Please share your stories and tributes to Rob here as a reply to this post.​

We’ll have a memorial for Rob on March 11, 2017 at the Gays Mills Community Center, Gays Mills WI.

22 Replies to “”

  1. Dear Friends of Rob,
    We want to send you our heartfelt thanks for your kind condolences. We really appreciate all of your cards and messages. The memorial service was a beautiful tribute to Rob, his life and his work. It was touching to see such an outpouring of love for Rob and to know his work was so highly esteemed. We are so happy that he was part of such a warm, caring and connected community. Your support has made this very sad time a little easier.
    Gratefully,
    Janet, Lisa and Emily Weinberg

  2. Rob taught me everything about costume-rearing and release of cranes, which was one of the important objectives of my PhD research. This amazing technique I then applied to a wintering site release, among other important releases, and further helped share this technique with colleagues overseas. Years later, Rob became a grantee for a conservation fund that I managed, and we spent many hours discussing other challenging conservation issues beyond the wonders (and challenges) of costume-rearing and release of cranes. I am very grateful for having learned and worked with Rob, and feel great sadness that we have lost a tireless friend and comrade in the conservation arena. My deepest condolences to Rob’s family and friends.

  3. Robbie was a first cousin and we grew up in the same town in Fair Lawn NJ . My mother and Robbie’s mother were sisters. I spent time at their house growing up and Robbie was Santa Claus for xmas. He was fond of my parents and we had many family meals together. Robbie would always rub the rim of the wine glasses and make music. He loved to buy the most unique toys that would spin and I remember a small merry go around he brought that sparled and made music. He also gave me an amazinly one of a kind silver jewelry piece of a goat and the moon. He made amazing sculptures out of metal. Robbie was loved by everyone. He was funny and gentle and I admired him.

    I hope he is at peace. My condolences to his friends and family.

    Robbie was very fond of my parents. One time we were all eating out at a diner when they were in their late 80’s. My parents were becoming more frail and had a lot of struggles. Robbie made a comment to me ” this is supposed to be the golden years, but it doesn’t seem like it is” We then all went into the diner and ate Eggplant parmigion sandwiches.( vegetarian) .

  4. Robbie is my uncle. We met in 1971. My husband Jason and I were on our way to the memorial from Odessa, TX. Due to delays and a multitude of spring breakers, we were unable to get another flight that would get us to Gays Mills in time. I was going to read at the memorial. Here is some of it:

    An early memory that stands out strongest for me was the time that Robbie came to visiting day at Camp Nyoda where Lisa, my sister was attending sleep away camp for the 1st time. I am reminded of this memory often since there is a black and white photo in my office of the 3 of us from that day. I am about 7 and Lisa 11. I was very happy that Robbie came with us since we never saw him more than once or twice a year so this was a special event in itself. I remember looking around at all of the preppy, tidy campers and recalling that with Robbie’s presence we stood out, something as 7 year old I wanted to avoid. I recall thinking that I wish we were like all of the others, but then found myself reconciling that thought with………. we are with someone who is kind and open and who brings a whole new perspective to our environment………plus he has a wry sense of humor and can throw a Frisbee like a champ.
    As I grew older, I knew that service was engrossed in Robbie’s being and that is what I have garnered from him……………..
    Be goofy, be intense, be committed, let your New Jersey upbringing seep into your Midwest sensibility, keep persisting for what you believe, be present, rebel, observe and keep on keepin’ on.

    A more recent memory: Jason and I stayed with Robbie about 4 years ago. We were touring his yard when he stumbled upon a baseball size hole in the ground. “I wonder if there are gophers in there……” Robbie said as he pushed his forearm further into the hole. As time slowed down, from 10 feet away I yelled beeeeees in 2 octaves lower than my regular voice. Robbie moved away quickly but not until he was stung at least six times. You never would have known as we continued our walk recalling the scene with astonishment and amusement.
    The next morning after he made us coffee, he saw that he didn’t have any milk. “There is some ice cream in the freezer though.” Coffee floats for breakfast it was!

    Much gratitude and love to all that have been part of his personal and professional community.

  5. I first met Rob in 1985, the year he began his pioneering work in rearing experimental sandhill cranes in captivity that were suitable for release into the wild. This innovative technique, which consisted of raising crane chicks by costumed humans in isolation from routine human sights, sounds, and activities, revolutionized crane reintroduction by making adequate numbers of high-quality birds for release possible. In addition, use of the costume facilitated management of birds after release. Rob’s support and encouragement bolstered my own use and further development of his technique with sandhill cranes at Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Upper Michigan, beginning in 1988. The costume-rearing technique has since gone on to form the basis of endangered species conservation projects, including release of hundreds of whooping cranes in reintroductions in the eastern United States. Rob was an insightful and gracious professional in biology and an all-around great guy. He will be greatly missed.

  6. Rob and I became friends when we met at an art fair in the 1970s. We were both exhibiting our animal-based artwork: his jewelry, my prints and drawings.

    My partner Frank and I lived south of Madison, and Rob would often visit and stay with us on his way to the Brookfield Zoo. Rob told us about a howler monkey project he was working on in Central America, and asked if I’d like to illustrate a poster for the new Baboon Sanctuary (the local folks called howlers baboons). It was a fun and interesting project, and when we got the posters printed, Frank and I decided to deliver them to Belize ourselves. We drove from Wisconsin down to Belize and spent time with Rob and met Fallot Young. A “souvenir” of the trip was a botfly larva in my leg. Leave it to Rob the biologist to be fascinated with the life process of the maggot developing in my thigh! He wanted me to let it run its natural course, but the creepiness was too much for me and I asked a doctor to remove it.

    Rob was unique: gentle, kind, knowledgeable, unconventional, and honest. No artificial anything. He’s a big part of the reason why Frank and I became vegetarians 25+ years ago. To echo Beverly Serrell, we knew that Rob made sure donations to Community Conservation would go farther than any other dollars to protect the primates and wildlife he loved. He will be much missed.

  7. As an Associate with CC from 1997-2007, I am sad to hear of Rob’s passing. Notwithstanding, few of us will leave a legacy as rich and broad-reaching as his is certain to be. As others have noted, Rob was 1-of-a-kind–eccentric, intense, and committed–dedication to his mission was always foremost. Since I analyzed CC’s data and co-authored many of the resulting papers, please let me know it I can be of service on any Science-related matters and/or provide information about Rob’s experiences with “hard” Conservation Biologists, including, his views about academia and conventional research.

  8. I met Rob when I was an intern at the International Crane Foundation in the summer of 1986. He was incredibly generous with his time and guidance for a parental behavioral project I completed that summer – and he continued to encourage me to get it published, which finally happened in 1994 after a long struggle to shed tables and graphs (I think he was a bit of a data geek). What really stuck at the time though, was our mutual interest in primate behavior and conservation. So I ended up in Belize and completing my Master’s thesis project on the Community Baboon Sanctuary in 1988. I’ll never forget how he helped get me settled in the shell of the CBS museum (no exhibits yet) as my base of operation for the next 2 months, and how he continually remained positive during the time we overlapped (Jon Lyon was also there for a time). Of course Rob had remarkable standing in the community and great mutual respect for many of the volunteer landowners. Occasionally, a funny story might emerge, or an insightful anecdote into Rob’s kind yet quirky personality, like the time he and a couple of guys from Bermudian Landing went to pick up an old Ford van that was to be used as the sanctuary vehicle. As I recall, on the way home, the driver made a straight line for a large boa constrictor that was sunning itself on the road, only for Rob to pull at the wheel, save the snake, but total the van. They all made back together, but I can imagine the stories that began to circulate! The van still ran when I was there, and helped me get to the farthest village, Flowers Bank, but you had to start it with a Fred Flinstone move by running along, hop in, and pop the clutch! Not very useful, for sure. So here is the first paragraph of my dedication from the thesis: “This paper is the result of a very special collaboration with a dedicated conservationist, Dr. Robert Horwich. My study of the “baboons” of Belize and this unique conservation project benefited greatly from his enthusiasm, guidance, companionship and understanding. I would like to offer my thanks to Rob for his friendship over the past three years.” You will be missed Rob!

    Baboon Bridge at Bermudian Landing 1988

    http://memoriam.communityconservation.org/Baboon Bridge at Bermudian Landing 1988.jpg

    CBS Baboon Bus 1988

    Belize River CBS 1988

    Belize River CBS 1988

    Belizean wallpaper

    Belizean wallpaper

    The Young children

    The Young children

    Road to Bermudian Landing 1988

    Road to Bermudian Landing 1988

    1. Hi Barry,
      Your story about the van is correct; it was our old Ford van. Frank had rebuilt the engine and we drove it down to Belize loaded with the posters. We donated the van to the sanctuary, and Rob later told us that when he and Fallot dropped us off at the airport, they cracked up the van on the way back, fighting over the snake. He assured us that the van was still being used: “Someone’s sleeping in it.” Glad to hear someone was able to (sort of) fix the engine.

  9. I met Rob as a young and green intern at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo in 1984. I heard him speak of his work in Belize with howler monkeys and when he asked me if I would be interested in going and helping on a forest mapping project I said yes (though I then spent many weekends in Madison learning how to actually make maps). That first trip to Belize in 1985 was the start of long journey working in conservation and with Rob. The years I spent working with Rob can only be described as a create swirl of ideas, energy and tumultuous movement always centered on communities and promoting, enhancing and catalyzing their essential role in conservation. Over the years we had a running joke that no one said community conservation was always pretty and it wasn’t. However, for me it was, and is, a pursuit as rewarding, challenging and inspirational as any endeavor one could imagine and I owe that experience in large part to working with Rob.

    When we first came up with the idea of ‘Community Conservation Consultants’ as an organization, we thought the tag line should be ‘the most influential organization that you never heard of’. This was because Rob believed in and embodied the role of a humble and non-ego driven change agent. He kept focused on the conservation outcomes and the community and not the flash and self-promotion that too often motivates conservation action. He was a thoughtful, creative and soulful man who had a deep capacity to listen and assimilate. I always loved visiting the ‘estate’ on one quiet lane and walking through the outdoor art garden and spying what new ‘piece’ was installed or rearranging a vase full of Barbie torsos in his kitchen. To me, the property was very much an extension of Rob Horwich’s mind and soul.

    We worked on projects together and traveled together in Belize, Wisconsin, Russia and Madagascar. Rob took on each new project with a curious and profound optimism and the belief that communities and a respect for rural peoples would always need to be at the center of any project in order for it to succeed. I have a photo in my office of Rob from 1986 in Belize. In the photo he is sitting on a worn, barely stable bench on a hot, sunny dry season afternoon outside a tattered ‘club’ in Bermudian Landing known as ‘Anita’s Fun Spot’. The Village had no electricity or running water at the time and was only accessible by a hand-cranked ferry across the Belize River. Anita’s Fun Spot was one of the social and entertainment center of the area. On the bench next to Rob was Fallet Young, a local villager and Rob’s conservation partner, and next to Fallet is one of the landowner’s from the Village, barefoot and shirtless. On the far end of the bench was the local policeman who insisted on overseeing the proceeding joyfully drinking out of a bottle of Caribbean Rum. In the photo, Fallet is asking the landowner if he would sign a voluntary pledge to protect habitat of black howler monkeys on his modest property. The landowner is just putting pen to paper… everyone’s eyes are focused on the pledge and its significance. Also captured in the image is the embodiment of community conservation and Rob Horwich’s approach to it. In the photo you have a committed, gentle and thoughtful scientist and conservationist from another nation recognizing the deep commitment this small landowner in Belize had made to protect howler monkeys and was asking if he would voluntarily pledge to continue what he and his family had been doing for generations. It was respectful, empowering and real. It was a profound acknowledgement and recognition that rural people should be recognized as significant role players in the conservation movement. And, in true Rob Horwich fashion, all of this is happening while an intoxicated regional police officer looks on under a decaying ‘Anita’s Fun Spot’ sign with a dog sprawled out on his back on the policeman’s foot.

    Rob Horwich was a singularly unique person and he will be missed by many. But through his life and through the ideas that he brought to reality and the actions he catalyzed really across the continents, his legacy is evident to all who are willing to look deeply, think differently and embrace community.

  10. I’m channeling my late husband Mike (Mickey) Gold, Rob’s good friend from childhood on, to share my/our sorrow at the loss of Rob (Robby, as Mickey knew him back in Fairlawn, NJ). Although I knew him only in later life, I remember well his gentle, smart, innovative, and quirky self. I know he made a profound difference to many creatures of the natural world as well as to those people he worked with and knew. I appreciate reading the reminiscences above and, although I won’t be able to be at his memorial gathering in person, I’ll be there in spirit.

    My thoughts are with all you who are grieving him now.

  11. Rob Horwich would love his memorial planned for tomorrow, March 11, 2017 at the Community
    Center in Gays Mills. He would enjoy the displays, the stories, the food made from recipes from many of the countries he had worked in over the years spreading Community Conservation around the world, saving habitat and endangered wild life species. He would be touched by the turn out of so many people who knew, respected and cared about him. There will be tears of love and joy as we all gather to honor this very special man. He was the “starter” and “catalyst” for so many of the conservation organizations which have spread throughout the Kickapoo Valley and Viroqua. I will be wearing the dolphin made of silver, a part of the wax mold silver jewelry he made in the 70’s, which I purchased from his display table on the 4th of July in Boscobel 1975.

  12. Rob was my kind of person. He didn’t care about flash and dash—only substance. Rob showed up in rumpled clothing, just like I did in the workplace. Rob worked directly with our staff at the International Crane Foundation (ICF) during 1984-87. We called him the “Resident Ethologist”, but he was not paid. Rob began by observing the behavioral development of crane chicks. In 1985 Rob began vastly improving our methods for hand-rearing cranes so that they would grow up to mate with their own species of crane, learn survival skills for the wild, and not be tame to humans. These were prerequisites for reintroducing captive cranes to the wild. He surrounded himself with good people to help, and listened to their ideas. We liked Rob so much that in 1985 and 1986 the ICF staff (Lisa Hartman, me, and others) volunteered its super-early-mornings to helping find crane eggs from wild nests for his experimental releases. But expert nest-finder and wildlife guide Daryl Christensen found most of the eggs. Even though a tornado struck Rob’s release site and Sandhill Cranes at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in 1985, he still had a tremendously successful two years of releasing hand-reared cranes. Dr. Richard Urbanek immediately applied Rob’s method and built on them at Seney National Wildlife Refuge to make the most successful crane releases we had ever heard of. The U.S. government built on the Horwich-Urbanek right afterwards. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the Mississippi Crane National Wildlife Refuge, combining the ideas of Dr. David Ellis, Scott Hereford, Dr. Meenakshi Nagendran, Dr. George Gee, and others, had the great idea to mix costume-reared cranes with captive parent-reared cranes before releasing them together in the wild. These super-rare Mississippi Sandhill Cranes had incredibly high survivorship after release. Parent-reared chicks usually had relatively low survival in previous crane releases, but these parent-reared “Mississippis” apparently learned survival skills from the costume-raised chicks and both types of chicks had very high survival in the mixed group. Helping the crane world improve its methods is just one of Rob’s 50 or 100 important conservation accomplishments.
    People just liked working with Rob. He treated everyone well and considered ideas on their merit, not on the sociopolitical status of the person providing the idea. The number of important people and projects who have been influenced by Rob is countless.
    Rob was a pioneer in “Community Conservation” and showed that it is the most efficient way to help nature, and the one with the greatest chance to last for a very long time. He realized that if you treat people well and make reasonable requests compatible with a community’s way of living, that they will usually be willing to make changes that help nature. I see other organizations applying community conservation more with each passing year. I think that ICF is one of the organizations that has most absorbed and applied Rob’s community conservation ideas. From what I hear and read, ICF’s interactions with people in crane areas on 6 continents has a strong community conservation perspective. This makes me proud of ICF’s work still even though I am not working there anymore.
    If Rob, the founder of Community Conservation, has influenced other organizations and individuals to apply community conservation methods, just imagine how much good his work and thoughts multiply out to in the entire world? Goodbye Rob, I will miss your kind approach to everything.

  13. I discovered and met Rob in the summer of 2007 while I was an intern at the International Crane Foundation. This was after reading about his early work with the reintroduction of the whooping cranes. I was so inspired by his approach of catalysing community conservation and would later move on to Uganda to engage communities in collaborative forest management after reading one of the books thatche gave me on our first encounter ” a belizean rain forest”. Rob’s legacy lives on.

  14. I first met Rob when I was in Bermudian Landing in 1989 seeking to do research on the Community Baboon Sanctuary and its effects on the local people. He was very supportive, and with his and Fallot Young’s support I was able to go back and live in the village for several months. It was wonderful to see how the people in the villages along the Belize River were so proud of their Sanctuary. It was also an amazing experience to live with the people of Bermudian Landing and with the howler monkeys with whom they shared their village. Thank you Rob for being such an inspiration to me and so many others.

  15. I am so sad to hear this news. Rob took a chance on me as a field assistant on his howler project in 1991. We couldn’t have been more different from each other but we had a great adventure and he inspired me in so many ways. I will always be grateful to him for what he taught me as a scientist and a friend. I was fortunate to be able to see him again last year at IPS and catch up after many years. I am truly sorry and send my best wishes to his close friends and collaborators – he was a selfless person and impacted conservation around the world.

  16. Rob, bless his heart, let me move into a little A-frame shed in his yard in the mid or late 70’s when I was broke and wanting to move closer to Gays Mills, where I got the job as the Kickapoo Exchange Food Coop coordinator.

    I traded skills for staying at Rob’s, carpentry, and some gardening. I (unfortunately) turned part of his garden into a wild patch of Jerusalem artichokes, as Rob and I shared this tendency towards letting things go wild.

    Rob made exquisite wax mold silver jewelry at that time, amazing little sculptures, often of primates. I have a Venus/moon pendent. I broke the chain on it and took years to replace as I don’t wear jewelry much. I wore it to the recent Love the Land annual Crawford Stewardship Project dance in hopes of showing it to Rob as a reminder and to thank him for taking me in as a roommate so long ago. Of course, Rob wasn’t at the dance as he was already ill. I will miss his quirky humor, his willingness to voice his opinion, and his persistent, respectful work with people in support of the wildlife of the world.

  17. Rob and I served on the research staff (we WERE the research staff) at Brookfield Zoo under George Rabb from 1970 to the late 70s. Our approaches differed but we assembled an extremely productive zoo science and mentoring program. Under Rabb’s influence, we struggled to bring zoos into the conservation mainstream. Rob moved on to do field work on four continents, increasingly focusing on human factors and local influence in conservation. He was a pioneer in this area, who, with Bill Weber, Amy Vedder, and Lou Ann Dietz, awakened the primatological world to citizen involvement in conservation in the early 1980s.

    While at Brookfield we endured an animal management regime that sought to impose rhesus monkey-based lab animal practices on a diverse primate collection. The results were disastrous, especially for the specialized colobines that Rob adored. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder in what started as suggestions and progressed to resistance. We assembled survivorship data that supported our claims and eventually produced management change. Of course, we later had to spend hours in the summer heat picking grape leaves that would be frozen and fed to the colobines in the following winter.

    Rob was to become part of a team that successfully reintroduced howler monkeys to a protected area in Belize in which howlers had previously been extinguished by hunting. Rob raised local support and awareness for the project, Locals agreed to not to hunt the reintroduced monkeys. Rob told me late last year that the population had grown to between 300 and 500 monkeys. Conservation-motivated primate reintroductions are rarely successful. This program is often cited as a model of success.

    We all know that housekeeping was not one of Rob’s strengths. I used to care for his house and cats when he traveled and was amused in my thrice-weekly visits to see a tomato plant germinate and grow to flowering from the dishes he had left in the kitchen sink, watered gently by a dripping faucet.

    All of us human and nonhuman primates have lost a friend and an ally, a gentle, quirky, and determined man.

  18. I first me Rob at Brookfield Zoo when we both worked there in the 1960s. I’ve been in intermittent contact with him since then, and have admired his style, dedication, and focus on community conservation in the US and around the world. I sincerely believe that for every dollar spent by Rob’s efforts there were far more benefits than any other conservation effort anywhere. I hope that his legacy lives on strongly with all the people he worked with.

  19. I had the good luck of meeting Rob in May of 1981. In an unusual twist of fate I ended up housesitting for him for a month while, if my memory serves me correctly, he was conducting a howler monkey research project in Belize. For me, coming from the arid West, his house was an amazing storybook cottage deep in the green, green woods that was accessed by a long bridge across a watery expanse–an expanse inhabited by raucous and almost deafening, frogs! Living in Rice Lake at the time, my wife and I were trying to find a place in the Kickapoo area and our friend Edie hooked us up with Rob. He needed a housesitter and I needed a place to scout out housing prospects from. The first day I met Rob he said, with the requisite Rob twinkle in his eye, ” If you hear some banging around in the basement while you’re staying here, don’t be afraid, that’s just momma woodchuck tending to her newborns! ” At that time, I really wasn’t completely sure what a woodchuck was, let alone if they generally were allowed in people’s basements. Rob was was a true magic man, a real life hero out of a Tom Robbins novel: a kind, trusting, resourceful, generous eccentric. A creative, fearless and whip-smart adventurer, he was a jovial spirit intrigued with the confounding, but always inspiring natural world. I feel extremely fortunate to have known him.

  20. I was fortunate to be one of the last person that Rob spread his contagious community reserve approach to wildlife conservation to. We met in Cameroon for the first time last December to begin work with local communities to self-protect the habitat of Cross River gorillas, Africa’s most endangered ape. Working together for about a week, we met various stakeholders, and laid the ground work for the projects. Rob later on travelled to one of the communities involve to understand them better and to in his words ‘encourage and catalyze’ positive conservation action. In my 20+ years of involvement in community conservation, I have hardly met someone who is so positive about local communities. Conservation needs people like Rob Horwich and I hope and trust that he has inspired enough people to continue the fight.

    My sincere condolences to Rob’s family and friends

  21. Bob cared about our project in West Africa. He was there when I gave my talk on the critically endangered Colobus vellerosus at the Chicago IPS/ASP Congress in August 2016, and after my talk, he came to me and asked about the details of the project. He was a gentle person who genuinely cared bout what we do. He and I were just having an email correspondence regarding how we should be approaching our community conservation. A great loss.

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