve, which is a gem in our floral landscapes and inseparable from himself.

Gabriel enjoyed good health (cycling several kms to Mondrain four times a week) and had a very sharp memory for dates, plants and their locations. He was often referred to as an ‘encyclopaedia’.  He has been a trainer for several local and international botanists who are now in key positions in Mauritius and abroad.   He continued to train the future generation of botanists up to the age of 94 when he retired from the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation due to ill-health.  Nevertheless, he remained available to share his knowledge to field biologists and visiting scientists. He was a great narrator and shared his knowledge freely to researchers, and was highly respected for his wisdom and work ethics.  He has co-authored or supported several key publications, in particular what is now a reference for conservationists – the Page and D’Argent report (1997). On the occasion of his 90th birthday, Gabriel was appointed by the President of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Dr Peter Wyse-Jackson, to  the prestigious position of ‘Research Associate’, in recognition for his ‘valuable collaboration and outstanding contribution to botany and conservation in Mauritius through many years’.

Mr Gabriel d’Argent was the longest serving and eldest member of staff of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, and yet in many ways the youngest by his strength, determination, and lucidity. 

We will all miss you so dearly.  Rest In Peace.

Note de la Rédaction : Gabriel d’Argent est le père de notre collègue Robert d’Argent, journaliste de sport. Nous lui présentons, ainsi qu’à sa famille, toutes nos condoléances.

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