Remembering Wulf Haacke
30 June 2021
It is with a heavy heart that I have learnt of the passing of Wulf Haacke, former herpetologist of the Transvaal Museum. Wulf was born in the old South West Africa (now Namibia) on 15 December 1936 from German parents who had recently emigrated to Namibia. He moved to South Africa in 1957 to do a BSc degree at the University of Pretoria. He initially worked as a locust control officer for the Department of Agriculture but joined Transvaal Museum in 1961 as Head of Department of Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates, a position he held for over 40 years until his retirement in 2002.
I met Wulf for the first time in 1979 when I joined Transvaal Snake Park as assistant curator. I recall many visits to Wulf at the museum – he would sit behind his desk and peer over his glasses while answering my endless list of questions. It was initially a bit like a visit to the school principal.
Wulf’s passion was geckos and especially those in the Namib. When he joined the museum he worked under Dr Vivian Fitzsimons, someone who he greatly respected and could not mention without some tears in his eyes. He authored over 80 scientific papers and several popular articles, described over a dozen reptile species (one of the most recent was the Damara Tiger Snake – Telescopus finkeldeyi) and has had a few geckos and a sand lizard named after him.
I often took Wulf for coffee over the past ten years, visits that he really enjoyed. Several herpetological colleagues, often visiting from abroad, would accompany me when visiting.
Wulf suffered a stroke several years back and this limited his ability to walk and affected his speech. I had to elect coffee shops close to where the vehicle was parked, and he would struggle along with a walker ring. But the coffee sessions were joyous. Wulf always had great stories to tell, and his smile was infectious.
Wulf was admitted to hospital on Monday after another stroke and passed away this morning. I will miss our coffee sessions and am grateful for our times together.
This is one of the last photographs I have of Wulf taken during a coffee session and with Luke Verburgt joining us.